Murray City (/ˈmʌri/) is a city situated on the Wasatch Front in the core of Salt Lake Valley in the U.S. state of Utah. Named for territorial governor Eli Murray, it is the state’s fourteenth largest city. According to the 2010 census, Murray has approximately 46,746 residents. Murray shares borders with Taylorsville, Holladay, South Salt Lake and West Jordan, Utah. Once teeming with heavy industry, Murray’s industrial sector now has little trace and has been replaced by major mercantile sectors. Known for its central location in Salt Lake County, Murray has been called the Hub of Salt Lake County. Unlike most of its neighboring communities, Murray operates its own police, fire, power, water, library, and parks and recreation departments and has its own school district. While maintaining many of its own services, Murray has one of the lowest city tax rates in the state.
Thousands of people each year visit Murray City Park for organized sports and its wooded areas. Murray is home to the Intermountain Medical Center, a medical campus that is also Murray’s largest employer. Murray has been designated a Tree City USA since 1977.
A new settlement
Mormon pioneers came into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. A pioneer group that was called the Mississippi Saints arrived one year later and began to develop a scattered settlement in the south end of the valley that fall. The area was distinguished by various names, such as the Mississippi Ward, Cottonwood, Big Cottonwood and South Cottonwood. Written history states that at least 20 families were living in the South Cottonwood area in the 1860s.
When the first pioneer families settled in the South Cottonwood area in the fall of 1848, they selected the low or bottom lands along the streams of Little Cottonwood Creek and Big Cottonwood Creek. They found an abundance of grass for their cattle and horses there. It was easy to take the water from the streams for irrigation of farm crops. The higher bench lands were covered with sagebrush and produced very little grass. Because of the labor and difficulty in getting water to them, they were left, for later settlement.
There was a strip of high bench land, completely surrounded by low land north of what is now Vine Street and 5600 South Street. Before and after the advent of the pioneers, this land was used by the Ute Indians as a camping ground. This is because water and grass could be obtained on either side of it and enemies could not approach without being seen long before coming to the high ground. This area would become the present-day Murray City Cemetery. The early settlers mutually agreed that no individual should fence or take title to it, but that it should be set aside and considered as belonging to South Cottonwood Ward.
The Sons of Utah Pioneer’s South Cottonwood Monument
In 1853, when teamsters commenced to haul granite rock from Little Cottonwood Canyon to the Salt Lake Temple construction site, a dirt path was made along what is now Vine Street. The east side of the road (at the northeast corner, where the Stillwater Apartments now stand) became a halfway camping ground for the teamsters. The first building in the Salt Lake Valley outside of Salt Lake City erected for the purpose of religious and educational instruction was built on present-day Gordon Lane, and is commemorated with a monument from the Sons of the Utah Pioneers.
In 1858, during the so-called Utah War, Albert Sidney Johnston’s army of the Utah Expedition passed through western Murray after camping on the “flats” above the North Jordan farms. Its large livestock herd reportedly ate everything to within an inch of the ground. General Johnston, who was crossing James Winchester’s property (now Murray Parkway Golf Course), advised Winchester to pursue a homestead patent. In 1870 James Winchester entered the first homestead of the entire Intermountain West.
The Pony Express traveled through central Murray, along what is now State Street. The Utah Pony Express Station Number 9 was located near present-day 6200 State Street and was called “Travelers’ Rest”, but the accommodations were meager, consisting of a stable and one-room bunk house. The Overland Stagecoach later made use of Travelers’ Rest during its period of operation. The Sons of Utah Pioneers erected a monument at 7200 State Street in Midvale commemorating the station.
The area remained agricultural until 1869 when a body of ore was found in Park City, Utah, and additional ore deposits were found in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Because of Murray’s central location and access to the railroad, the first smelter was built there in 1870 and Murray became home to some of the largest smelters in the region over the next 30 years.
The first official post office was established in 1870 as the South Cottonwood Post Office. The area changed over time as the railroad came in, smelting expanded, the territorial road (later known as State Street) was established, and trolley transportation was developed. A business district also began to develop along the transportation corridor. (See also Murray Downtown Historic District and Murray Downtown Residential Historic District.)
The army established Camp Murray in 1885 to house several companies of the Ninth Infantry Regiment. The army camp was meant to help protect the railroad and provide training. The short-lived camp’s most notable action was when General Alexander McDowell McCook and six divisions of the camp were ordered to escort Chinese nationals out of Evanston, Wyoming, due to the race riots that were happening among miners in Rock Springs, Wyoming. The camp was disbanded in the early 20th century.
The city received its present name from the post office, which had officially changed its name from South Cottonwood Post Office to Murray Post Office in 1883, after the Civil War general, Eli Murray, territorial governor of Utah from 1880 to 1886.
After a riot and fire were started by a rowdy group of smelter workers in a local saloon, a local newspaper editor began agitating for the settlement to be incorporated. The final incorporation committee drafted a petition in 1901 and created an intense campaign on both sides of the incorporation battle. An incorporation election was held on November 18, 1902. Those in favor won, and C.L. Miller was elected Mayor by a margin of three votes. Salt Lake County recognized the election results as official on November 25, 1902, and the city was officially recognized as a Third Class City by the State of Utah on January 3, 1903.