In October 1863 Elder Orson Hyde of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent Peter Rasmussen, Niels C. Rasmussen, and Peter Sorenson south from the Manti area to find a location for settlement. They reported that they had found a broad valley with a creek and river and land fertile enough to sustain about thirty families on the Salt Lake meridian, some thirty miles south of Manti.
In early 1864 the scouts and some thirty families returned to the area and settled near what is now known as "South Bridge." Because of the abundant salt deposits nearby, they named the site "Salina," surveyed it into square blocks, each divided into four lots, and started to build shelters. Efforts to divert creek water to the north failed and forced them to put to the plow only land south of the creek; however, they did harvest a good crop from this. They started to build a fort and church and constructed a bridge across Salina creek.
In 1866 troubles with Indians (the Black Hawk War) forced the settlers to retreat to the Manti area. They returned in 1871, determined to stay, and organized a militia, completed the church and fort, started a school, and explored the canyon to the east, where they found anthracite coal in "almost inexhaustible quantities," various minerals, and more salt deposits.
The creek was their "stream of life"; its water was used for domestic purposes, to run sawmills, grist mills, and salt refineries, and produce some electricity as well as water farm crops. They dug ditches to permit periodic water diversion to the north of the settlement. The Sevier River was bridged in 1874 and, with three canals built between 1878 and 1908, land west of the river came under intense cultivation. During the 1870s a telegraph, regular postal service, a school, and a small library were operating. Many small mines produced coal for local use, but farming and livestock raising continued to constitute the basic economy.
The railroad reached Salina on 20 June 1891. The first train arrived six days later, bringing the mechanized age to the town of 300 people. That same year, Salina was incorporated as a town and, as the end of the rail line, soon became the shipping point between surrounding counties and points north. Small businesses and the population both mushroomed. A newspaper, the Central Utah Press, was started, and a city hall with library and an eight-room elementary schoolhouse were built. The many saloons, boarding houses, and dancehalls, however, gave the town a reputation as a "sinful place."
The first fifty years of the twentieth century saw considerable polishing of the "rough diamond." Electrical and telephone service were introduced, a bank was established, and a high school and municipal waterworks were built. In 1913 Salina was incorporated as a city and Josiah F. Martin, Jr., was elected its first mayor. During the 1920s, U.S. Highway 89 was paved through Salina, one block of Main Street was paved, and sidewalks and gutters were built on many streets shaded by trees. Streetlights were installed and a new high school was built. Salina elected the first female mayor in Utah, Miss Stena Scorup, who served from 1922 to 1924.
During the Great Depression a Civilian Conservation Corps camp was set up, and the men improved dams, roads, and recreation sites still popular today. Federal agency projects helped build a new city hall with a library and install an improved potable water system and city-wide sewer system. In the early 1940s farseeing citizens organized the Salina Livestock Auction and the Salina Turkey Plant. Both businesses thrive today. The Convulsion Canyon mine expanded operations and became SUFCO.
A second Latter-day Saint ward was established in 1912 and its chapel built at the junction of State and Main streets. An LDS seminary was organized in 1921; the first seminary building was completed in 1953. In 1978 the Salina Stake Center was completed and dedicated by apostle Ezra Taft Benson. In 1981 the city was divided into four LDS wards. The community also welcomed members and churches of other faiths. In 1882 a Presbyterian chapel was established and continued until 1947. In 1982 the Faith Baptist Church, independent and local, was established. A related private school was organized in 1984, and in 1991, a church building was constructed.
The past forty years have seen great change in the face and pace of the city. Paved roads and a general greening of the area, thanks to a pressurized irrigation system, have enhanced the city's appearance. New homes and schools have been built; old homes and city hall are being remodeled. Farming, largely mechanized, is concentrated upon the production of livestock feed. Truck transport has replaced rail service since the Thistle flood of 1983-48 wiped out the railroad, and moves the SUFCO mine output of some 3,000,000 tons of coal annually. In 130 years Salina has changed from a settlement of thirty families whose hard-scrabble economy was based on farming and livestock to a small city of 2,000 with an economy based on coal mining, trucking, farming, and livestock.
See: Inez Merrill, Salina--Thru the Years (1947); and Salina History Committee, Salina (1963).
Maurine Crane and Warren Ottley