In the late 1870s, at the height of Stockton’s mining boom, nearly 100 mines dotted the town’s hills. They had names like Cash Box, Last Chance and No-You-Don’t, attracting prospectors from all over the world.
One such adventurer was Alexander Maze, who came from Scotland in his late teens. Shortly after immigrating, he met a pretty boarding house worker named Betsy Ann Gill. They fell in love and married, establishing one of Stockton’s oldest families.
Today, Maze’s granddaughter, Kaye Hollien, her husband Jack, and others on a special committee are inviting the public to celebrate Stockton’s 150th anniversary on April 27.
A Founder’s Day program paying tribute to those who established Stockton in 1863 — Native Americans, soldiers and miners — will start at 5 p.m. in the Stockton LDS Church on Connor Avenue. Admission is free. There will also be additional events throughout the summer.
Lela Anderson chairs the committee that includes Kaye and Jack, Pauline Hawk, Rulon Aufdemorte, Mary Edwards, Doralee Speakman and Stockton Mayor Mark Whitney.
“The mayor thought about forming a [150th Anniversary] committee a year ago,” Anderson said.
Dozens of meetings and countless hours later, the committee has collected memorabilia and dozens of personal histories from current and former Stockton residents, which will be on display April 27.
Anderson, who moved to Stockton in 1988 when her husband got a job in Dugway, said she’s pretty much adopted the town for her own. But she learned to appreciate its history even more so in the past year.
“We got so excited about the things we were discovering,” Anderson said. “Did you know that Stockton was the first town in the Utah Territories to have streets surveyed and named? And that it’s the first town to get electric lights? And the first to get a telephone?”
“If it wasn’t for Stockton, Utah wouldn’t be so prominent,” Jack added.
It’s hard to imagine present-day Stockton claiming such bragging rights. Or, that, at one time, the town housed 4,000 residents, a blacksmith, livery stables, stores, saloons, billiards and even a hotel.
Today, a visitor driving into Stockton mainly sees a quiet town of 600 that has one visible restaurant (Stockton Miner’s Café), few residential streets, and not much in the way of a business district. The one reminder of its illustrious past lies in how the streets are named.
Connor Avenue, Stockton’s Main Street, is named after U.S. Army General Patrick Connor, who in 1861 was assigned to protect the overland mail route in what was known then as Camp Relief.
As he encountered Native Americans whose ancestors had first called the area Shambip, or “rush,” he noticed that the tribes people wore trinkets made of ore. Acting on his suspicions, he and his men started prospecting the hills and subsequently discovered lead-ore deposits.
In 1863, Connor renamed the army post Stockton after the California city where he had served previously, and had the streets surveyed and named. Soon after, news of the bonanza spread like wildfire, attracting prospectors like Maze.
To some, like Ohio businessman Edward Mitchener, a migration to Stockton meant an opportunity to experience first-hand the rough-and-tumble west made famous by other prospectors’ accounts.
“The journey by rail from Ohio to Salt Lake City took five days and four nights and I was weary of seeing nothing but sage brush and plants,” he wrote in an 1884 article he submitted to the Ohio Democrat. “But I don’t think I will ever tire of the lofty mountains and the snow-covered peaks, canyons, gulches, and the rains.”
He waxed poetic even about vegetables.
“There is so much to see here and all is new to me, (sic) even the new potatoes are different. Such turnips, beets, and cabbages never grew in Ohio. Bread made from Utah wheat is altogether different from Ohio wheat bread and is much better.”
But it wasn’t all romance, for mining was not an easy occupation.
“It was amazing that they could mine so deeply with just primitive equipment,” Kaye said. “The miners wore hard hats with only carbide lights.”
Like many other miners, Maze eventually succumbed in his early 50s to “miner’s consumption.”
Education was limited as well. Kaye’s mother didn’t go to school past eighth grade because that would have meant having to pay for room and board in Tooele to attend a high school. Back then, travel between the two towns on undeveloped roads took a major part of the day.
“A lot of people had to move to Tooele for a school year, then move back [to Stockton] for the summer,” she said.
Kaye herself has happy memories growing up in Stockton during a simpler time. She remembers buying penny candy and ice cream cones at the bar and walking the railroad tracks. She and her friends caught tadpoles in the smelter ponds. Baseball was a favorite pastime.
Though not as long of a Stockton resident, Anderson has her own special memory. She remembers taking her daughters, who were feeling homesick for the more cosmopolitan Salt Lake City, to Margaret Meli’s now-defunct café.
“You were there forever,” Anderson said. “Everything was made to order. But they were the best hamburgers. That was the highlight of the week for my girls.”
The Holliens and Anderson also noted the kind acts of service by Stockton residents in more recent decades.
“People do a lot for each other out here,” Anderson said. “When I first [came to Stockton in 1988], what impressed me the most was that Ernest Johnson would sweep the gutters on Connor Avenue.”
The Holliens reminisced about six-term County Commissioner Willis Smith, who helped residents build houses, and George Bryan, whose gas station supplied fuel to the fire department and town vehicles.
Other memorable stories from the past 150 years that will be displayed on Stockton’s Founder’s Day are accounts of a grandmother keeping rattlesnakes in burlap bags so she could add their rattlers to her collection, and teenage boys sneaking up to and swimming in the water tank.