(*)The area was traveled by the early Mormon pioneers on their journey to where they settled and built Salt Lake City. One of their leaders, Parley P. Pratt, explored the canyon in 1848. He was given a charter the following year to build a toll road through it, which was finished in 1849. The basin at the top of the canyon was good for grazing, and a few families settled there. Early on, the area was deeded to Samuel Snyder, Heber C. Kimball and Jedediah Grant. The settlers named it “Parley’s Park City”, which was shortened to “Park City” in the early 1900s. The first known discovery of ore in this area was by Colonel Patrick E. Connor, who instigated his men to search the area in bringing non-Mormons to the Utah region. The finding of silver, gold and lead sparked the first silver mines in Park City in the 1860s. Park City’s large mining boom brought large crowds of prospectors setting up camps around the mountain terrain, marking the first mining settlements. Although it was not the first find, the Ontario mine, discovered by Herman Buden in 1872 and later purchased by George Hearst, was the first major producer. By 1892 the Silver King Mine and its owners Thomas Kearns and David Keith took the spotlight as one of the most famous silver mines in the world. While silver was thriving in Utah, other mines around the world were depleted, drawing many of these miners to Park City. The town flourished with crowds of miners and wealth. However, the city nearly became a ghost town by the end of the 1950s because of a drop in the price of silver.
The transformation of the town into a ski resort is primarily attributed to the silver need during (and after) World War I economy. The war and Great Depression were crippling the economy. Once the site of the largest silver-mining camp in the country, the town was virtually destroyed by fire in 1898. Tragedy struck again in 1902 when 34 miners were killed in an explosion in the Day West Mine. The mining community never fully recovered and the miners resorted to desperate measures. These desperate measures were based on the need to revive the economy, and in doing so the miners gave up their mining heritage, turning to the rising interest in the West and skiing. The silver industry was suffering severely, and the town was hanging by a thread when ‘Parkite’ miners presented to Utahns Inc. a proposal for a ski resort called Treasure Mountain which ended up saving the town. This ski resort opened in 1963 on 10,000 acres of land the miners owned with mineral rights. This is said to be when tourists first largely began to visit Park City. This marks the beginning of the ski industry largely promoted by the Utah State Legislation as a destination resort.
Since the rise of the skiing and tourist economy, Park City houses more tourists than residents. It has become a place of fame through the 2002 Winter Olympic games and provides more attractions than ever before. In the 1950s, Utah began to feed on Park City as a mountain getaway, and not until D. James Canon promoted winter sports in Utah, with the promotional scheme of “Ski Utah” and “The Greatest Snow on Earth” did many drive to see the city. Utah drew in over 648,000 tourists in 1970 and now a yearly average of 4 million tourists. In a small town with a population of 8,000, the average number of tourists in Park City is 600,000 per year. This significant increase in visitors could be credited to promotional material that is carefully planned and distributed by the Utah Publicity and Tourist Council. Growth has accelerated in the last few decades, and Park City is now one of the most affluent and lively resort towns in the United States.
The tourist industry now contributes over one third of the total economic value to the state of Utah. In particular, Park City draws in 3,006,071 average annual visitors; in the winter 1,603,775, and in the summer 1,402,296. Park City prospers from the average nightly visitor spending ranging from $100 to $350. Currently, Park City primarily relies on its tourist industry from skiing to restaurants to hiking and biking. The makeover of Park City has stimulated an entirely different culture of expenditure, adventure, and wealth, and their promotional material indulges it.
As long ago as the 1920s, miners in Park City were using underground trains and shafts to gain access to the mountain for skiing. Aerial trams once used for hauling ore were converted into chairlifts. To this day, there are still more than 1,000 miles of old silver-mine workings and tunnels beneath the slopes at Park City Mountain Resort and neighboring Deer Valley. Park City might be a fairly nondescript-appearing town were it not for its colorful and evocative Main Street, where 64 Victorian buildings are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. There are many remaining mine buildings, mine shafts (most blocked off from outsiders with large steel doors), and hoists, including the weathered remains of the California-Comstock and Silver King Mines and the water towers once used to hydrate one of the biggest mines, the Silver King, provide a hint of the history of this mining town transformed in economic upheaval into a skiing resort.