The south shore of the Great Salt Lake, as viewed from Antelope Island's highest point.
By Lynn Arave
PIONEERS and early settlers were fanatically attracted to the Great Salt Lake, a vastly salty body of water with no outlet -- and where bathers could "float like a cork."
Bathing resorts along the GSL sprang up starting in 1870, with 8 different locations in its heyday, but none have survived the decades.
The lake's fickle habit of greatly shrinking and then enlarging played havoc on the beach fronts of the resorts over the years.
The public also soon favored fresh water swimming, or hot springs over a briny experience.
And, the popularity of the automobile also meant that Utahns could drive to the mountains, out of state -- basically to places not rigidly set by railroad travel only. (Most GSL lake resorts had railroad access and were even created to drive passenger traffic to the rails.)
One key confusing element of the former Great Salt Lake resorts was the overuse of the term "Lake" in resort titles. This led to plenty of historical confusion over the years and some resorts had their histories incorrectly mixed-up with other resorts.
For example, Lake Side in Kaysville is sometimes confused with Lake Park in Farmington. The local history book, "Layton, Utah," by the Kaysville-Layton Historical Society (1985) somehow managed to confused Lake Side with Lake Park. This is significant because Lake Park eventually moved eastward and became Lagoon Amusement Park, the largest such establishment in the Intermountain West.
(In addition, if you were to believe some of these mixed-up histories, you would surmise wrongly that Lagoon started in 1870 and not 16 years later in 1886.)
Note also that the Lake Shore resort is also sometimes confused with the Syracuse resort.
Davis County 4th graders playing in the Great Salt Lake at Antelope Island, reminiscent of yesteryear.
One big void in the 8 lake resorts' geography was a lack of any GSL resort that Ogden, Utah's second largest city at the time, could lay claim to. However, Ogden had plans for such a resort to be built in the Promonory Point/Little Mountain area, directly west of today's 12th Street in Ogden. However, that dream never became a reality, though it was promoted heavily from 1912-1923.
-Here are some capsule historical glances at all 8 of the former Great Salt Lake resorts of yesteryear:
1. Lake Side was located southwest of Kaysville (but close to the Farmington border) and opened in June of 1870. It was probably the first-ever standard attraction along the lake's shore.
It monopolized the resort trade for several years with numerous church and family outings. John W. Young, third son of Brigham Young, built it. This Young had part ownership in the Utah Central Railroad.
A key highlight of the resort was that it eventually featured a 25-cent ride on the City of Corinne, a steamboat, going to Lake Point on the south shore. This former commercial ship on the lake took tourists during the 1872 season only on excursions. The boat could carry 100 passengers and even boasted its own live band.
In the 1882 season, Lake Side provided some 30,000 "baths" in the Great Salt Lake.
It is unclear exactly when this resort vanished, but it's certain the low lake level of the early 1890s would have closed it. More likely, the popularity of the much larger Lake Park, which opened to the south 16 years later, in 1886, would have killed it.
2. Lake Point was started during 1870 - about the same time as Lake Side. It was built by Dr. Jeter Clinton and offered sandy beaches. By 1874, it had a dining hall and dancing room, plus 40 hotel rooms.
On July 4, 1876, some 1,500 people visited the resort.
Today's Lake Point Junction, along I-80, is the only ghost left of the resort. It likely fell victim to Saltair's popularity by or before 1890.
3. Black Rock was opened by H.J. Faust in 1876, but this resort didn't catch on either. It soon fell into disrepair, something quickly possible along the lake's shores, given the corrosive salt water, winds and storms.
Alonzo Hyde, son-in-law of LDS Church President John Taylor, and David John Taylor, the president's son, took over Black Rock in 1880. It was located a few miles northeast of Lake Point. The resort was named for the large black rock monolith that's in or along the lake, depending on its level.
Heber C. Kimball's old ranch house was turned into a hotel, and the resort had swings and a merry-go-round, pulled by a horse.
But a much larger and grander resort, Saltair, opened in 1893 and put Black Rock out of business by the mid-1890s.
Black Rock was resurrected in 1933, but that didn't last either.
At Sunset Beach in 1934, still another small report was operating for a short time on the lake's south shore, but couldn't compete with Saltair either.
4. Lake Shore was described as a modest little resort. It opened in 1879 and was located a few miles southwest of where Lake Park (Lagoon's forerunner) would be. George O. Chase was one of the owners.
Like Lake Side, little is known about Lake Shore. It had some dressing rooms, but that apparently was it. Lake Shore was described as being 15 miles north of Salt Lake City and reached by the Central Railroad system.
Again, the establishment of the larger Lake Park in 1886 and the receding lake level would have doomed Lake Shore by 1890 or sooner.
5. Garfield Beach began in 1881, two miles southwest of Black Rock. It capitalized on service via the steamboat from Lake Side. The boat was renamed "General Garfield," in honor of James A. Garfield taking a ride on it. The boat was anchored semi-permanently offshore of the resort.
In 1887, Garfield resort was purchased by the Utah and Nevada Railroad. Some $100,000 in improvements were added, including 200 bathhouses with showers, a restaurant, race track and bowling alley. It was then called "Utah's great sanitarium resort," and 84,000 total people visited Garfield that year.
Five years later, it was still going strong, and the Union Pacific Railroad purchased it and spent another $150,000 in upgrades. It was the lake's first resort to have an electric generator and lights.
