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County History

The first residents of the Salt Lake Valley were natives known as the “Desert Gatherers” or the “Fremont Indians.” They were followed by Shoshonean tribes, such as the Shoshone, Paiute, Goshute and Ute who were living in the valley when the Mormon pioneers arrived in 1847 to establish a religious settlement.

Once the “State of Deseret” government was created, the Legislative Assembly officially created Great Salt Lake County on January 31, 1850. Over 11,000 residents lived in the County at that time.

The first formal meeting of SALT LAKE COUNTY government occurred on March 15, 1852—eighteen months after the Utah Territory was established by the United States Congress.

Probate judges and county selectmen functioned in what was known as the County Court. The duties of the County Court included both judicial and executive powers for the administration of county government. They managed claims against the County; controlled timber and water privileges; granted mill sites; created schools, roads, and election districts; and levied taxes.

They authorized payment of bills and wages; laid out roads, irrigation canals and dams; and appointed county officials such as the fruit tree inspector and coroner.

Over time, more duties were added including granting business licenses, most of which were liquor licenses, and approving the incorporation of towns.

With statehood in 1896, a county commission was created. At this time, County government had a County Auditor, Assessor, Attorney, Clerk, Recorder, Sheriff, Surveyor, and Treasurer – the same independent offices that exist today!

In 1900, Salt Lake County had 77,725 residents.

County government provided social services to residents by operating a Girl’s Home, a Hospital and Infirmary, and providing pensions to the poor and widows. During the Depression, the County provided relief to over 11,500 people. Public works projects were funded at over $340,000 in wages to offset unemployment.

Throughout WWII County government served the residents by providing funds for recreation centers for minority military personnel and daycare for women working in defense industries.

As the County grew, so did government. More functions were performed by elected officials and newly created administrative agencies. By the 1930’s, the County Commission heard more individual property tax adjustment requests and the County Library system opened with seven branches in 1937. The Recreation Division was created in 1946.

In 1944, a Planning Board was organized and by the 1950’s, zoning changes and improvements were heard by the County Commission.

The 1960’s saw the creation of the Health department in 1962 and the Planetarium opened on November 26, 1965.

By 1990 there were more than 700,000 residents

During the 1970’s more administrative offices were created to assist with the management of County government: Facilities, Emergency Services, the Finance Department, Data Processing and Human Resources were all created during this decade. The Highways Department and Flood Control were created in the early 1970’s. By 1978 an official Public Works Department was created by ordinance. During the 1980’s, the county continued to grow. Government services expanded to accommodate the 725,956 residents who lived here by 1990.

Sports were important to residents and by the mid-1990’s, Parks and Recreation offered two dozen neighborhood parks, thirteen community parks and eight regional parks for residents.

In 2000, a new Mayor/Council form of government was chosen by the voters to replace the County Commission. The population of the County was 898,387. The County expanded services to include a new jail, more libraries and recreation centers and more programs for its aging population.

In 2008, SALT LAKE COUNTY is a diverse community of 16 cities and 6 townships. County government serves almost 1 million residents providing public safety, health services, and cultural and recreation opportunities while also managing property, growth and development issues.


Terry Ellis, Archivist
Records Management & Archives