Within the state of Utah there are numerous beautiful mountain valleys; few are as picturesque as Heber Valley, some fifty highway miles east of Salt Lake City. Historically, the first white Americans to visit the area just east of Mount Timpanogos were members of a fur trapping brigade led by Etienne Provost in 1824. For many years the valley was referred to as Provo or upper Provo; the river running south through the valley still bears the name of that explorer.
It was the completion of a wagon road through Provo Canyon in 1858 that brought the first Mormon settlers to the area. The following spring, a number of families (most from Utah County) began locating farther to the west along Snake Creek, establishing two small communities. The first was a mile and a half south of present Midway; the second was about three miles north of the first. The more northern settlement was called Mound City due to the numerous nearby limestone formations. Among the early family names of settlers were Robey, Epperson, Bronson, McCarroll, and Smith. By 1861 there were approximately fifty families living west of the Provo River.
In 1866, because of Indian hostilities, territorial governor Brigham Young encouraged settlers to construct forts for protection. The two Snake Creek settlements reached an agreement to build a fort halfway or midway between the two existing communities--hence the name Midway. During the 1860s and 1870s a large number of Swiss immigrants arrived. Swiss names such as Gertsch, Huber, Kohler, Probst, Zenger, Durtschi, and Abegglen, among others, are still found in Midway.
From the beginning, Midway's industry was based on livestock and farming; however, the pioneers' need for building materials quickly became paramount. Sawmills were established by the early 1860s. Three principal operators were Henry T. Coleman, John Watkins, and Moroni Blood. Lime, limestone or "pot stone" blocks, and brick also were soon manufactured. In 1861 John H. Van Wagoner constructed the first commercial gristmill. Retail stores soon were developed by enterprising residents; one, the Bonner Mercantile Store, was constructed in 1879 and is still in use today. A second long-running retail business was founded by Henry T. Coleman and Simon Epperson. Established in 1910 and originally called "the Midway Drug Store," that confectionery and grocery outlet was operated until 1986 by the Coleman family (who also owned an adjacent movie theater initially called the Star and later the Rio). Blacksmiths, livery stables, boarding houses, and other businesses were also part of the community's economy. Moreover, by the 1880s nearby mines, particularly those in Park City, began to play an important economic role in many Midway households, and did so into the late 1960s.
Because of the numerous ninety-degree-plus hot-water springs in the Midway area, several resorts were developed including Schneitter's Hot Pots (now the Homestead) and Luke's Hot Pots (now the Mountain Spa); both were established in the 1880s.
Due to a rather consistent flow of water in Snake Creek Canyon, hydroelectric power was developed and brought to Midway by 1910. Heber Light and Power Company built their plant in the canyon in the late 1940s. The Midway Water Works Company was organized in 1895, bringing culinary water to the community that year; telephone lines and telephones were introduced two years later. A major U.S. Supreme Court decision was handed down in 1923 affecting not only local residents but also western irrigation companies as well. The twelve-year legal battle was between the Midway Irrigation Company (organized in 1887 and incorporated the following year) and Park City mining interests over who owned Snake Creek water. The 1923 landmark decision ruled that the mining companies and their associates could not keep, develop, or sell the creek water, but rather could only temporarily divert it.
Midway was incorporated 1 June 1891 with Alvah J. Alexander elected as president; board members were also elected. The town was a proclaimed third-class city in 1971. The mayor-and-council system was then initiated, with Wilburn F. Huffaker being the first city mayor.
Education and the establishment of schools began very early in Midway history. By 1867 the community had organized a school board of trustees to improve the existing log school. Over the next forty-five years several schools were organized, both public and private, in an effort to meet educational needs. In 1912 a new schoolhouse, using native "potrock," was built on the public square. This facility was used until 1975 when the new Midway Elementary School was dedicated.
Important civic improvements were made in the 1930s and 1940s. A concrete sidewalk program began in 1938, and the Midway Recreation Center, usually referred to as the "Town Hall," was dedicated in June 1941; both were Great Depression-era WPA projects. The east section of the center now houses the local post office, which had been established in December 1864; Salas Smith was the first postmaster. The most active civic organization promoting the community has been the Midway Booster Club. Established in 1947 through the efforts of Luke's Hot Pots Resort owners Joseph B. and Pauline S. Erwin and a number of local enthusiastic supporters, the club has had a very significant role in various city improvements and activities. This has been particularly true with the popular Midway Swiss Days festivities held each fall. Music also has always been a strong community tradition.
Although agriculture is still a significant industry, recreation has fast become an important aspect of Heber Valley's economy. Local recreation attractions include golf courses, Deer Creek Reservoir, Wasatch Mountain State Park, and the nationally known Homestead Resort. Changes will continue to come to the community as the economy shifts towards tourism and as the world discovers Midway and its charm.
See: Wasatch County Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Leslie S. Raty, ed., Under Wasatch Skies, A History of Wasatch County, 1858-1900 (1954); William James Mortimer, How Beautiful Upon the Mountain (1963); Mabel Mitchell, ed., Midway Second Ward and Midway Reflections, 1859-1989 (1989).
Jerry R. Springer