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The Railroad Bishop and his decendants

John Sharp was born in Scotland in the year 1820. He was a hard-working Scotsman that began work in the coal pits at the age of eight years of age. He and his two brothers were converted to the Mormon Church in 1847, and they set out for Zion the next year. They reached Salt Lake City in August of 1850 and shortly after his arrival became the superintendent of the Church quarry where the huge blocks of granite were cut for the Salt Lake Temple and the massive wall around Temple Square, along with other structures on the grounds. (As a geologists son I knew that version of granite was called quartz-monzonite and was one of the hardest variations of that stone. I did some stone carving in art school mostly out of Alabaster and some Sandstone which is very soft in comparison. Steel chisels would just beat the edges blunt on Granite and the secret of the tooling and carving of it has been lost until the advent of diamond saws and the like.)

In 1854 he was ordained by Brigham Young as the first bishop of the Salt Lake Twentieth Ward. Ten years later he was appointed as assistant superintendent of public works, and became the acting superintendent when Daniel H. Wells was called to preside over the European missions of the LDS Church.

Recognizing his industry and ability, President Young invited him to become a chief subcontractor on the Union Pacific contract, particularly to be in charge of the bridge and tunnel work, where his experience in stone cutting would be a valuable asset. So it was that three of the eldest sons of Brigham Young (Joseph, Brigham jr. and John W.) along with John Sharp (who was also a lawyer) were brought together in the firm Sharp & Young they took on grading contract and the boring of tunnels they soon had some fourteen hundred men working for them in Echo Canyon. Upon reaching the Promontory region the two companies’ blasters worked very near each other and when the men of Sharp and Young’s Union Pacific first began their work the Central Pacific would give them no warning when they would set off their fuse. It was then that Jim Livingston, Sharp’s able foreman went to work loading a point of rock with nitro-glycerine, and without saying anything to the CP ‘let her rip.’ The terrific explosion caused the foreman of the CP to come down and confer with Mr. Livingston about the precaution of notifying each party when the other was ready to blast.

An example of the danger involved in blasting operations and the need to advise each other when one was about to be set off can be seen from a Deseret News dispatch of March 5th, 1869, just two months before the railroad was joined at Promontory. “The heaviest work on the Promontory is within a few miles of headquarters. Sharp & Young’s blasters are jarring the earth every few minutes with their glycerine and powder, lifting whole ledges of limestone rock from their long resting places, hurling them hundreds of feet in the air and scattering them around for a half mile in every direction.”


Bishop Sharp represented Brigham Young at the Golden Spike ceremony at Promontory, since Brigham Young was unable to attend. Sometime after-word the Union Pacific failed to pay the Mormon railroad workers for their work on the railroad. It was John Sharp, Joseph A. Young and Apostle John Taylor, whom Brigham Young sent east to do battle in the courts for the LDS Church. Sharp played a key role in the construction of the Utah Central Railroad as well in 1869-70, and became it’s superintendent in 1871, and its president in 1873. He was also named vice-president of the Utah Southern Railroad Company when that company was formed in 1870. As the purchasing agent for the this railroad, he became acquainted with some of the Union Pacific directors in New York City and eventually was named a UP (Union Pacific) director, which position he retained until he died late in December the 23rd of 1891 at his home in Salt Lake City. John Sharp became known as “The Railroad Bishop” and he did well in life having risen in status from a childhood as a miner in the coal pits of Scotland.

John Sharp’s son James Sharp became a stock holder in the Railroad company as well as Mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah from 1884 to 1886. His oil portrait can still be seen on the second floor of the City and County building. This is a quote from the Utah Herald in 1886 about James Sharp’s tenure as Mayor. “James Sharp was the Herald’s candidate for Mayor two years ago, and his record has been such that this paper is proud that it advocated his election and stood by his administration. The gentleman may retire with the perfect assurance that he enjoys the gratitude, the esteem and the confidence of the public he has served so faithfully, and with so much ability, intelligence and integrity. It is ever a pleasant thing to be able to conscientiously approve the course of a public officer when he retires, and in Mr. Sharp’s case it is doubly enjoyable.”

