Park City, Utah was put on the world map as it helped host the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, deemed the most successful Winter Olympics ever. Hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world filled the town during those 17 days to watch the world's best athletes compete for Olympic gold; yet more than 130 years ago, a rush of people flocked to Park City seeking a different precious metal-silver.
In 1868, a group of prospecting soldiers stationed near Salt Lake City discovered silver in the hills surrounding what is today Park City, with sizeable strikes following shortly thereafter. In 1872, a trio of prospectors tapped into an extremely rich silver vein in Ontario Canyon. Word of the strikes spread quickly and adventurers from around the world flocked to the area, turning the tiny camp into a boomtown. The new population soon put down roots. Wooden mining shacks were quickly constructed, the weekly Park Record newspaper was launched, and schools, churches and businesses were established. In 1884, Park City was incorporated as a town.
The town's residents enjoyed great prosperity for half a century. The mountains surrendered over $400 million in silver and established many fortunes, including those of Utah's Silver Queen Susanna Bransford and George Hearst, father of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst.
Park City was one of the few Utah towns established by non-Mormons. During the mining boom, 27 saloons existed on Park City's Main Street to "whet the whistles" of thirsty miners. This rebellious streak continues today, with Park City home to over 100 bars and restaurants.
Park City attracted fortune hunters from around the globe and by 1889 the town's population was over 5,000. The majority of its international residents were Irish, but other nationalities represented included the Swedish, Finnish, Cornish, Chinese, Scottish and Yugoslavian. You can still see the influence of these groups today in the town's architectural styles and neighborhood names.
Life in Park City wasn't always easy. The Great Fire of 1898 destroyed 200 of the 350 structures, homes, and businesses on Main Street. Not to be deterred, residents rebuilt the town within eighteen months. During its heyday, Park City was said to be the greatest silver camp in the world with enough ore to last another 100 years.
By the 1930 Parkites turned their attention from the treasure in the mountains to the snow on the surrounding slopes and ski jumpers from around the world started competing at Ecker Hill. In 1946, the town's first ski area, Snow Park, opened and mining prices continued to drop leaving Park City to become a virtual goast town until 1963 when Park City qualified for a loan from the Federal Area Redevelopment Agency to open Treasure Mountain Resort, now Park City Mountain Resort. The Canyons, formerly Park West and Wolf Mountain, now Park City Mountain, opened five years later in 1968. And Deer Valley Resort opened in 1982 incorporating many of the former Snow Park runs.
To top that rich history, in the winter of 2002, Park City hosted exactly one-third of all medal events during the XIX Olympic Winter Games. Spectators cheered as the best of the best competed for their individual countries and pushed themselves to the limit for the silver that one time made Park City the town it is today, as well as gold and bronze. After the competitions, thousands of visitors headed to Park City's Main Street to celebrate in one enormous party with people from all walks of life. As fireworks colored the night sky, the world came together in Park City and Olympic legends were made, along with a few toasts to great memories.
Today, Park City is a unique blend of the old and new. Sixty-four of Park City's buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, many of which are located along the town's Main Street, and more than 1,200 miles of tunnels wind through the surrounding mountains, remnants of the mining era. The Park City Museum at 528 Main Street houses exhibits explaining Park City's early beginnings as a mining town and the transition to a winter and summer resort destination. The museum itself is historic, as it was once the town's City Hall and Utah's Territorial Jail which is still intact in the basement of the building.