Before there was a ski resort, homes, and a fire station at the head of Big Cottonwood Canyon, there was a tract of wild land open for use. William Stuart Brighton established Brighton Camp, and then Brighton Village. William Brighton, his wife Catherine, their two children Janet and Mary, and his sister Annie, came to America from Scotland in 1855, and traveled west in 1857. They experienced a difficult journey, burying Mary at sea and little Janet walking barefoot across the plains. The Brighton family created an infamous center for recreation and leisure when they built Brighton Hotel. Their contributions made a significant difference in Salt Lake society, with visitors flocking to the mountains for good food, dancing, and beautiful scenery.
William Brighton stood with his colleague, Joseph Elder, at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon in 1870 and drew lots to see who would claim mining rights in Little or Big Cottonwood Canyons. Brighton drew Big Cottonwood Canyon. He brought his family, which had grown to include sons Robert Alexander, William Henry, Thomas Bow, and Daniel H., to the area, at first living in a tent, but by 1872 had built a one-room cabin. A mining boom in the Alta area brought many miners through their land, going between Park City and Alta, and the Brightons began to host them. The miners liked Catherine’s cooking, and eventually persuaded the couple to build Brighton Hotel in 1874 to more formally host their many visitors. The Brighton Hotel quickly became a popular summer destination, hosting some of the most prominent Salt Lake people. The area was a romantic escape from the hustle and bustle of the city below, and was described as having excellent fishing and beautiful wildflowers, and its scenery inspired many. The family often hosted bonfires and dances for the whole canyon, where they enjoyed listening to the fiddle and the accordion. Popular lakes around the hotel were named by the Brightons and other residents of the canyon; for example, it is said that the German artist Bornimann named Lake Catherine after Catherine Brighton, who renamed Dog Lake to Silver Lake, due to the way that it shimmered in the early morning.
By 1895, the Brightons had opened a small store, a post office, and second hotel. They also had the only telephone in whole canyon. The canyon swelled with summer visitors, drawn to the beauty of the mountains and the hospitality of the Brightons. Sadly, in 1894, Catherine died of a heart attack, with William passing away nine months later, in 1895, of blood poisoning from an infected sliver in his finger. The Brightons’ contribution to the canyon as a place of recreation and inspiration is unequaled and is of sure sentimental value to the history of Big Cottonwood Canyon.