December 7, 2023 in Utah

From Ski Hill to Silver Screen: How PARK CITY Became Utah’s Hollywood

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Early Exploration and Settlement

The area that is now Park City, Utah was originally inhabited by the Ute Native American tribe. Though fur trappers and explorers likely passed through the area in the early 1800s, it was not until the 1860s that the first prospectors came looking for silver and gold.

One of the first prospectors was George Snyder, who discovered silver deposits in 1863. This brought a wave of miners and settlers to the area. That same year, Snyder and a few other men built the first log cabins in the area that would become Park City.

The early settlers faced harsh winters and dangerous working conditions in the mines. There were frequent mining accidents and deaths due to explosions, cave-ins, and toxic gases. The remote mountain location also made it difficult to obtain supplies and communicate with the outside world.

Despite the challenges, Park City’s mining opportunities continued attracting settlers in the 1860s-70s. The town grew rapidly as mines like the Ontario, Silver King, and Daly West opened up. By the late 1870s, Park City had a population of over 1,000 residents. The miners lived in poor conditions, with most housing little more than primitive log cabins or shacks.

As the mining industry thrived, Park City became an official township in the Utah Territory in 1884. The town continued growing and gaining regional importance as one of the top silver mining areas in the country.

The Mining Boom

The 1860s brought the first major mineral discoveries to Park City, sparking a silver mining boom that transformed the small mining camp into a thriving town. Rich mineral veins of silver, lead, and zinc were discovered in the mountains surrounding Park City, attracting miners and speculators from across the country.

By the 1870s, large mining companies like the Ontario Silver Mining Company were operating in Park City. Advanced mining techniques like drilling, dynamiting and hydraulic mining allowed miners to extract ore from deeper in the mountains. Major shafts were sunk, reaching up to 1,500 feet underground. At its peak, the Ontario mine alone employed over 1,000 workers.

The Ontario and other mines generated millions of dollars of wealth from Park City’s silver mines. In 1877, Park City was producing over $300,000 worth of silver ore per month. With the silver boom came saloons, hotels, and other businesses catering to the miners. The town’s Main Street was lined with wood-frame buildings housing various enterprises.

Park City’s population swelled from a few hundred to several thousand residents. The mining industry dominated the town’s economy. While it brought prosperity, mining was also dangerous work with the constant threat of cave-ins, explosions, and toxic gases underground. Many miners lost their lives.

By 1892, Park City was one of the top silver producing districts in the country, with the Ontario, Daly-West, and Silver King mines leading production. Nearly $1 million worth of silver ore was extracted monthly at the peak of operations. The town seemed poised for lasting prosperity, but struggled after silver prices crashed in 1893.

From Mining Town to Ski Resort

As silver mining declined in the 1930s, Park City began looking for ways to revive its economy. The mountainous terrain and abundant snow soon attracted entrepreneurs who saw opportunity in winter recreation.

In 1946, the first ski resort opened in Park City – Snow Park on Deer Valley. It started with a simple rope tow and soon added more lifts and amenities. Treasure Mountain, located on the site of the former Silver King Mine, opened in 1963 as the town’s first major ski resort.

Treasure Mountain put Park City on the map as a premier ski destination. The resort expanded over the years with new runs, lifts, and base facilities. It adopted the name Park City Mountain Resort in 1968. More resorts followed like Deer Valley in 1981 and The Canyons in 1968.

By the 1980s, Park City had successfully transitioned from a mining town into a world-class skiing and snowboarding destination. The slopes that once carried ore carts were now carrying skiers. Winter tourism replaced mining as the economic engine of Park City.

Olympic Town

In 1995, Park City was selected to host the 2002 Winter Olympics along with Salt Lake City. This was Park City’s first time hosting the prestigious event and helped put the town on the international stage.

Major venues included the Utah Olympic Park and Utah Olympic Oval. The Utah Olympic Park hosted bobsleigh, luge, skeleton, Nordic combined, and ski jumping events. This park remains open today for recreational use and training. The Utah Olympic Oval hosted long track speed skating events and is still used as an international training center.

During the 2002 Games, Park City hosted events like snowboarding, freestyle skiing, and alpine skiing. Many hotels, restaurants, and shops opened to serve the influx of visitors. The Olympics left a legacy of world-class sports venues, improved infrastructure, and greater tourism. Favorable publicity also cemented Park City’s reputation as a premier winter sports destination.

The Olympics marked a key milestone, transforming the former mining town into an internationally renowned ski resort and year-round destination. Park City embraced the spotlight and successfully leveraged the games to boost its economy, visibility, and civic pride.

Historic District

The Park City Historic District contains over 200 buildings from the city’s early days as a mining town in the late 1800s. Many Victorian-era homes and commercial buildings line Main Street, giving a glimpse into Park City’s past.

When the mining industry declined, many of these historic buildings fell into disrepair. But as Park City reinvented itself as a ski town in the 1960s, effort and investment went into restoring these structures to preserve the history and charm of old Park City.

Some of the notable buildings in the Historic District include:

  • The Miners Hospital, built in 1898 to treat injured miners. It now operates as a museum about medicine and mining.
  • The Park City High School and City Hall Campus, built in 1898 with beautiful Victorian architecture. The school is still in operation today.
  • McPolin Farm, a significant historic farmstead from the mining era that has been preserved.
  • The historic Park City Cemetery contains the gravesites of many pioneer residents.
  • Daly West Mine, an old silver mine that has been converted into a museum offering underground tours.

As the population boomed due to the ski industry and later the Sundance Film Festival, Park City prioritized restoring and adapting historic buildings rather than demolishing them. This has helped maintain the city’s old-time charm, even as it has grown into a world-class destination. The preservation of the Historic District makes Park City unique among ski resort towns.

