History of Tooele
Over 30,000 people reside in our community and we are prepared to meet the challenges of the of the future. Tooele City, a Utah community, is nestled at the foothills of the Oquirrh Mountains. It is located about 35 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. Even though the origin of the name “Tooele” has been disputed for decades, everyone agrees that we have a rich, colorful history. Four significant eras capsulize the rich history of Tooele City:
About 100 Goshute Indians lived in the Tooele Valley when Capt. Howard Stansbury surveyed the region for the U.S. Army in 1853. The Goshutes – who were said to “have no friends and few enemies” – lived primarily off of berries, seeds, jack rabbits, deer and insects. Their homes were of cedar, brushes, caves or dugouts, and their clothing was made of rabbit or deer hides.
On Sept. 4, 1849, three Mormon pioneer families settled on a small stream south of present Tooele City. A few months later four men obtained timber rights from Small Canyon (today’s Middle Canyon) and Big Canyon (Settlement Canyon). Tooele City was incorporated on January 21, 1853 and named county seat on January 18, 1861.
Tooele was primarily an agricultural community and grew to a population of about 1,200 at the turn of the century. Many of the prominent families who settled Tooele have descendants living in the area. Like their ancestors, these families play an integral role in building our community.
Tooele transformed into an industrialized city during the first half of the 20th century and the population increased to 5,000 people by 1930. The transformation was boosted by the construction of railroads and the opening of the International Smelting and Refining Company, east of Tooele. The Tooele Valley Railroad, a seven mile line, ran from the smelter west to the Union Pacific Railroad main line. In the eastern section of Tooele, “New Town” was built for many of the 1,000 smelter workers. Families from the Balkans, Italy, Greece, and Asia Minor lived in this area and formed their own community. New Town included its own school, church, culture and numerous languages.
Outbreak of World War II brought the establishment of military bases in the area that strengthened the nation’s defense, boosted the local economy, and created a dramatic change in Tooele’s history. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, a 25,000-acre tract southwest of Tooele was selected as a site where the Tooele Ordnance Depot was built in 1942. A storage depot for chemical weapons was also constructed 20 miles south of Tooele City. These weapons are now being destroyed by incineration at the Deseret Chemical Depot. Tooele’s heritage was further enriched in the 1950s and 1960s as many Hispanic families moved to the area to support the expanding mission of the depot. Men and women of Tooele played vital roles in supporting the soldiers in the field during World War II, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf War. The name of the depot has changed from Tooele Ordnance Depot to Tooele Army Depot and most recently TEAD. In 1993, at the end of the Cold War, the depot was designated for “base re-alignment” by the Department of Defense. The TEAD workforce, that once reached as many as 5,000 employees has been reduced to about 400 workers today. About 1,700 acres of depot property was annexed into the city. The Army conveyed 40 acres and its multi-million dollar Consolidated Maintenance Facility to Tooele City in 1996. This building was then sold to Penske Realty of Utah and Detroit Diesel opened a re-manufacturing plant that currently employs about 400 people. In December of 1998, over 1,600 acres of industrial property and buildings were conveyed to Tooele City. The parcel was sold to a developer the Utah Industrial Depot was formed. In 1999, the Utah Industrial Depot, attracted 168 new jobs. The Utah Industrial Depot was sold to the Ninigret Group in 2013 and renamed Ninigret Depot. The Ninigret Depot is a premier business park in northern Utah for idustry and commerce and is in the process of attracting new private businesses to the area.
Because of available resources, the transfer of the depot property and excellent economic opportunities, Tooele stands at the brink of growing into a regional trade center during the upcoming years. Tooele City citizens have been resilient over the past 160 years. We face an exciting time now that again tests our ability to meet new challenges. By working together we will meet these challenges and continue to grow and prosper as a community.