“Ogden, Utah’s Oldest Settlement,” Ensign, Jan. 1972, 23
In the southwest corner of the Ogden Temple block, in the shadow of the new temple, is a tiny log cabin—the oldest home in the mountain west. It was the home of Miles Goodyear, mountainman who hunted and trapped in the Great Basin and surrounding mountains and who built a small trading post, Fort Buenaventura, along the banks of the Weber just a few blocks southwest of where his home now stands.
Ogden is the oldest continuously settled community in Utah, for Goodyear established his home there around 1845, two years before the Latter-day Saints arrived in Salt Lake Valley. He hadn’t intended to colonize the area, however, and it was with mixed feelings that he greeted Brigham Young’s advance party, headed by Porter Rockwell, while he was trapping along the Bear River seventy-five miles east of the valley. He didn’t like the idea of being surrounded by colonists if the Mormons settled in Salt Lake Valley, but perhaps he could induce them to settle along the Weber River; he would then sell them his improvements and would go elsewhere for solitude.
Thus he attempted to convince Rockwell and his companions—George Albert Smith, Erastus Snow, and Norton Jacobs—that the pioneers should continue down Weber Canyon. They conveyed the information back to Brigham Young, in his wagon a mile or two to the east, and he asked Rockwell to go ahead and find out the condition of the trail through Weber Canyon.
The next morning Rockwell set out with Goodyear, but about halfway down the canyon he determined that the route would be too treacherous. He returned to President Young, who gave the order for the Saints to continue on another trail to the south. Thus the Saints settled in Salt Lake Valley instead of Ogden.1
While Miles Goodyear was the first person to actually settle and build a home in what is now Ogden, he wasn’t the first white man to visit there. In fact, as early as the 1820s fur traders were trapping along the rivers that flow through the nearby mountains, and the junction of the Weber and Ogden rivers, present site of the city of Ogden, was a popular campground and wintering place for both white men and Indians.
It was one of these fur traders, Peter Skene Ogden, who gave his name to the area. The son of a prominent Quebec lawyer and judge, he worked for the British-owned Hudson’s Bay Company and explored and trapped through much of the country west of the Rockies and particularly in northern Utah.
Other visitors to the valley prior to 1847 included John C. Fremont, who led a U.S. Government-sponsored exploring party there in 1843, and several immigrant parties on their way to the West Coast.
With the Mormons arriving in great numbers in the Salt Lake Valley, Miles Goodyear became even more eager to sell his holdings, and Brigham Young and other leaders of the Church were eager to establish a settlement along the Weber River. Thus, Captain James Brown, who had visited Goodyear’s stockade in August 1847 while leading a group of Mormon Battalion men to California, began to negotiate with Goodyear for its purchase immediately upon his return. On November 24, 1847, the Church’s high council in Salt Lake voted to allow Brown to use the money he had brought back from California to purchase Goodyear’s land and improvements. The purchase price was $1,950, for which Brown received a deed to the land, all of its improvements, and 75 goats, 75 cattle, 12 sheep, and 6 horses.
Within a few months Brown and his family, with several other families, began settling in the new community, which was known at times as Brown’s Fort, Brown’s Settlement, and most commonly, Brownsville.
To assure the success and growth of the settlements in Weber County, Brigham Young selected Lorin Farr to take charge of affairs there. He arrived in Ogden in January 1850 and soon after organized the first company of militia in the county. At this time there were from twenty to thirty families in the colony. In the fall of 1850 other emigrants were sent from Salt Lake to Ogden, and by the end of the year more than a hundred families had settled there.
During the summer of 1850 President Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, and other leaders from Salt Lake City traveled to Ogden, where they formally laid out a city between the forks of the Ogden and Weber rivers. The city received its charter from the State of Deseret on February 6, 1851, and became known officially as Ogden City. (However, it was more than three years before the post office dropped the name Brownsville.) Lorin Farr was named mayor of the new city.
The first branch of the Church in Weber County was organized March 5, 1850. The following day it was organized as a ward, and Isaac Clark was called to serve as bishop. Weber Stake, the second stake to be formed in the Territory, was organized January 26, 1851, with Lorin Farr as president. There were then two wards in the community.
In 1855 a tourist, William Chandless, described Ogden thus: “… a specimen of the settlements in Utah on the model of Salt Lake; precisely a mile square, part on the bench, part in the valley-bottom, enclosed by an earthen wall, and laid out in ‘blocks’: a large portion was still unoccupied, but adobe houses were fast springing up. In the middle of the place was a school-house, also used as a church, and its door plastered with parochial notices; near it were two small stores—few settlements have as many, and what people want they must get direct from ‘the city,’ as best they can.”2
By 1856 the city comprised two or three thousand inhabitants, living in adobe houses, and the settlement was partly surrounded by a mud wall. Other communities in the county were also springing up.
What started as a peaceful Mormon community based on an agricultural economy soon developed into a bustling frontier town swarming with adventurers, pioneer immigrants, and tourists; for just twenty-one years after its founding Ogden became the major terminal between Omaha and Oakland on the transcontinental railroad. With the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory, fifty-three miles northwest of Ogden, the city took on a new nickname “Junction City”—and a new identity. Within five years additional lines connected Ogden with northern Utah and southern Idaho communities and with Salt Lake City and communities to the south.
During the last quarter of the nineteenth century Ogden grew rapidly and became Utah’s second largest city, a major distribution point for manufacturing, milling, canning, and agricultural products.
A second major growth era came during World War II. As an important link on the railroad, Ogden became a defense center, with four major facilities—Hill Air Force Base, Ogden Arsenal, Utah General Depot, and Naval Supply Depot—within twelve miles of the city. Thousands of families poured into the city and surrounding communities, and the United States Government became the largest single employer, a position it still holds.
With the growth of the community has come great growth in the Church. In its first ninety years of existence Ogden had only four stakes: Weber, organized in 1851; Ogden and North Weber, 1908; and Mt. Ogden, 1922. Since December 7, 1941 (when South Ogden Stake was formed, with William J. Critchlow, Jr., as president), nine other stakes have been organized within the city’s boundaries, and additional stakes dot the surrounding countryside. The three regions in the Ogden area have a total of 125 wards.
Today Ogden is a city of some seventy thousand people. It boasts wide streets, beautiful homes, a prospering business section, an outstanding four-year college (Weber State College, formerly Weber Stake Academy), one of the most modern medical facilities in the west (David O. McKay Hospital, dedicated in 1969), excellent school and church facilities, and a spectacular setting, with 9,000-foot-plus mountains on the north and east and the Great Salt Lake to the west.
And now, a new house of the Lord, the Ogden Temple, conveniently located on Washington Boulevard next to the handsome white Ogden Tabernacle and the tiny log cabin of Miles Goodyear. The Saints of Ogden have waited more than 120 years, but at last the blessings of having a temple in their midst, only a mile or so from where the settlement got its start, is a dream come true.