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This is the Place: The First Map of Salt Lake City, Utah

Celebrated as a state holiday in Utah, Pioneer Day commemorates the first members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints entering the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. Since the foundation of the Church in 1830, Latter-day Saints were faced with persecution and driven out of every community they started in New York, Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. In February 1846, under the direction of Brigham Young, these members became pioneers and started a 1,200 mile trek across the continent to create a brand new city in the west, far away from the persecution that had previously followed them.

Route of the Mormon pioneers from Nauvoo to Great Salt Lake, Feb'y 1846-July 1847. Map by Millroy & Hayes, 1899. Geography and Map Division.

Route of the Mormon pioneers from Nauvoo to Great Salt Lake, Feb’y 1846-July 1847. Map by Millroy & Hayes, 1899. Geography and Map Division.

It is unusual to be able to pinpoint the first map of a major city, but Salt Lake City was planned before a single street or building was constructed. Several days after entering the valley, on July 28, Brigham Young proclaimed the exact spot for the center of the new city, now called Temple Square, and instructed that the city be surveyed and laid out from that place. Throughout the last century and into this one, credit for the earliest map of Salt Lake City was given to Thomas Bullock, a Church historian and recorder, who sketched a plat map in his diary dated August 16, 1847.

However, in 2014, a forgotten map drawn by Henry G. Sherwood, the first surveyor of Utah, was brought back to the attention of the world with the claim that it was the very first map drawn of Salt Lake City, predating the Thomas Bullock sketch by only a couple of weeks. The map was acquired by the Library and has recently been scanned and made available online for everyone to view.

Plat of the Great City of the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Map by Henry G. Sherwood, August 1847. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Plat of the Great City of the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Map by Henry G. Sherwood, August 1847. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Today, on the southeast corner of Temple Square is a plaque which reads, “Fixed by Orson Pratt assisted by Henry G. Sherwood, August 3, 1847, when beginning the original survey of ‘Great Salt Lake City,’ around the ‘Mormon’ temple site designated by Brigham Young July 28, 1847.” On that same date, July 28, Thomas Bullock recorded in his journal that Brigham Young instructed Orson Pratt to “tell Father Sherwood how many degrees of variation of compass there is at this spot, so that the City may be laid out perfectly Square North & South, East & West.”Despite this evidence of Sherwood’s contribution to the original surveying of Salt Lake City, his name had been obscured in the shadows of history.

Measuring 20 x 15 inches, the map is inked onto a sheepskin which was wrapped around a wooden roller. The plat runs 15 blocks north to south and 9 blocks east to west and bears the signature on the top left corner of H.G. Sherwood. This original plan created each block as ten acres in size, subdivided into eight lots, each of which was a little more than an acre. The houses on each block were designed to alternate either an east-west orientation or a north-south orientation so that no house faced another. Several public squares for city buildings or parks are also included on the map. Though laid out, the fifteen northeastern blocks are left blank due to the mountainous terrain obstructing building on that land. The addition of blocks on the north end of the plat as well as the numbers written in on the right hand side indicate that the map continued to be used as a model to guide further surveys of the valley in subsequent years.

Deseret evening news. Great Salt Lake City, Utah, 23 March 1893. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.

Deseret evening news.  23 March 1893. Chronicling America, Library of Congress.

So where has the map been for the last 150 years? When Utah became a United States territory in 1850, Henry Sherwood was appointed the territorial surveyor general where he remained in possession of the sheepskin map. In the ordinances governing the office, it was stipulated that any plat maps would be handed down to each succeeding surveyor general.

In 1852, Sherwood was replaced by Jesse W. Fox and possession of the map passed to him. When Jesse Fox’s service ended in 1884, the territorial office had ceased to exist, and there was no successor to inherit the plat. On March 23, 1893, an article in the Deseret Evening News verifies the map was still held by Fox as he brought it into the newspaper to show John Q. Cannon, the editor of the newspaper. For the next century, the map was held by Fox’s direct descendants until it was sold in 2014.

When an unknown historical document of such importance comes to light, it is essential to prove the authenticity of the object. Since its rediscovery, scholars have been analyzing and debating the validity of calling this map the first of Salt Lake City. While the evidence has convinced many of its legitimacy, including the Library, the lack of a date on the map and the suddenness of its appearance has left others skeptical. A recent volume of the Utah Historical Quarterly has devoted several articles to both sides of the argument.

Original manuscript maps of a city’s first moments are rare. The Library of Congress has one other such map in its collection, the first manuscript map drawn of Washington D.C. by Pierre L’Enfant. It is with pleasure the Library adds this first map of Salt Lake City to its collection to preserve for future generations.

 

 

Bird's eye view of Salt Lake City, Utah Territory 1870. Augustus Koch, 1870. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Bird’s eye view of Salt Lake City, Utah Territory 1870. Augustus Koch, 1870. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

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One Comment

  1. Rich Clemens
    July 26, 2020 at 3:39 pm

    Great addition! Somehow I guessed the the editor!

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