Calder's Park, c. 1896
The history of "pleasure resorts," as they were commonly called
in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is seen by many historians
as central to understanding American culture and society in the last one
hundred years. However, not much has been written or published about resorts
in Utah. By the turn of the twentieth century, resorts of all kinds dotted
the state's cities, canyons, and lakes but, aside from Saltair, we know
little about them. Many have nearly faded from historical memory (including
Bountiful's Eden Park, Salt Lake City's Fuller's Hill, Ogden's Sylvan Glen,
Utah Lake's Geneva and half-dozen other resorts, and most of the Great Salt
Lake's nearly one dozen). About others whose names are more familiar, only
a relatively little is known; they include Salt Lake City's Salt Palace,
Majestic Park, and Calder's (later Wandamere) Park, Spanish Fork Canyon's
Castilla Hot Springs, Ogden Canyon's the Hermitage, and Emigration Canyon's
Pinecrest. Even Lagoon, the most enduring of Utah's resorts, still awaits
What is known about early resorts in Utah suggests they have come in a variety
of kinds and sizes, from modest health spas, such as Castilla Hot Springs,
to quiet mountain retreats, like the Hermitage or Pinecrest, to elaborate
amusement parks, like Saltair, which by the 1920s was drawing half a million
patrons a season. Also, most were relatively short-lived, including Eden
Park (1894-96), Syracuse (1887-91), Lake Park (1886-95), Utah Lake's Murdock
Resort (1891-97), and the Salt Palace (1899-1910); Saltair (1893-1958),
Saratoga (1885-present), and Lagoon (1896-present) are notable exceptions.
Those that did survive any length of time evolved in the direction of, or
began as, full-fledged amusement parks, offering a variety of attractions.
Many resorts came of age in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,
the products of a rapidly changing society, one that was becoming less rural
and agricultural and increasingly urban and industrialized. The resorts
eased people's adjustment to life in that kind of society in several ways.
They provided an appealing urban experience, one that offered fun and excitement,
thereby legitimizing it. Even though resorts often promoted themselves close
to nature, with their midways, boardwalks, concessions, and mechanical rides,
they were clearly urban. At the same time, they provided a temporary escape
from the city with its disagreeable features, dirt, pressures, clamor, danger,
Resorts were viewed as a sign of an area's growing maturity and coming of
age. Thus, when Saltair was built in 1893 it was taken as an indication
that Utah in general, and Salt Lake City in particular, had evolved from
a strange, provincial backwater to an increasingly modern and up-to-date,
city and state.
A major factor in the success of resorts was the development of urban railway
systems, which made it possible for large numbers of people to easily and
cheaply travel to them. Indeed, railroads commonly owned and operated resorts
on or at the end of their lines as a way of stimulating passenger traffic.
When, for example, the Great Salt Lake and Hot Springs Railway Company began
the construction of tracks from Salt Lake City to Ogden in 1891, they proceeded
in stages, laying track first to an existing resort, Beck's Hot Springs,
four miles to the north, then going as far as Bountiful, where they built
Eden Park, then moving to Farmington, where they built Lagoon, and finally,
in 1908, reaching Ogden.
Though resorts have sometimes been seen as serving a democratic function,
catering to anyone who could pay, since they were rigidly segregated until
the 1950s, they in fact demonstrated the very real limits of democratic
theory and practice in Utah as elsewhere in the United States. In July 1910
Saltair's management ejected an African-American from the resort solely
because of his race. He sued; but the court ruled the resort acted within
its rights if it refunded the twenty-five cents the man had paid for admission,
and ordered it to do so.
Resorts in Utah have paralleled and reflected national conditions and patterns;
but they also have reflected unique local conditions--in particular, the
extreme tension between Mormons and non-Mormons that existed in the late
nineteenth century and the movement toward the easing of those tensions
that began in the early twentieth century. The Mormon Church, for example,
established Saltair in 1893 in an effort to provide a wholesome place of
recreation under church control for Mormons, particularly families and young
people. For the previous ten years or so church officials had been concerned
about "pleasure resorts" and their harmful influence on members
of the church. In 1883 the church-owned Deseret News warned parents
"to allow children of either sex of tender years to go unprotected
to pleasure resorts where all classes mingle indiscriminately is criminal."
Resorts, it continued, exposed Mormon children "to the villainous arts
of practiced voluptuaries" and "degraded character destroyers"
who sought to "overthrow" the Mormon Church. Church officials
were particularly distressed about the Garfield resort, which non-Mormons
owned and operated. According to Mormon apostle Abraham H. Cannon, Saltair
was intended for "our people" so that "they can have a place
to go and bathe, if they so desire, without being mixed up with the rough
element which frequents Garfield." At the same time, the Mormon Church
also intended that Saltair be the "Coney Island of the West."
Advertised as that for many years following its completion, it attracted
an increasingly diverse group, particularly as the division that had existed
between Mormons and others moderated. It thus benefited from the new spirit
of accommodation, but served as well as an agency to promote it.
The heyday of resorts like Saltair was over in Utah, as it was in the rest
of the country, by the 1950s. Since then, though Lagoon has continued to
prosper, the term "resort" has increasingly come to mean "ski
resort." More than a dozen of these dotted the state by the 1990s,
attracting hundreds of thousands of both in-state and out-of-state skiers.
And, in many ways, the modern-day counterpart of pleasure resorts is the
shopping mall with its myriad attractions and entertainments, crowds of
people, fun, and excitement.
See: Nancy D. and John S. McCormick, Saltair (1985); Dale L. Morgan,
The Great Salt Lake (1973); and Richard S. Van Wagoner, "Saratoga,
Utah Lake's Oldest Resort," Utah Historical Quarterly 57 (Spring
John S. McCormick