Sunday, August 25, 2013

Golden Spike Historic Site

On May 10, 1869, the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad met at Promontory Point in Utah Territory to celebrate a remarkable engineering achievement: the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in the United States. The government had named these two companies to build the railroad in 1862, and the race was on for the next seven years to see who could lay more track. Of course, the project was grueling and financial incentives lead to corruption and greed. Hastily build settlements, called boomtowns, sprang up along the way, and thousands of workers risked their lives to build it. However, the transcontinental railroad remains one of the most incredible feats of the nineteenth century.

A couple of weeks ago, my family and I stopped at Promontory Point in Utah at the Golden Spike National Historic Site. This site is located north of Salt Lake City, although it is not easily accessible from the main interstate and takes a bit of driving to get there. However, we discovered that is worth the effort to stop and see what there is to do. While visiting, we were able to see a special ranger program that brought together the two restored engines from the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific at the place they met back in 1869 and drove the golden spike in.

Besides these Steam Demonstrations, the Golden Spike National Historic Site puts on a special reenactment of the driving of the last spike every May 10th and on a weekly basis during the summer season. The visitor's center offers videos and exhibits, and there are a couple of auto tours. My dad and I enjoyed getting out to see rail beds from both the Union Pacific and Central Pacific where the two companies had done the grading in preparation for the tracks. This hike, known as the Big Fill Loop Trail, is easy and offers an interpretative brochure to learn more about how the railroad was built.

The transcontinental railroad changed the country and the American West in particular. It fostered an unprecedented amount of growth as towns sprang up all along the tracks and the amount of goods and people flowing back and forth increased dramatically. The railroad connected the East and the West like never before and spurred a new found sense of unity. If traveling in the area, be sure to stop and see this historic spot!


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