News / Utah / 

Utah's transcontinental railroad end point questioned by some in Strasburg, Colorado

By John Hollenhorst, | Posted - May 8th, 2015 @ 10:53pm


11 photos

BRIGHAM CITY — On May 10, 1869, the first transcontinental railroad was born, and the connection between East meeting West officially cemented in Utah at Promontory Summit.

However, some folks in Strasburg, Colorado, contest that Utah marks the official end point.

Utah has an obelisk signifying the momentous event. The Golden Spike National Historic Site, a national park, also hosts a visitors center and bookstore.

"(It was) a major accomplishment that would change the nation,” David Kilton, a ranger for the National Park Service said.

However, there are some who believe the transcontinental railroad had a different end point. In Strasburg, some people see things a little differently.

“There was no transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, when the golden spike was driven," Cliff Smith, Curator, Comanche Crossing Museum.

It has its own museum, comprised of a caboose and an old station house. There are no park rangers, just Smith, who's been working at the museum since he was a teenager. They have an obelisk too, where the Kansas Pacific Railroad was linked in 1870.

“This is truly the first transcontinental railroad in the United States," Smith said.

Smith acknowledges that these are fighting words in Utah. However, it turns out the people in Colorado have some of their facts straight.


The Golden Spike and the completion of the transcontinental railroad did link East and West; it did fulfill the provisions of the Pacific Railway act. It did create the main line that brought people and freight back and forth across the continent.

–Greg Smoak, professor


"It is accurate that there were not coast-to-coast rails," Kilton said.

The Colorado interpretation of the facts that can stir up an argument. Here's the theory: The rail line that went through Utah had a gap. In 1869, there was no bridge crossing the Missouri River at Omaha, Nebraska.

A passenger on the Union Pacific needed a boat ride, right in the middle of a coast-to-coast journey.

"And they would get off of one train, load on a ferry, go across, get back on a train, and then go on to the west,” Smith said.

In 1870, the theory goes, a continuous transcontinental rail system was finally completed at Strasburg, which crossed the Missouri on a bridge at Kansas City.

Smith said the 1869 Golden Spike ceremony in Utah was just a political statement.

"President Grant had taken office earlier that year and wanted that as one of his accomplishments," Cliff said, "It's (Promontory Point) fraud, yes. Hah, hah, hah."

A respected historian of the railroads told KSL by email that no one in the 19th century would have taken Colorado's claim seriously because, in those days, they considered the ferries to be part of the railroad.

Utah historian Greg Smoak agrees the gap does not invalidate Utah's place in history.

"The ferry between Council Bluffs and Omaha was a pretty standard technique in the 19th century,” said Smoak, a professor at the American West Center at the University of Utah said.

Smoak said the Kansas City route was never as important as the line completed in Utah.

"The Golden Spike and the completion of the transcontinental railroad did link East and West; it did fulfill the provisions of the Pacific Railway act. It did create the main line that brought people and freight back and forth across the continent,” he said.

Back in Strasburg, some hope their claim will someday win recognition from the National Park Service.

"And we can say 'no, this is the true story. This is the true history of the United States.' happened right here,” Smith said.

Photos

Related Stories

John Hollenhorst

KSL Weather Forecast