Ogden’s surprising past starts at 25th Street

May 19, 2022, 3:54 PM
Shop signs line 25th street in Ogden...
25th Street in Ogden is pictured on Tuesday September 29, 2020. Photo credit: Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News.

OGDEN, Utah — Crime is a part of every city’s past, but in Ogden, its shady past is celebrated. In the audio tour, “Ogden’s Notorious 25th Street” from the Weber County Heritage Foundation, listeners learn about the city’s past and how it centered on 25th Street.

How Ogden’s 25th Street storied past began

Dr. Katie Nelson, executive director of the Weber County Heritage Foundation, narrated the audio tour.

In the tour, Nelson explained that years before Utah became a state, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroad lines “met” in Ogden.

“Ogden became a melting pot like the American West had never seen. Native Americans, who were here first, were living alongside Mormon farmers, mostly from Britain and Scandinavia. Then, the trains roared into town, bringing thousands of railroad workers. Immigrants from China and Ireland, and African Americans, many of whom were former slaves,” Nelson said.

During the tour, Nelson said 25th Street was where travelers would get off the train to switch between the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroad lines.

Passengers brought “railroad culture” to 25th Street, according to Nelson.

“Almost overnight, Ogden became the crossroads of America where every cross-country train stopped for all passengers to change lines, 119 trains a day,” Nelson said.

But 25th Street soon became infamous for crime.

“Chinese opium dens were a regular part of railroad life, and therefore, Ogden,” said Nelson.

She said that 25th Street embraced vices. “All the major vices; alcohol, gambling, drugs, prostitution. They ran 25th Street like a well-oiled machine. And, surprisingly, it may just be all this organized crime that saved Ogden from the Great Depression.”

“Harman Peery, our young, savvy mayor in the 1930s, he decided to license all the criminal operations, and the tax dollars rolled in,” Nelson explained.

“Ogden became a city of immense diversity. A wild, rebel city, right smack in the middle of Mormon Utah,” Nelson said.

‘A historic place for beer’

“During the years of Prohibition, the street was practically exploding with speakeasies and bootleggers. In fact, Utah outlawed alcohol two and a half years before the federal government did. So Ogden kind of got a head start on illegal booze.

 “Some of these shops still have remnants of the Prohibition days in their basements like antique barrels cemented into hiding places. This was indeed a historic place for beer,” she said

Nothing illustrates Ogden’s seedy past more than the story of one business owner, said Nelson.

“The brothel. Run by a very famous woman we call Gentile Kate. She was the first in a long line of madams who reined over 25th street. She built a massive fortune running a house of prostitution, much to the disapproval of the Mormon leader Brigham Young. Their rivalry has become the stuff of legend, as Brigham Young tried and tried to shut down Gentile Kate, but she always emerged victorious,” said Nelson.

Nelson said the rivalry even continued after Young’s death.

Kate purchased Young’s most “ostentatious” carriage after he died, according to a local story.

The story is not likely true, according to Nelson, but she said the persistence of the story illustrates how Ogden has framed its own “rebel past.”

KSL NewsRadio is on its 100th Anniversary Tour, visiting counties across northern Utah and celebrating local stories.

Samantha Herrera contributed to the reporting of this story.

Related: Ogden’s 25th Street Museum holds open house on Saturday, May 21

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Ogden’s surprising past starts at 25th Street