Taylorsville

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The area called Taylorsville today is made up of three historic communities in the central part of SaltLake County: Taylorsville, Bennion, and Kearns. Taylorsville, Bennion, and part of Kearns became the City of Taylorsville during the centennial anniversary of Utah statehood, 1996.

The first (unnamed) people in the region appeared during or after the last ice age on the shores of what remained of Lake Bonneville. Less than five miles from Taylorsville evidence of people killing and eating a mammoth have been found. Some of this region’s first named visitors were Fremont people who used the area to hunt and gather food along the Jordan River more than a thousand years ago. A large Fremont settlement on City Creek used the land where Taylorsville is located as hunting and foraging especially along the river. In more recent times Ute bands passed through the valley between the marshes of the Great Salt Lake and Utah Valley. Most of the area was dry sagebrush-covered land without any natural water sources except the Jordan River. A well-used Ute trail wound along the west side of the river at approximately 1300 West which the Ute used in spring and fall. Early settlers observed small encampments of Ute in the cottonwoods along the Jordan River. At least one local settler called these people the "Yo-No'". Whether the name is his own creation or an approximation of something they said is unknown.

The first Mormon pioneer settlers, Joseph and Susanna Harker from England built a log cabin on the west side of the Jordan River in November 1848 on what was called then “the Church Farm” near 3300 South. In 1849 Samuel and John Bennion and several other families moved south crossing the river on the ice in January. There was little in the way of building materials, so the families dug into the bluffs of the Jordan River for shelter.

In the 1853 the continued threat of attack by angry Utes, locally called the "Walker War" or the "Utah Valley War", forced the settlers to build a 2-acre adobe fort called the English Fort just north of the North Jordan Burying Ground in 1854. Stories about "Indian depredations” in Utah and Sanpete Counties and the massacre of John W. Gunnison and his surveying party caused such fear that Salt Lake City fortified itself. Two livestock herders were killed in Cedar Valley, just over "South Mountain" and the Ute attacked cattle herds in Tooele County just over the Oquirrh Mountains. Isolated settlements either built forts or were abandoned. Locals nicknamed the fort in North Jordan, "Fort Hardscrabble" because it was built on what they considered a useless piece of ground. About thirty families moved into or near the fort for protection for the winter, but as the threat of attack faded, families spread out once again and part of the fort was converted into an LDS meeting house which also served as the school.

Two railroads were important to Taylorsville, the Rio Grande and Western to Bingham Junction (Midvale) and the Bingham-Garfield Railroad was added through the area in 1910.

In World War II 75 men from Taylorsville served and two lost their lives overseas. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the US Army Air Corps wanted an isolated place to build a training base safe from any attacks by the Japanese and on the main rail routes to the Pacific Coast. The War Department bought 5,000 acres (20 km2) of dry farmland in the western part of Salt Lake Valley. The land originally was part of a federal land grant to the state of Utah to be used to benefit schools and universities in Utah. But it had long since passed into private hands and was used for dry farms. Camp Kearns went through renamings as the focus and mission of the base changed, Camp Kearns was the name which stuck. It opened in 1942, but took about a year to gain its final size. The base was named for Senator Thomas Kearns of Utah who had made his fortune in the silver mines at Park City.

Just a year later Camp Kearns had 40,000 residents and was Utah’s third largest city at the time. It had two main missions. It served as a basic training facility for replacement troops headed for the war against Japan. Camp Kearns included a huge 600 target practice range, the largest in the US, a difficult, mile-long obstacle course, a grenade practice ground, and barracks for thousands of men on their way to the Pacific coast. The motor pool hired more than eighty local women just to drive trucks, in all about 1200 civilians worked at the base as any given time. Camp Kearns had the largest hospital in Utah at the time which spread into ten buildings. A camp newspaper called the Valley View News provided information and entertainment to the troops stationed there. The base had a water system and one of two water treatment plants in the state. The streets were laid out in a huge grid pattern lined with over 900 wooden buildings covered with tar paper. A railroad spur from the Denver and Rio Grande was built to transport equipment and personnel to the base. By August 21,1942, the Kearns had 1,700,000 square feet of warehouse space, two all-purpose theaters, gyms, two fire houses, several dusty parade grounds, a post office, a lending library, and a bank. Thousands of trees and shrubs were planted to keep the dust down.

The second mission of Camp Kearns was a practice air force base for Army Air Corps ground crews. In time technical training of air force ground crews became Camp Kearns main objective. This included many kinds of schools: navigation, intelligence, radio, teletype, clerical and many others. It was not an air force base with airplanes landing and taking off, ground crews were trained on planes scattered around the base. The base had five chapels, three stores, and three theaters, one of them for African-American servicemen. It still exists as part of Kearns Junior High School. The USO brought many entertainers to the base to keep the troops from getting homesick. The Band Wagon Committee raised more than $15,000,000 in war bonds from the communities around Salt Lake and from the men and women in uniform.
The base was dusty, hot in summer and cold in winter. Men who trained there thought it was an awful place to live. They stayed in the long tar paper-covered wooden sheds heated with pot-bellied stoves and lighted with a few light bulbs. Each barrack was home to sixty men sleeping in squeaky metal beds with thin mattresses and not enough blankets in the winter and poor ventilation in the summer. Most of the men who trained at Camp Kearns stayed only a few weeks and were glad to roll away from it on a train to California. Despite the boost to the local economy, Salt Lake and the surrounding communities did not appreciate the huge military presence and tried to limit soldiers to the area around the base. African-American soldiers were segregated both on and off base.

As the war drew to a close, the base began a rapid decline. Vice-President Truman made an inspection visit in August 1944. The training functions were moved to California. Camp Kearns was closed as an active base in 1946, and the buildings and materials auctioned off in 1948.

Some people these days liken Taylorsville to the ‘Harvard/Yale’ of the west side for its quiet neighborhoods and some pockets of great mid-century modern homes. There is a good mix of older housing, new homes, condominium and rental projects. There are many small ethnic grocery stores and restaurants as well as every name brand eatery you could ever want in this area of the valley.

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