Ouida N. Blanthorn
Utah History Encyclopedia, 1994
Tooele City is located thirty-two miles southwest of Salt Lake City at the western base of the Oquirrh Mountains, which form the eastern border of the city. To the west lies the Stansbury Range; to the north twelve miles is the Great Salt Lake; and on the south, a low divide, Stockton Pass, separates Tooele from Rush Valley.
Tooele is the county’s largest city, and took its name from the valley, which Captain Howard Stansbury spelled “tuilla” on his surveying maps in 1849–50. The name possibly originates from Indians known to early pioneers as “Tooelians,” who lived in the area, although others claim it comes from the Spanish word for a bulrush plant found in the area.
As early as 1847, Tooele Valley, known for its waist-high grass, was used for grazing by herders from other valleys. The guiding force for permanent settlement in 1849 was Ezra Taft Benson, who had two groups in his employ, one caring for his livestock, the other instructed to build a sawmill and gristmill on Big Creek (Settlement) Canyon.
When Tooele was incorporated on 19 June 1853 the city covered nine square miles. The U. S. government in 1943 purchased 25,000 acres of land five miles south of the city. With the construction of an ordnance depot, which became the Army’s largest supply center in the West, the city expanded to 12.3 square miles; by 1990 Tooele could claim a population of 13,825. The depot is Tooele’s largest employer; but enough workers commute from and shop in the Salt Lake Valley that Tooele could be called a bedroom community of Salt Lake City. However, in 1993 the future of the depot became clouded as it was included on a Defense Department list of bases to be closed.
Agricultural expansion of the principal crops—grain, alfalfa and barley—was the result of the completion of the Settlement Canyon Dam in 1966 with a 1,166-acre-feet capacity. To the west, grazing on Tooele’s western desert provides winter forage for thousands of sheep and cattle.
Historically, mining has been important in Tooele, where a smelter operated from 1909 to 1972. Some Tooele residents commute to Mercur, an old mining town that was revived in 1983 and today is Utah’s primary source of gold. But both agriculture and mining are of less importance today than they were formerly.
Mormons have predominated in Tooele. The city’s first mayor, John Rowberry, was also the presiding Mormon. From two wards, Tooele has grown to support eighteen wards and three LDS stakes. A Methodist church was built in 1873, a Catholic Church, St. Marguerite’s, in 1910. Other congregations found in the city are the Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Christian Faith Church, and members of the Assembly of God Church.
Five parks are found in the city, one with a municipal swimming pool. A wartime housing project was demolished to make room for a nine-hole golf course. Along with a public library, the city contains four motels and four banks. From a business district of small shops, Tooele City has grown to include a large discount department center and a large grocery/drug store complex. A museum is housed in the old Tooele Valley Railroad Depot, and another, operated by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, is located on Vine Street in the old Tooele City Hall.
Because of the impact of the military on school enrollment, in 1943 a junior high school was built with money provided by the United States Defense Public Works; and a new Tooele high school was built in 1955. Three elementary schools were also built as a result of increased enrollment, and a school (later closed) in the housing area of Tooele Army Depot. The oldest continuous business in Tooele City is the Tooele Transcript (Bulletin) newspaper, founded in 1894.
See: Amy Miller and Orrin Miller, eds., History of Tooele County Volume II (1990); and Orrin P. Miller, ed., Mining, Smelting and Railroading in Tooele County (1986).