A stop here was definitely not on our itinerary. After all, the place known as Promontory Summit just north of the Great Salt Lake is just a mere speck on a map of Utah. On our one and only trip out West my wife and I were headed out of Salt Lake City enroute to points in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming when quite by chance we happened upon a sign for Golden Spike National Historic Site. It was a bit out of our way but we both agreed that this would be a place worth seeing. And we were not disappointed!
It was here at Promontory Summit on May 10,1869 that officials of the Central Pacific Railroad and Union Pacific Railroad met to drive four symbolic spikes (two gold), celebrating the long-awaited completion of the nation's first transcontinental railroad. All of a sudden a world of possibilities opened up. The Transcontinental Railroad changed America like no development before it. Imagine, the time of travel between New York and San Francisco was changed overnight from three months by boat to eight days by rail car! Thousands of Americans decided to go west for free land that was being made available by the government. Meanwhile, railroads carried cattle east to feed millions in the cities. Perhaps more than any other single event the transcontinental railroad was responsible for shaping the American West.
Golden Spike National Historic Site is managed by the National Park Service and receives about 50,000 visitors each year. We found Golden Spike to be a colorful and fascinating place to visit. Depending on the season, you can see an actual recreation of the Golden Spike ceremony where two vintage locomotives meet up at the spot where the final spikes were driven. There are educational programs presented for both adults and children and the Visitor Center offers a number of fine exhibits explaining how the railroad was built. You will see some of the actual hand tools that were used on display and learn about the hardships endured by the immigrant laborers (mostly Chinese out West) who risked life and limb to get this incredibly difficult job done. These Chinese immigrants were forced to hand drill holes into which they packed black powder and later nitroglycerine. It was incredibly dangerous work. We learned that the progress in the tunnels through the mountains was agonizingly slow, an average of only about a foot a day.
One cannot imagine how they did it.
The Visitor Center at Golden Spike National Historic Site is open year round and offers slide shows and films in addition to the exhibits mentioned above. Working replicas of the 1860's steam locomotives 'Jupiter' and '119' are in operation from May-September. My wife and I enjoyed our visit immensely and we learned quite a bit to boot. I would add that this a great place to take the entire family. Your kids will positively love it Highly recommended!
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It commemorates the completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad where the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad met on May 10, 1869. The final joining of the rails spanning the continent was signified by the driving of the ceremonial Golden Spike.
The Golden Spike National Historic Site encompasses 2,735 acres (1,107 ha). In 2002, it received 49,950 visitors. It was authorized as a National Historic Site on April 2, 1957 under non-federal ownership. It was authorized for federal ownership and administration by an act of Congress on July 30, 1965.
In 1978, a general master plan for the site was adopted with the goal of maintaining the site's scenic attributes as closely as possible to its appearance and characteristics in 1869. In 2006, a petition to the Board on Geographic Names resulted in a name change for Chinamans Arch, a 20-foot (6.1 m) limestone arch at Golden Spike NHS. Named Chinaman's Arch in honor of the 19th century Chinese railroad workers, the arch has now been officially renamed as the Chinese Arch to mollify sensitivities about the original name (which remains a common usage).