Area: 1,849 square miles; population: 29,736 (in 2000); county seat: Coalville; origin of county name: the county includes high mountain summits that form the divides of the Weber, Bear, and Green River drainage areas; principal cities/towns: Park City, Coalville, Kamas; points of interest: Park City area ski resorts, Park City Historic District, Rockport State Park, Echo Reservoir, High Uinta Wilderness Area; economy: skiing, tourism, lumbering, livestock. Summit County was created in 1854 from Green River and Great Salt Lake counties, and Coalville was chosen as the county seat. The Uinta Mountains dominate the eastern portion of the county, and the western section is a high back valley of the Wasatch Mountains.
The first white men to visit the area were fur trappers and traders in the 1820s and 1830s. Until the arrival of the Mormons in 1847, Summit County was hunting grounds for Northern Shoshone Indians. The Weber and Provo rivers, draining the western slope of the Uintas, provided the Indians with fish, among other benefits.
In 1846 Lansford W. Hastings, a California promoter, announced a new cutoff on the California Trail that would eliminate several hundred miles and many days of travel. The cutoff turned southwest from Fort Bridger, Wyoming, and entered Utah and the northeastern corner of Summit County through Echo Canyon. It followed the Weber River to Salt Lake Valley, went around the south shore of the Great Salt Lake, and then west into Nevada. The first group to take this new cutoff was the Donner-Reed party in 1846. Blazing a road through the Wasatch Mountains cost them many days, and when they reached the Sierra they ran into early snow, with well-known tragic results. Many lost their lives. A year later, the pioneering Mormons adopted part of the Hastings Cutoff, but when they reached the Weber River they turned southwest to Emigration Canyon. This became the main trail for the immigration of the Mormons to Utah. In 1869 the Union Pacific Railroad, builder of the eastern portion of the transcontinental railroad, followed the Hastings Cutoff, and today part of Interstate 80 follows the Hastings and Mormon trails and the Union Pacific route through northern Summit County.
The first settlers in Summit County arrived at Parley’s Park in 1850. Wanship was settled in 1854, followed by Coalville, Hoytsville, and Henefer in 1859. When coal was discovered near Coalville, the Mormons established a mission there. During the 1860s, wagons hauled tons of coal from Coalville to the Salt Lake Valley settlements. In 1873 the Utah Eastern Railroad built a line from Echo Junction to Coalville to haul coal. This line eventually became part of the Union Pacific Railroad.
The discovery of silver, lead, and zinc in the Wasatch Mountains in the 1870s soon overshadowed the settlement and economic activities of the rest of the county. Park City, a mining town founded in 1872, continued to expand into the twentieth century. Many individuals made fortunes from the Park City mines. Mansions on South Temple in Salt Lake City reflect some of this wealth. Mining continued until the 1950s, at which time it no longer was profitable. For several decades Park City was on the verge of becoming a ghost town, but the area’s rugged terrain and deep snow led to its rebirth as a winter sports center. Skiing currently is a major economic activity in western Summit County, while the rest of the county is still noted for its farming and ranching. Other recreational opportunities, including boating, fishing, and tourism add to the county’s diversified economy.