We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Over the Range

A History of the Promontory Summit Route of the Pacific

Richard V. Francaviglia

Publication Year: 2008

Francaviglia looks anew at the geographical-historical context of the driving of the golden spike in May 1869. He gazes outward from the site of the transcontinental railroad's completion—the summit of a remote mountain range that extends south into the Great Salt Lake. The transportation corridor that for the first time linked America's coasts gave this distinctive region significance, but it anchored two centuries of human activity linked to the area's landscape.

Francaviglia brings to that larger story a geographer's perspective on place and society, a railroad enthusiast's knowledge of trains, a cartographic historian's understanding of the knowledge and experience embedded in maps, and a desert lover's appreciation of the striking basin-and-range landscape that borders the Great Salt Lake.

Published by: Utah State University Press


pdf iconDownload PDF (21.8 KB)
pp. vii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (35.8 KB)
pp. viii-x

In telling the story of how the area around Promontory Summit developed in relation to the railroad, I not only traveled to the Golden Spike National Historic Site numerous times, but also conducted historical research in archives and through interviews. Both were very pleasant experiences. Promontory Summit and its environs are fascinating but so, too, are the individuals and groups who care about its history. ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (41.2 KB)
pp. 1-4

In the 1890s, travel writers faced a daunting task: spectacular western sights often tempted them to write fanciful, exaggerated prose for the public. One writer, Stanley Wood, claimed that he had resisted that temptation when he wrote the popular book Over the Range to the Golden Gate.1 As Wood put it in his preface, “No attempt will be made at ‘fine writing’; every effort will be made to state just such facts as the traveler would like to know, and to state these facts in clear and explicit language.” ...

read more

Chapter 1— Envisioning Promontory (1820–1850)

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.4 MB)
pp. 5-37

In the early 1800s, when the words rail road began to be heard in the United States, much of the area west of St. Louis and east of Spanish California was terra incognita for most Americans. At that time, the term rail road (or, somewhat later, railroad) referred to any method of transport that relied on rails laid horizontal to the ground and upon which wheeled vehicles could roll. At this early date, the rails were wooden, but might also be made of iron. ...

read more

Chapter 2— In the Path of History (1850–1865)

pdf iconDownload PDF (916.9 KB)
pp. 38-66

The report of Stansbury’s 1849 expedition, published in 1852, helped the federal government and the Mormons better understand a portion of early Utah Territory. By that time, this area was being eyed as one of many places through which a transcontinental railroad might run. After all, railroad technology had also improved over the last two decades, generating confidence in the idea of a railroad spanning the entire continent. ...

read more

Chapter 3— The Battle of the Maps (1865–1868)

pdf iconDownload PDF (566.7 KB)
pp. 67-100

On New Year’s Day of 1868, Central Pacific’s Collis Huntington did what he always did on holidays—obsess about business matters. At that time, business and railroad were synonymous to Huntington. Concerned about the slow progress the Central Pacific Railroad was making, Huntington wrote to “Friend Crocker” outlining the turf battle that had been brewing in northwestern Utah, and was about to reach the boiling point. ...

read more

Chapter 4— A Moment of Glory: Promontory, 1869

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.2 MB)
pp. 101-142

The joining of the rails ceremony that took place on May 10, 1869, has become part of the nation’s folklore and mythology. Most books written about the event treat it as the culmination of the transcontinental railroad, but Promontory’s story runs deeper and broader than that. I mean that Promontory should be placed in broader geographical and deeper historical context. ...

read more

Chapter 5— On the Early Mainline (1869–1875)

pdf iconDownload PDF (784.4 KB)
pp. 143-171

In one sense, Promontory in 1869 represented a Central Pacific victory. By pushing Union Pacific back from Promontory to the Bear River, and ultimately to Ogden, the federal system rewarded the California rather than Omaha crowd. A Map Showing U.P.R.R. Lands in the Salt Lake District (fig. 5–1) shows “Land withdrawn by [the] letter of May 15 1869 [and] acknowledged . . . May 24, 1869 . . .” ...

read more

Chapter 6— Big Time Railroading (1875–1904)

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.0 MB)
pp. 172-207

So much has been written about Promontory as a unique place in 1869 that it has obscured the town’s later role as one of many places along the railroad. During the period 1875 to about 1900, Promontory’s character changed from a historical curiosity to another link in the chain of increasingly big-time railroading. This chapter covers Promontory as a location on a section of the mainline that ran through some of the most forbidding country in the American West. ...

read more

Chapter 7— A Regional Branchline (1904–1942)

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.0 MB)
pp. 208-242

After the Lucin Cutoff diverted almost all of the railroad traffic away from the original line over the summit, telegrapher Earl Harmon recalled that, “There wasn’t much said about Promontory in them days.” This statement beautifully captures how Promontory declined in the early decades of the twentieth century. Born in 1901, Harmon witnessed the era when Promontory found itself off the mainline and became just another place on a branchline. ...

read more

Chapter 8— A Changing Countryside & Landscape (1904–1942)

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.0 MB)
pp. 243-276

By the early twentieth century, speculators eyed the Central Pacific lands, which on a map appeared to be part of a huge checkerboard pattern awaiting development (figs. 8–1a and b). The major activity in this area was ranching, and it would soon face competition from farming. Consider, for example, the fate of the Promontory Ranch Company, or PRC, as it was often called. ...

read more

Chapter 9— Remembering Promontory (1942–Present)

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.0 MB)
pp. 277-305

The removal of the spike at Promontory in 1942 had special significance to the movie-going public, who had seen the golden spike ceremony of 1869 re-enacted in the recent Cecil B. DeMille film Union Pacific (1939). It was one thing to read about the events of 1869 at Promontory, but quite another to see them recreated on film, that persuasive medium so capable of shaping, even manipulating, popular beliefs. ...

read more

Epilogue: Full Circle

pdf iconDownload PDF (32.2 KB)
pp. 306

In describing the recent (2004) completion of Australia’s first transcontinental railway through the desert heart of that huge country, historian Geoffrey Blainey observed that, “there’s something symbolic about a railway.” Blainey noted that, “a railway is created in one grand gesture” as opposed to a road, which usually develops in stages along the route of earlier trails. ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (86.2 KB)
pp. 307-322


pdf iconDownload PDF (56.6 KB)
pp. 323-333

E-ISBN-13: 9780874217063
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874217056

Page Count: 333
Publication Year: 2008