Just an hour south of Salt Lake City on Interstate 15 there is a section of the state called Utah Valley. Although the Ute Indians anciently inhabited this area, today the valley is home to Provo, Utah's second largest city. To the west of Provo lies Utah Lake, and to the east of the city stand a towering range of mountains called the Wasatch Front. The history of Provo is an interesting page in the history of the Beehive State. Visitors who come to Provo will find several historic sites. These historic sites are cultural resources worthy of preservation as landmarks of the community.
Utah Valley was the traditional home of the Ute Indians. This people were known also as the Yuta Indians, or the Uta Indians. Looking at the names of the native people of the state, it becomes obvious from whence Utah got its name. These Indians called Utah Valley home because Utah Lake was full of fish that kept the tribe fed and they were protected from bellicose groups of Indians that lived to the Northeast. The Wasatch Front acted as a natural barrier to the enemies of the Ute Indians.
Two Spanish Franciscan priests named Escalante and Dominguez led a group of what is believed to be the first white visitors to come into Utah Valley. They kept an excellent written record of their journey and the places that they visited. This group came from Santa Fe, New Mexico along a route that was called The Old Spanish Trail. They came to this area to meet with the Ute Indians. They had been doing business with the Utes for some time. In their written record, the Franciscan monks recorded that they were so impressed with the beautiful, green valley that they made plans to set up a settlement in Utah Valley as soon as possible. However, there was a retrenchment in Spanish new-world colonization, this kept the Franciscans from setting up their settlement in Utah Valley. All that remains of their visits to the area are their written records.
Caucasian fur trappers were familiar with central Utah and specifically Utah Valley. They frequented the area through the nineteenth and early twentieth century. In fact, the city Provo was given its name in honor of an early trapper, Etienne Provost. Provost was a well-known fur trader and explorer from Quebec. In historical documents his name is recorded in different ways. He is mentioned under the name Provost, Proveau, and Provot. All three are variations of the same name. Provost was a well-known and respected mountain man. Many records have him recorded as the first white man to go far enough north to see the Great Salt Lake. He established a trading post on the shores of Utah Lake. The Provo River and the city of Provo were both named after this man.
Provo was settle by Mormons (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) in 1849. It was the first Mormon colony in Utah outside of the Salt Lake Valley. The Mormon settlers had problems with the Indians that lived in the area. The Ute Indians were very aggressive toward groups of people who tried to move in and take over their land. The new settlers built the town into a defensive fort called Fort Utah. It was built as a stockade with exterior walls that were fourteen feet high. They had to live in a manner that was close to a state of war from the time that the settlers first came to Provo. Peace came slowly between the Mormons and the Ute Indians, but after the first year, the settlers had to set up homes outside of Fort Utah and make Provo a more comfortable city in which they could live.
Provo was built up quickly as many members of the Mormon Church moved there from different parts of the world. They set up farms and industrial centers. Provo soon became known as the "Garden City" because of its extensive fruit orchards, trees, and gardens. In the late 1860s, industrialization began with the creation of The Provo Woolen Mills. In the 1920s, the Ironton Steel Mill was established, and later the much larger Geneva Steel Plant was built in the city. These industries were a success. Provo quickly became the second largest city in Utah.
Today, visitors of Provo can see several sites that have a great historic significance. These locations are landmarks of the community.
The Brigham Young Academy was founded in Provo in 1875. This school grew into what is now Brigham Young University (BYU). It is the largest church-affiliated university in the United States. BYU's students quickly outgrew the Brigham Young Academy Building, and the campus moved to its present location. The Academy today stands restored in its original location, but now as a beautiful public city library.
In 1919 the citizens of Utah County and of Provo City voted bonds for the erection of a new joint building. The cornerstone was laid December 14, 1920. On December 15, 1926, the building was dedicated with prayer, speeches and music. Although most Utah buildings carry very little sculpture of any kind, the Utah County Building pediment is decorated with sculpture designed by the architect and sculpted by Joseph Conradi. The Utah County Building, formerly known as the Provo City and County Building, is located in the center of town at the intersection of University Avenue and Center Street.
The Provo Tabernacle is another of Provo's historic landmarks. It was originally constructed from 1883 to 1898 at a cost of $100,000. The building has octagonal towers at each of its four corners. When it was first constructed, it had a central tower rising 147 feet into the air from the roof. Unfortunately, the roof was not able to support the weight of the central tower; the building was partly condemned in 1918 because the roof was under such great stress. The Tabernacle was renovated at this time, but the tower was allowed to stay until 1949 when the building was again condemned for the same problem. The weight of the tower was causing the roof to sag. At that time, a local carpenter and contractor named Charles Miller designed a method to remove the central tower. He was hired and completed the project in 1950. The renovated tabernacle is located on University Avenue between Center Street and First South. It is used for church meetings and cultural events, such as staging Handel's Messiah each year at Christmas Time.
Provo is worth a visit for anyone interested in the state of Utah. While there, visitors should see the historic sites that the city has to offer, including Brigham Young University, the Provo Tabernacle and the Utah County Building.
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