Looking for the ‘heart’ of Park City?
July 17, 2009
"The history of Park City begins inside the mountains, and, of course, today it continues on top of the mountains," Bill Noland explained Wednesday afternoon on a walking tour of Main Street.
The Park City Museum offers historic tours Monday through Friday at 2 p.m. Tours leave from the second floor of the museum, 528 Main St., and cost $5. Patrons are encouraged to arrive a few minutes early, and to wear sunscreen and comfortable shoes. The tutorial begins with a trudge to the top of the street.
If Noland’s allusion to Park City’s transformation from mining boomtown to skiing hotspot seems simplistic, the 20-year resident is quick to complicate it. The more illusive, and convincing, story Noland tells takes places in the shadows of the mountains.
In 1901, when miners and their families were allowed to move into town, Main Street quickly became an epicenter of debauchery and pollution. Silver Creek earned the pejorative Poison Creek because of the mine tailing and other waste it carried from claims. The air was so dirty that housewives somewhat dubiously complained about clothes disintegrating when hung outside to dry.
According to Noland, one woman cheated on her husband and wound up dead. She still haunts 221 Main St. Most people, though, slogged through their daily lives. The street was a patchwork of bars, defined largely by ethnicity, tenements and shops. Residents battled spiteful snow storms without the aid of even small comforts, like paved roads.
Miners fared little better. They celebrated only two holidays with a break from work each year, Christmas and the Fourth of July, and harsh working conditions and accidents killed most before they turned 45.
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Women and drinking were common vices, but not necessarily in that order.
What kind of trouble a man got into often depended on how much money he had on a given day, Noland said, only half joking.
Besides a handful of strike-it-rich prospectors, lawyers provided one of the rare examples of prosperity among common folk. Disputes over mining claims kept them well-heeled, but not even they could escape the brimstone of 1898, when a fire destroyed nearly every building on Main Street. Shop owners scrambled to move furniture from burning buildings onto the street, which soon devolved into a poi dance of fire as flames streaked from shop to shop, side to side.
The newspaper reported on the devastation in the days to follow from a tent, and to this day has never missed an issue.
The tumult of Main Street’s history is a distant memory compared to its relative prosperity today. Doug Wylkes, a producer and director, was one of about eight people to participate in Wednesday’s guided tour. He described the street as a "movie set" with eclectic storefronts and varied architectural styles.
"I’ve been looking for the heart of Park City, and I’ve found it," Wylkes said. "It’s Main Street." Wylkes arrived in Park City three months ago and plans to stay for another six. He found the story behind the street so intriguing he wants to make a documentary about it.
Gail Savitski, who is visiting Park City from California, had a more modest reason for going on the walking tour. "I wanted to know the history of the town," she said. Her husband, Stan, added, "We like to do what the locals do."
Noland, who recently retired, is in his first year as a guide for the museum. He began the tour Wednesday with a disclaimer. "I’ve been here longer than 70 percent of the people who live here, and I’m still not a local," he said.
A historian’s statement to be sure.