After the Mormon pioneers settled in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, LDS Church President Brigham Young thought it would be wise to give names to the valley, mountains and streams. The name decided on for the valley was the Great Salt Lake City of the Great Basin of North America. The river running west of the city was called the Western Jordan. Everything from Big Cottonwood Creek to the point of the mountain was known as West Jordan.
The country along the Jordan River was sparsely settled early in 1849, with Joseph Harker credited with being the first white settler to mover "over Jordan" in 1848. Families built log cabins, most of them settling near the river bottoms or along the hill to the west of the river. Pioneers spent much of that winter getting fencing materials from Bingham Canyon. By 1853, the population of the West Jordan area was 361.
The Jordan River, like the River Jordan in Palestine, flows from a fresh water lake (Utah) to an inland salt sea (the Great Salt Lake). Early settlers recalled the "good old days" when the Jordan River would fill to its banks and there were dangerous whirlpools. It is reported in several old histories that the bridge between Midvale and West Jordan washed out every spring. At one time, a ferry was maintained until a substantial bridge could be built.
Archibald and Robert Gardner built the first saw mill in the area in 1850. To operate it, they made a mill race two and one half miles long, making it the first canal of any importance dug in Utah. Lumber was hauled 14 miles from the Oquirrh Mountains. In 1854, Archibald built a grist mill, introducing some excellent machinery to the area. The Gardner mill is still standing at 1100 W. 7800 South, and owners have converted it into a theme restaurant, reminiscent of the days of Archibald Gardner.
The first blacksmith's shop in south Salt Lake County belonged to Alexander Beckstead, who settled in West Jordan in 1850. The shop was completed in 1853. The labor consisted of setting wagon ties, fixing wagons, sharpening plows, repairing farm implements, and shoeing horses and oxen.
In 1851, Matthew Gaunt started a woolen mill. That same year, Samuel Mulliner tanned the leather in the first tannery built west of the Mississippi River.
School opened in West Jordan for the first time in 1852. Classes were held in a small, log house, about 14 by 15 feet, situated southwest of Pioneer Hall (still standing at 1137 W. 7800 South).
In the fall of 1854, a handful of people looking for a place to farm came to a clear stream of water. Bingham Creek ran from the Oquirrh Mountains to the west over the slopes of the Salt Lake Valley and wound its way down to the Jordan River. During their explorations, the many signs of Indians convinced the group that they could not live in safety without some means of protection, and they began working on Wight's Fort (at about 3600 West 9000 South).
The four walls of the fort, each 12 feet high, were constructed of stones, earth and logs. When completed, it was large enough to enclose and protect seven log houses, part of the much valued stream and several out buildings. The fort had two large gates, one on the east and the other on the west. By the spring of 1855, the wives and children of the fort builders had settled in.
The families of Wight's Fort lived and prospered there until 1859. Lack of water forced settlers to abandon the site in 1861. For many years afterward, the only road to Bingham was through the fort gates.
During the Walker War in 1853 and the following year, the residents of West Jordan maintained a constant guard in the Oquirrh Mountains. In 1857, West Jordan volunteers took an active part in the Echo Canyon campaign against the invasion of Johnson's Army.
Some of the first mining carried on in Utah took place in Bingham Canyon, west of West Jordan. Early settlers initially went there to bring out wood and logs. A man by the name of Ogilvie found gold in the canyon stream and is credited with the first panning of gold in this region. James W. Cahoon, in the History of Murray, relates seeing men washing gold from Bingham Creek in 1867 where he was hauling wood.
The copper mines were discovered by Con Wall, who operated them at a loss. D.C. Jackling brought in eastern money to bring the mine up to a paying basis. It was probably the lowest grade of copper of any pit mines in the world with less than 1% copper and a trace of gold. Today, Kennecott Copper is the largest in the world.
In 1891, the first sugar beets were raised in West Jordan. A factory was built in 1916 by the Dyer Construction Company. The work at the factory was seasonal. At its peak, it employed 235 people from mid-October to the end of December. The factory was, at one time, rated to cut fifteen hundred thousand tons of beets every 24 hours. An estimated 285,000 bags of sugar were produced annually in the 1950s. However, in the 1970s, the market had disappeared and the factory closed its doors.
West Jordan's first post office opened its doors in 1864 in a small adobe house just below the Rock Meeting House. In 1900, the Rural Free Delivery of mail began and ran from Sandy to West Jordan. Mail carriers carried first mail by horse and buggy and later by a Model T-Ford.
The first electric lights were installed in 1916. Early homes were equipped with a single clear light globe attached to a wire dangling from the ceiling.
The residents of West Jordan petitioned the County Commission for incorporation as a town January 10, 1941. It became a third class city in 1967.
A promise had been made to the early settlers of West Jordan and surrounding territory that the time would come when, through their industry, beautiful homes, manufacturing establishments, productive farms, churches and many other buildings would enhance the valley.
As late as 1970, West Jordan was largely still a rural area. Then building boomed from 1973 to 1979. The City's population increased 500% to 27,329. In 1988, the population was estimated at 47,500. Population projections at that time, predicted that the City would add a minimum 2,000 new residents a year in this decade and should reach 50,000 by 1990. The 2000 census had West Jordan at 97,000. The latest estimates show the population at about 110,000.
The City of West Jordan is fortunate to have a lion's share of vacant land left for future growth within Salt Lake County. This available land and Utah's strong economy will ensure a continued rapid rate of growth for the City of West Jordan.