Ogden, c. 1883

Ogden City is located at the confluence of the Ogden and the Weber rivers in Weber County in northern Utah. In 1989 the city had a population of 69,000 residents. Weber County, which centers on Ogden as the county seat, had a population of 160,100.

Ogden claims to be the oldest settlement in Utah because of the founding in 1845 of a small picket enclosure, Fort Buenaventura, on the Weber River by Miles Goodyear, a mountain man working in the northern Utah area. Goodyear met the Mormons coming west in 1847 and offered his fort and claim, which the Mormons bought in November 1847. His claim included the fort and the area approximating the present Weber County boundaries.

In the fall of 1847 and the spring of 1848 James Brown and his family and the Lorin Farr family were sent by Brigham Young to begin settlement of the area, which became known as Brown's Fort until 1851 when the name Ogden was given to the city. The name derives from the Hudson's Bay Company trapper, Peter Skene Ogden, who was trapping in the valleys and mountains east of Ogden in 1825.

In the period from 1847 to 1870, the community survived as a rural agricultural area with small settlements forming along the Ogden and Weber rivers. In early times, settlement was limited by the extent that the water could be brought from the rivers and streams to the land. Later, the Pineview Dam and canal systems, and the Weber Basin Project in more recent times, expanded the water resources and the community consequently expanded.

With the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, the development of the Ogden community changed considerably. Politically, the Mormon community leadership was challenged by the increasing non-Mormon population that came into the area with the railroad. The non-Mormon leaders tried to wrestle the political and economic control of Utah from the Mormons and center their control at Corinne, a main stop on the transcontinental line north of Ogden.

Brigham Young and the Mormon leadership would allow none of this and took steps to bypass Corinne with a railroad line to the north as well as an agreement with the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroad companies that Ogden would be the main terminal of the transcontinental line. By 1874 the challenge of Corinne was over; Corinne continued to decline as businesses moved to Ogden, and Ogden became recognized as a major railroad and commercial center. In Ogden, Mormons and Gentiles (non-Mormons) mixed together in business and politics. In 1889 Fred J. Kiesel, a Gentile, was elected mayor of Ogden, the first breakthrough in Utah of the Mormon-dominated politics.

From the 1870s to World War II, Ogden was a major railroad town, with nine rail systems eventually having terminals there. Business and commercial houses flourished as Ogden with both east-west and north-south rail lines became a shipping and commerce center threatening to overshadow even Salt Lake City in that regard. Commerce houses such as those run by Fred J. Kiesel and the Kuhn Brothers, the manufacturing activities of John Scowcroft enterprises, the Amalgamated Sugar Company and other business ventures of David Eccles, the Utah Construction Corporation of the Wattis brothers, Thomas Dee, and David Eccles, and the shipment by rail to various markets outside Utah of the garden produce and fruits from local orchards were significant business activities of this period.

An attempt to further enhance this economic "boom" was promoted by William "Coin" Harvey, a resident of Ogden who sponsored a "Carnival" to draw developers of real estate and commerce to Ogden in 1890. Harvey's efforts failed for the most part, and he went on to become a candidate for the presidency of the United States. Ogden's commercial and railroad activities grew through World War I until the slowdown in the 1920s and the Great Depression of the 1930s created bad economic times.

The threat of war and the coming of World War II brought a renewed significance to Ogden as a transportation hub and center of government agencies and war industries. An aggressive Ogden Chamber of Commerce convinced the government to build Hill Air Base in the Ogden area in 1938. During the war years, Ogden was considered a safe interior area with an excellent system of rail connections to move needed war materials to the war zones. As a result, the Naval Supply Depot was built in Clearfield and the Utah General Depot in Ogden; the United States Forest Service Regional Office also was located in Ogden. German and Italian prisoners of war were interned in camps in the Ogden area. In its heyday during World War II as many as 119 passenger trains passed through Ogden every twenty-four-hour period.

After the war, the railroad business declined because of competition from automotive and air transportation; in the 1950s rail passenger service was almost entirely eliminated, except for Amtrack, which beginning in 1971 passed through Ogden on a tri-weekly schedule. Some government agencies and businesses related to the defense industry continued to gravitate to Ogden after the war--including the Internal Revenue Regional Center, the Marquardt Corporation, Boeing Corporation, Volvo-White Truck Corporation, Morton-Thiokol, and several other smaller operations. Ogden business leaders, realizing that Ogden was closely linked to government industries and thus suffered economic ups and downs because of changes in political ideas, devoted considerable effort to bring more private industry to the Ogden area. Through the efforts of the chamber of commerce and various business organizations, in recent years Ogden has attracted a variety of industries and commerce to its industrial park and mall areas.

Today Ogden enjoys a rather stable economic structure, which is no longer totally reliant on government projects and money. The community has a mixed population of Mormons and non-Mormons, and a variety of ethnic backgrounds, members of which are not as confrontational as they have been in the past but are more understanding and tolerant of the variety of people in the community. This mixture of ethnic and religious backgrounds has created a progressive attitude in community and educational affairs, and Ogden has a number of high-quality public and private schools. Weber State University provides quality education in many areas of learning at the university level.

See: Richard C. Roberts and Richard W. Sadler, Ogden: Junction City (1985); Dale Morgan, A History of Ogden (1940); and Milton R. Hunter, Beneath Ben Lomond's Peak (1944).

Richard Roberts