A fire destroyed it (the steamboat too) in 1904, and despite rumors it would be rebuilt, it never was.
6. Lake Park started on July 15, 1886, between Lake Side and Lake Shore. Railroad magnate Simon Bamberger (later Utah's first-ever Democratic governor) built the resort with a $100,00 investment, as a proven way to increase passenger traffic on his trains.
It was promoted as one of the "most attractive watering places in the West." Some 53,000 people visited Lake Park in its first season.
Based on 1886 lake levels, it was probably located 1.7 miles west of today's Lagoon. It boasted an open-air dancing pavilion, a small Victorian-style hotel and a string of cabanas along the beach -- some 120 acres in all.
A sailboat racing and rowing club also had headquarters at Lake Park.
A view of where Lake Park resort was, just grass and salt today.
By 1895, the resort was suffering from low water levels. What once was lake shore was now blue-colored mud. Guests had to walk a third of a mile or more to reach the water.
Bamberger decided to move the resort inland to a swampy area. Five of the resort's original buildings were moved.
Another view of where Lake Park used to be, just a bird mecca and horse ranch today.
The park reopened as "Lagoon" on July 12, 1896. That relocation, away from fickle lake levels, to another lake - a small fresh-water one - proved wise. The result is today's Lagoon - the largest amusement park between the Midwest and California.
The old Syracuse Resort in a Utah Historical Society photograph.
7. Syracuse Resort opened on July 4, 1887, when 13 train cars of bathers and a total of 2,000 people turned out. A train line from Ogden ended at the 93-acre resort.
It was built by Daniel C. Adams and Fred Kiesel right where today's causeway to Antelope Island begins along 1700 South, west of the Syracuse city limits.
It was described as "an oasis in the desert." Unique among lake resorts, it had a grove of trees, transplanted from Weber Canyon, and boweries. Boat excursions were also offered to nearby lake islands. It had 70 bathhouses.
The train access to the Syracuse Resort ion a Utah Historical Society photograph.
A picnic area in the shade of the trees was 400 yards from the lake shore. That area was also used for outdoor LDS Church conferences in the area. A horse-driven streetcar traveled between the picnic area and bathhouses.
Syracuse Resort even staged bicycle races on a nearby dirt track. Artesian wells and water tanks served the resort.
A view today of where the Syracuse resort used to be.
It had a dance pavilion, suspended on pilings, but later some slipped and the dance floor warped.
Trains were known to sometimes strand people at the resort. For example, on July 8, 1889, a group from Ogden had to spend the night there when the night's only train left early.
This LDS Chapel, on 4500 West, near the gate to Antelope Island State Park, was where the east end of the Syracuse bathing resort used to be.
Syracuse Resort closed in 1892 from a twofold problem - a dispute over ownership of the land and the receding waters of the lake that left it mired in mud.
Area industries used the railroad tracks for some decades, but they are now also long since removed and there is no trace of the old resort to be found today.
8. Saltair, the lake's last legendary resort, was also its most elegant and popular. Only it was grand enough to have the magic to survive past the early 1900s.
It opened on Memorial Day 1893 at a cost of $350,000. It was built over the lake itself on 2,500 10-inch wooden pilings. It originally had 1,000 bathhouses.
Some 10,000 people came out for its official June 8, 1893, dedication. Its main hall was similar in size and shape to the Mormon Tabernacle. It boasted a 50-cent train ride from Salt Lake and the ticket also included Saltair admission.
Saltair eventually became a world-class resort and wanted to be the "Coney Island of the West."
In the early 1900s, this was a popular place for church groups, though the resort struggled with whether or not to sell alcohol on site. (The LDS Church owned half of the Saltair Beach Co.'s original shares.)
By 1906, the resort was sold to a group of private investors.
Its overall annual attendance went from 250,000 in 1906 to 450,000 in 1919.
The resort seemed a magnet for natural disasters, too. Two windstorms in 1910 destroyed 200 bathhouses and other structures.
The south end of Saltair III today.
A large fire in 1925 caused $500,000 damage, with insurance only covering $100,000 of it. However, 21/2 months after the fire, Saltair was open again. Another fire struck in 1931, damaging its coaster and amusement rides.
By then, Saltair had a tunnel of love, six bowling alleys, a Ferris wheel, fish pond, fun house, pool halls, penny arcade, photo gallery, shooting gallery and roller skating rink. It was described as the "biggest amusement value in the world" during the 1930s.
Saltair was also billed as having the world's largest dance floor, where 5,000 people could fox trot at once in the open-air hall.
However, Saltair continued to be plagued by disasters. In 1932, a windstorm killed two construction workers. In 1939, a fire destroyed its pier.
The resort closed from 1944 to 1945, during World War II, because of gas rationing and other problems. Yet another fire damaged it in 1955 and destroyed many bathhouses. A freak wind gust destroyed its roller coaster in 1957. By 1959, the state of Utah had taken possession of the crumbling resort and closed it.
The abandoned resort burned to the ground in November 1970.
In 1983, Wally Wright spent $3 million to build a new Saltair resort about a mile west of the original resort site.
However, within a year the lake level was rising and the new Saltair was struggling to survive. Saltair III is still there, but only as a specter of the old "Lady of the Lake" that existed there in the early part of the century.
-From a Deseret News article by Lynn Arave on March 29, 1998.