The Sharp family originally came from Clackmanan in the county of
Clackmannanshire, Scotland. The family worked their hands in stone as quarrymen, stonecutters and coal miners since the earliest mention of Sharps in Clackmannan around 1500. The Sharps were allies or a sept of the Stewarts of Apin. Clackmannan means "Stone of the Manu" in Scottish Gallic. Manu is the Scottish version of the Irish Sea God Mananon Mac Lir. The Stone sits on top of a stone pillar in the town square next to the navel cross that bears the coats of arms of the Wallace clan. Clackmannanshire was the kingdom of the brother of Wallace and is the smallest county in Scotland. It was there that John Sharp was converted to the Mormon Church and along with his brothers, parents and in-laws began their immigration to America in 1848 to join the "Saints" in Utah where the kingdom of Zion was being built. John brought his wife Jane Patterson and their son James, then four years old. Adam Sharp the next oldest brother came with his wife Janet Cook Sharp, and Joseph Sharp the youngest had yet to marry. Agnes Sharp Patterson the sister of John Sharp also came with her husband Robert Patterson. John Sharp senior and his wife Mary Hunter Sharp were the parents that came with their children as well.
They made their way south into England and in Liverpool they took passage on board the "Erin's Queen" that arrived in New Orleans late in 1848. From New Orleans they made their way to Saint Louis by Steam Boat like many of the converts to the Mormon Church. There in Saint Louis they went to work for a year in the Coal Mines of Gravois Diggins or Grave Diggins to accumulate money to buy and outfit wagons for the journey to Utah. It was during the winter of 1849 that a Cholera epidemic broke out in Saint Louis killing nearly twenty percent of the population. It was there that the Mother of the family, Mary Hunter Sharp died and was buried. John Sharp went forth to the sick in the community to administer prayers and healing working tirelessly while still working in the mines. Joseph Sharp met a young woman named Janet Condie the daughter of another family of Mormons that had been working in the mines. They were married there and she joined her husband’s family for the journey to Utah. That spring the Sharp set out for Salt Lake City along the old Mormon trail which was on the southern bank of the Platt River opposite the Oregon Trail on the North bank. The John Sharp Company led their family and some sixty other Mormon converts on the journey. They spread out for many miles along the trail.
It was during their journey that John Sharp had an additional child named Mary after their mother Mary Hunter Sharp. The Sharps were described in several journals of the company as being tough, strong, sturdy and reliable. John Sharp was especially noted for his refined and mature judgment. Upon arriving to the Salt Lake Valley late in the fall, the Sharp family came down immigration canyon and instead of going directly into Salt Lake City they skirted the foothills around to what is known as Red Butte Canyon. There they found an outcrop of sandstone and quarried out a square section where they put the wagon boxes over the top and built a stone wall in the entrance to wait out the coming winter. My wife and I went for a small hike in Red Butte Canyon and could not distinguish the Sharp family quarry from the many WPA quarries started by President Roosevelt's programs in the 1930's. The terrain is much like it must have been and Sego Lilies still bloom upon the hillsides, which had been a much needed food source during the late winter and early spring. That spring John Sharp made fast friends with Brigham Young and the success of the family depended much on his patronage. John and his brothers began quarry stone for the Tabernacle, the Tithing House and many of the brown stone buildings from the time period. Soon the Sharp brothers were teaching many of the newly arrived converts the methods of stone quarrying along with many of their neighbors from Clackmannanshire and Fife. It was during that spring that John Sharp Jr. was born.
John Sharp next 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 1853 John Sharp senior, the father of John Sharp died just three years after entering the valley.
In 1854 he was ordained by Brigham Young as the first bishop of the Salt Lake Twentieth Ward. John Sharp and his brothers owned two blocks next to each other on South Temple. Later James built the manor that was to become the LDS business college for a time. Ten years later John Sharp 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. Bishop Sharp was a member of the council of fifty made up of the most prominent business men of Salt Lake City, he was a member of the council of Enoch, He and his brother Joseph were Salt Lake City's police chief and constable respectively for many years, he was on the board of ZCMI, and Zion’s bank for thirty years and held the rank of Major and later Colonel of the 3rd Infantry of the Nauvoo Legion.
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 Young, Brigham Young Jr. and John W. Taylor) along with John Sharp chief mining Engineer and contractor (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-glycerin, 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 glycerin 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 the company’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 in Salt Lake City, Utah. James was just a boy of four years when his family started out for Utah and he came with his father’s Pioneer Company from Saint Louis.
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.”
During James Sharp’s tenure as Mayor of Salt Lake City Brigham Young died and many of the official institutions flew their flags at half mast. The Federal government had forbidden Utah officials to fly the flag of the United States at half mast since Brigham Young had defied them in previous years. Yet Brigham Young was not seen in that light by most of Utah’s population and he had been a great benefactor to the Sharp family. So it was that James Sharp flew the flag over the City and County Building in Salt Lake City, at half mast. Soon Federal Marshals came knocking at the office door of the Mayor and fortunately James was out and the Deputy Mayor had to deal with the Marshals. One was a Union Veteran and the other was a Veteran of the Confederate States and they disagreed about the nature of the insult to the flag and James avoided being taken into custody.
by David S. Sharp