Anyone who has grown up in Ogden, Utah is familiar with the scandalous history of 25th street and the notorious myths and legends of the “secret” tunnels and underground spaces that line it. For most people, this is all it amounts to. No one living really knows if the tunnels ever really existed, or how true the stories of 25th street’s underground world really are. There is no hard evidence, no actual tunnels that have ever been known to be discovered, unveiled and presented to the community. But the legends still live on strong. So as a lifelong citizen of Ogden, I went out to seek these answers for myself, hoping to find at least some form of more solid information.
Reading about the history is great, but I found that most books about the street don’t say much of anything about the physical underground world or tunnels. So I went a step further and tried to find some of these answers on my own. I decided I needed to go where many people have never gone – into the places where the supposed legends and mysteries all began- the actual basements and underground spaces that line underneath the businesses of modern day 25th street. I was very fortunate to have many kind business owners allow me to tour these underground spaces in hopes to find some real answers of what is left of the historic world and what really happened during the time that 25th street was known as the most sinful towns in America.
Setting the scene:
Ogden’s days of being a small, quiet Mormon town all changed the moment it was chosen to be the Junction City for the first ever railroad to join the East Coast with the West about 40 miles northwest of it in 1869. After this, Ogden was flooded with all kinds of people who came with the railroad; including travelers, soldiers, rail workers and a huge proportion of immigrants.
Within a year of the Union of the railroads, Ogden’s population had doubled and consistently grew. By 1890, one out of every 3 or 4 residents in the county was an immigrant from another country. It seemed nearly overnight the unknown prairie town of Ogden was transformed into a melting pot cosmopolitan meca, not only connecting the country in a capacity that it had never been before, but the entire world.
Ogden’s grand Union Station sat as the throne of 25th street’s three blocks that rolled out in front of it. These three blocks quickly became a post for the traveler, offering all forms of services, from hotels and restaurants to saloons, gambling halls and brothels. 25th street boomed with all the people and influence going in and out, but soon became corrupt, unsafe and full of crime and illegal activity. Eventually, 25th street formed a worldwide reputation as one of the most sinful towns in America and stayed that way for roughly a century following.
Al Capone himself is to have said that Ogden was too wild a town for even him. Ogden has actually been said to have been a major influence for the famous Las Vegas Strip. Rick Vanleeuwen, owner of today’s 25th street’s Gift House, recalled one of his shop patron’s memories of when he was a young G.I. in WWII and was given a pamphlet of places not to go during war time; 25th street was a headliner on the list.
With all the corruption and illegal activity going on in the lively Junction hub, the literal and figurative underground world of 25th street was formed. This is where the underground tunnels and world come into play.
The glory days of 25th street lasted roughly 80 years, beginning in the late 1880’s to early 1900’s as a wild west town filled with opium dens. Murder was common and the major business of prostitution that last until the 1950’s arose. Later, when prohibition began in 1917, 25th street became even more exciting, especially due to the fact that Utah outlawed the sale of liquor two and a half years prior to nationwide prohibition. When prohibition was repealed in 1933, organized crime was rampant in Ogden and drove even more illegal business underground literally and figuratively.
In the 1950’s the city finally put a major crackdown on the crime. With this and the major decline in the railroad passenger service, 25th street’s glory days quickly came to a halt.
By the 1960’s and 1970’s 25th the street was completely dead and the city planned to restore the street in the mid 1970’s.
To be continued …
25th Street, Ogden, Utah: The most sinful town in America, Post #2