Thompson Springs, Utah – A Once Prosperous Mining Town In The Desert

Thompson Springs, Utah - A Once Prosperous Mining Town In The Desert

The town of Thompson Springs, Utah is on life support, with less than 50 people living there as of today. Once the center of a bustling railroad town, Thompson Springs was home to stores, restaurants, and a railroad depot. However, many of its remaining buildings continue to decay as dusty winds blow through the nearly empty town.

Thompson Springs, Utah Coordinates: 38.97115156899402, -109.7140199579214

Thompson Motel – Thompson Springs, Utah

The town of Thompson Springs has quite an interesting history about what led it to becoming a ghost town. When standing in the middle of town, you’ll see beautiful views all around. Nearby, you can see the Book Cliffs from the railroad tracks on Old US 50/6. Quite a beautiful location for such an interesting old town. 

North of Thompson Springs is the ghost town of Sego, which was a coal-mining town located at the foot of Book Cliffs, and plays a big part in the history of Thompson Springs. The town of Sego had a peak population of approximately 500 during its most prosperous years. It was connected to Thompson Springs by a 5.25-mile railroad spur, the Ballard & Thompson Railroad. While Sego’s population reached nearly 500, Thompson’s population would reach only a few hundred at its peak.

E.W. Thompson operated a sawmill north of the springs where the town would eventually grow during the 1880s. His sawmill was further to the north near the Book Cliffs, but eventually a small community started to form just south of there. The community adopted the name Thompson Springs, named after E.W. Thompson. The town was occupied mostly by sheep herders and farmers. 

Among the town’s residents was Englishman Harry Ballard. Ballard was a highly successful sheep and cattleman who had decided to buy up pieces of land all around Thompson Springs, eventually building a hotel, store, saloon and numerous homes throughout the town. By 1883, the town had grown enough that the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad had added a stop in their small but busy settlement. This was great for the sheep and cattle farmers in town, as it now offered them a way to ship their stock. 

In 1890, a post office was established in the town, appropriately named “Thompson’s,” after the town’s owner. It wasn’t long after this that Harry Ballard had made a discovery that would change things in a big way for the area. Adjacent to his ranch, approximately five miles north of the post office, Ballard discovered a large coal vein. He kept quiet about it, but quickly purchased the property and started mining operations. In 1911, Ballard sold the land to a group of Salt Lake City investors who then expanded mining operations and established the mining town of Sego. The town of Sego brought even more traffic to the area and employed many workers.

In 1914 another huge shift happened for Thompson when a rail line was built to connect the mines at Sego to the Thompson railhead. This line was named the Ballard and Thompson Railroad. By this time the town had grown, though it never really boomed with more than a few hundred residents. Despite this, the town had two motels, a saloon, railroad station, numerous stores, a restaurant and even a school.

The coal mines were producing plenty of high-grade coal at the time, and operations were on the rise. Unfortunately, even with coal in such high demand at this time, the mines struggled with financial issues. This was not a new thing, as these mines were struggling from the very start, mainly due to management issues and lack of a steady water source. In 1949, the railroad to the mine would shut down, making operations at the mine even more difficult. The Sego Canyon mines continued to operate for another six years into 1955 before they were completely closed. Sego was the first of the two towns to become somewhat of a ghost town.In the 1970s, the new I-70 was constructed, with a stretch of the road passing by just a few miles south of Thompson. The town had made it through years of decline as mines closed, but this would start to spell the end for any bit of prosperity the town had left. The construction of Interstate 70 and the railroad line to Green River, Utah, moved traffic away from Thompson. As a result, less people visited, and the town’s businesses started to close until none remained open. The train, which once made frequent stops, no longer made stops in Thompson. The town had operated for years simply under the name of Thompson, but in 1985, the original name of Thompson Springs was reinstated.

In 1994, the final blow was dealt to the town when Amtrak relocated its passenger station to Green River, Utah. This stopped any of the remaining traffic Thompson would see aside from those wanting to simply visit the town. The railroad still runs through Thompson Springs today, but makes no stops in town. One of the few things that keeps anyone stopping is a nearby gas station right off the I-70 exit south of the town. Few that stop take the moment to drive up north just a bit to see the town and the history it has to share. What’s left of this once thriving town today is an eerie remembrance of its vibrant past.

Thanks for checking out Architectural Afterlife! If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy checking out these other interesting places in Utah.

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