Arts and Culture

Park City has developed a thriving arts and culture scene over the past few decades. The Sundance Film Festival, founded by Robert Redford in 1978, helped establish Park City as a destination for arts and independent film.

Sundance Film Festival is the largest independent film festival in the United States. For 10 days each January, Park City becomes the epicenter for filmmakers, actors, directors, and movie lovers. Films are screened at theaters throughout Park City as well as in Salt Lake City and at the Sundance resort. Beyond the screenings, Sundance offers panels, talks, concerts, and parties. Stars and attendees flock to Park City, filling the streets and bringing an energetic and festive vibe. Sundance provides invaluable exposure for up-and-coming filmmakers and Park City businesses.

Beyond Sundance, Park City supports a local arts scene with galleries featuring paintings, sculpture, photography and more by local artists. Public art installations add character throughout the city. The Park City Kimball Arts Festival is a 3-day summer festival featuring artwork, concerts, food vendors, and activities. Historic Main Street comes alive each summer with concerts on the plaza and special events like the Tour of Utah cycling race. With its lively arts scene and cultural events, Park City offers entertainment, education, and enrichment to locals and visitors year-round.

Population Growth

Park City’s population has seen significant growth over the past several decades. From a small mining town of just over 1,000 residents in the late 1800s, it has grown to a bustling ski town and resort community of over 8,000 residents today.

Much of this growth occurred after Park City reinvented itself as a world-class ski destination in the 1960s and 1970s. The development of the Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Resort brought an influx of tourism, second homeowners, and new residents drawn to the area for its recreational opportunities. Major events like the 2002 Winter Olympics, which put Park City on the international stage, further fueled population growth in the area.

Today, Park City’s full-time population continues to increase as more people are attracted to its vibrant mountain community and proximity to Salt Lake City. However, this growth has led to some challenges as well, including a lack of affordable housing, congested roads during peak tourism seasons, and balancing the needs of longtime residents with newer transplants and part-time homeowners. As its popularity rises, Park City grapples with maintaining its small-town character and charm while accommodating an ever-growing number of residents and visitors. Careful development policies and community planning will be key to ensuring future population growth is sustainable.

Prominent Figures

Park City has been home to many influential figures over the years who have shaped the town’s history and culture. Here are some of the most notable residents:

The Bonanza Kings

Silver mining entrepreneurs like George Hearst, Thomas Kearns and David Keith built lavish homes in Park City during the mining boom in the late 1800s. They were known as the “Bonanza Kings” for their immense wealth from silver mining. Hearst and Kearns both served as US Senators and were major players in Utah’s economy and politics.

Joe Quinney

Known as the founder of Park City, Quinney established the first mine in the area and helped plot the town. He built many structures like the town’s first store and served as mayor. Quinney’s discovery of silver triggered the mining boom that put Park City on the map.

Treasure Mountain Home

This arts colony founded in the 1930s was home to famous residents like actor Robert Redford and Hollywood writer Dalton Trumbo. It helped establish Park City as a haven for creatives and the arts.

Winter Olympians

As a host of the 2002 Winter Olympics, Park City has been home to many world-class winter athletes. Famous Olympic skiers like Ted Ligety, Lindsey Vonn, and Picabo Street have trained on Park City’s slopes. The town remains an elite winter sports destination.

Sundance Filmmakers

Park City has long attracted independent filmmakers for the annual Sundance Film Festival. Robert Redford founded the festival, while directors like Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh have premiered films here. Sundance bolsters Park City’s reputation as a haven for the arts.

Historic Preservation

Park City has made considerable efforts to preserve its historic buildings and landmarks. As an iconic mining town of the late 19th century, Park City contains numerous historic commercial buildings and homes dating from the city’s boom years as a silver mining hub.

In the 1970s, as the city transitioned from a struggling mining town into a premier skiing destination, many of these historic buildings fell into disrepair or were at risk of demolition. Alarmed by the loss of Park City’s historic character, residents established the Historic District in 1979 to protect and restore historic structures. Today, the Park City Main Street Historic District contains over 100 buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Key restoration projects include the renovation of 19th century landmarks like the Park City Miner’s Hospital and the Paramount Theater on Main Street. Non-profit organizations like the Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History have worked to restore the remains of the Ontario and Silver King mines. Strict design guidelines have been implemented to ensure modifications and new construction are harmonious with the area’s historic identity.

Ongoing preservation efforts focus on maintaining the community’s connection to its past while allowing growth and modernization. Historic preservation protects Park City’s unique character and makes it one of the country’s most appealing and lively mining-era towns.

Park City Today

Park City is now a world-class ski destination and thriving mountain community. With two major ski resorts, Park City Mountain and Deer Valley Resort, the town attracts skiers and snowboarders from around the world.

In addition to winter sports, Park City offers a wide range of year-round outdoor recreation like hiking, mountain biking, golf, and hot air balloon rides. Main Street is home to shops, art galleries, restaurants, bars and a lively arts and culture scene. There are many concerts, festivals, and sporting events held in Park City throughout the year.

The economy of Park City is primarily driven by tourism. The ski industry and associated real estate, retail, hospitality and services comprise a large portion of business activity and jobs. Mining operations have dwindled but still persist on a smaller scale. Many residents also work remotely or commute to Salt Lake City for jobs.

Major developments in recent years include the renovation and expansion of Park City Mountain Resort after it was acquired by Vail Resorts, the construction of the new High School and Quinn’s Junction development, and Main Street enhancement projects. Sustainability initiatives have helped make Park City one of America’s top environmentally-friendly ski towns.

With its beautiful mountain setting, thriving economy and amenities, Park City continues to be an attractive destination for both visitors and new residents looking for a vibrant small town community.

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