History Through the Looking Glass: Thistle, Utah

Have you ever wanted to peer through time to examine changes to a location?  With GIS technology, this ability becomes a reality.  In a recent map release from GIS Services entitled “History Through the Looking Glass: Thistle, Utah,” viewers have the opportunity to examine and learn about the ghost town of Thistle, utilizing past and present aerial imagery as well as historical photographs from the Marriott Library’s collection.

Located approximately 65 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, Utah, Thistle was a town closely dependent on the success of the railroad and steam locomotive era. With the introduction of the diesel locomotive in the 1950s, Thistle began to fade with establishment closures and declining population numbers.

In 1983, a massive landslide northwest of the town created a dam, blocking the flow of the Spanish Fork River. Approximately 65,000 acre feet of water backed up, forcing the remaining residents to evacuate and submerging the town underwater. When control of the river had been restored and the newly created lake was drained, all that remained of Thistle were a few partially standing structures. Thistle had been destroyed and would be known from then on as a ghost town.

Offering the opportunity to learn about the history and destruction of Thistle, this interactive map incorporates georeferenced historical aerial photographs taken before the town’s destruction. With this GIS interface, one is able to comparatively visualize “through a looking glass” over present-day satellite imagery. Viewers are also presented with historical images of the area dating back to 1885 as well as information about the landslide, flooding and transportation corridor impacts that devastated this small, rural area.

To see more of what’s happening in the library’s GIS Services department, click here and watch for new map releases similar to “History Through the Looking Glass: Thistle, Utah” in the coming months.


  • Mike Korologos
    Posted at 18:19h, 19 December Reply

    This is very interesting, GIS Services, thank you. I haven’t yet looked further into your website, but it occurs to me such an earlier/day-current day look at the Rio Tinto Kennecott Copper mine would be very telling. Places like Highland Boy, Upper Bingham, the tunnel from lower Bingham to Upper Bingham, and most of the once-narrow, bustling streets of the city of Bingham have disappeared with the expansion of the copper pit…but it would be neat to overlay those sites atop an aerial shot of the pit….
    thanks again, Mike Korologos

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