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After Promontory takes a wide view, considering the events at Promontory to be the start of a larger phenomenon, an entire era of transcontinental railroad construction that stretched for nearly fifty years. At its core is the assertion that, collectively, the transcontinental railroads profoundly reshaped the human geography of the West, giving birth to the region we recognize today.”

 

For those who ask what is Promontory?

 

ON MAY 10, 1869, TWO RAILROADS—built with haste, hope, and aspiration—joined in a lonely desert of northern Utah, at a place called Promontory. On that day, dignitaries from both companies—the Central Pacific, which had built from California, and the Union Pacific, which had built from the east—gave speeches and installed ceremonial last spikes.

The ceremonies were meant as a moment of self-congratulation, but the significance of the day’s events is far broader. In the ensuing decades, railroad after railroad proposed new, competing transcontinental routes—and sometimes completed them. Their construction swept away the dominance of native tribes, ended the open range, and restructured the West into a network of resources and industries dependent upon clusters of urban centers.