Why Are Salt Lake City’s Blocks So Big?

Written By Wise Healthy n Wealthy

To steal a line from Lord of the Rings, one does not simply walk around Salt Lake City, Utah.

Everything’s simply too far away.

Salt Lake City has the widest streets and largest blocks of any major city in America.

They measure 660 x 660 feet, and the streets between them are 130 feet across. To put that in perspective, Portland’s blocks measure 198 x 198 feet. They’re so big in SLC that it takes twenty minutes to walk five blocks…

The Mormon Influence

The origin of SLC’s enormous blocks is surprisingly interesting. It all goes back to 1833, the Mormon Church, and a tool called the “Gunter Chain.”

In 1833, Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon faith, laid out his plans for how Mormon cities should look. He wanted a grid layout with a temple at the center and large blocks to accommodate family farming.

In 1847, when the Mormons entered Utah, Brigham Young – the church president at the time – finally had the opportunity to apply Smith’s principles. However, he made one notable alteration. He added those wide streets so the farmers could easily turn their cattle around without “resorting to profanity.”

But why 660 x 660 feet? And why 130-feet-wide streets? That’s where the Gunter Chain comes in.

The Gunter Chain

The Gunter Chain is a measurement device invented in 1620 by a polymath called Edmund Gunter. Thanks to its ease of use, it became the go-to tool for land surveying in 17th-century England and the British Empire.

The chain had 100 links (each link is a thin metal rod with a loop on either end) and was exactly 66 feet long in total. It was incredibly portable and, given its standardized length, simplified the mathematics of land surveying.

This simplicity is what made the Gunter Chain so popular.

A standard parcel of land in Britain is an acre, which measures 66 x 660 feet. Thus, an acre was simply one chain across and 10 chains long. When the Brits first crossed the Atlantic to colonize the New World, they brought the Gunter Chain with them, and the acre became the standard unit of land measurement in America, too.

Nowadays, you can see the influence of the Gunter Chain when you look at countless US towns and cities from above. They’re laid out in a grid pattern, where the sides of each city block typically measure 198 feet, 330 feet, or 660 feet – i.e., 3, 5, or 10 chains.

Notice anything about the width of streets in Salt Lake City, as well? 130 feet? To be more accurate, they’re 132 feet wide – or two lengths of the Gunter Chain.





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