James Sharp had several children and it was and still is a tradition of the family to name one of the kids John. So it was that John Francis Sharp MD became the next person in our family to bear the name. He was sent to New York City to study medicine and there he met his future wife Luella Ferrin from Huntington, Utah, while both were taking singing lessons from the famous Opera singer Madame Von Klenner. They named one of their first sons Klenner or ‘Klink’ for short. Luella had been sent by the LDS church to study Opera as the lead soprano for the Salt Lake Opera Company and both sang later with the Tabernacle Choir. John Francis Sharp MD became the head surgeon at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah as well as the commanding officer of the MASH unit from Utah. Serving as the units commander for both the Poncho Villa campaign and throughout World War I. (I ran in to an elderly woman at a rest home I played music at a few years ago. She said she worked at LDS Hospital and remembered Dr. Sharp as a gentleman that always said good morning and held the elevator door open for her and anyone else in the Hospital.) The sister of John Francis Sharp was named Cecilia Sharp (my father’s aunt) she was a well know pianist. She was married to Mahonri M. Young the sculptor (1877-1957) he was also the grandson of Brigham Young. Their oldest son Mahonri Sharp Young became a well known Art critic, art historian, writer and former museum director. After the death of Cecilia Sharp, Uncle Hon married Dorothy Weir an educator and daughter of the american impressionist painter J. Alden Weir. Mahonri taught at the New York Art Academy and was a well known member of the Ashcan School, an art movement of social realism during the depression, depicting both the poverty and dignity of the working class of America. Mahonri Young influenced many artists studying in both Paris and in New York. He was a great mentor to my father Byron James Sharp and my Uncle Gil Sharp, he took them on many sketching trips through out central and southern Utah. He and Dorothy Weir would stay at the home of John Francis Sharp whenever they traveled to Utah, and my Uncle Gil later studied art and taught at the New York Art Academy with Uncle Hon. Mohonri made an interesting sketch at the family duck club of the time with my father and his dog. “Byron and Terry on a raft” It’s a sketch of my father as a teen with his dog poling a boat through the cat tail reeds along Farmington Bay of the Great Salt Lake.

My father, Dr. Byron James Sharp, flew a glider on D-Day during World War II. He later received his degrees in Geology, Paleontology and Mineralogy from the University of Utah. His art ability gave him an ability to make geologic and topographic maps, interpret aerial photographs and cross into many fields to make contributions of all kinds, despite resistance from so called area experts in the sciences. He mapped many of the energy and metal resources for ERDA (Energy Research and Development Agency) throughout the western United States. He published many papers such as the “Asteriod impact theory” and discovered many fossils one with his name such as Pseudoarctolepus sharpi a soft bodied Cambrian pre-trilobite from the Wheeler shale of Southern Utah. The research he is proudest of is his many papers and artifacts on “Early Man in the Americas”, for which he won a scientific award for “The Study of the First Americans.” He also did many water colors and sketches much like the type of subject Mahonri did, having been taught by him on their many sketching trips. My father told me stories of his older brothers and sisters, of which he was the youngest. My Aunt Marion Sharp Robinson was a famous Opera singer with a Fulbright and career in Paris. She sang for the Paris and San Francisco Opera Companies and sang in many of the most famous halls in Europe. She collected art and started the University of Utah’s Art collection with donations of her paintings, she wrote books and poetry as well as dealt in real estate for a while. Aunt Martha Sharp Toronto the next sister in line, wrote an interesting book called “A Cherry Tree behind the Iron Curtain” about her experiences as the wife of a mission President in Czechoslovakia during the Nazi and then the Communist occupation. My Uncle John Sharp was a B-26 Pilot and later a A-26 fighter bomber ace during World War II, later becoming the commanding officer of the Air Force base in Sacremento. (Now of Hill Air Force Base in Utah.)

My generation came next David Spalding Sharp, Douglas Spalding Sharp and my sister Dianne Elaine Sharp-Roberg are the children of Byron and Elaine Sharp. My children Dylan John Sharp, Daniel Brendan Sharp and step children, (Carol's kids) Kory, Chris, and Georgianna including the grandchildren (Aspen) hear these stories from us. I believe it is important to tell them that we lived and worked and have something to measure up to, remember and be inspired by those of our family that have gone before. Someday it will be their turn and you don’t stop loving someone just because their gone.

David Sharp
Glastonbury duo

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