Provo City and County Building
Situated in the heart of Utah Valley between the east shore of Utah Lake
and the towering Wasatch Mountains is the city of Provo. Mount Timpanogos
(elevation 11,957 feet) dominates the northern view from the city. Other
rugged mountains east of the city provide one of the most picturesque backdrops
for a Utah city.
Utah Valley was the traditional home of Ute Indians, who settled in villages
close to the lake both for protection from bellicose tribes to the northeast
and to be close to their primary source of food--fish from the lake. The
first white visitors to the Provo area were Fray Francisco Atanasio Dominguez
and Fray Silvestre Velez de Escalante, who visited Utah Valley in 1776.
Only a retrenchment in Spanish New World colonization and missionary efforts
prevented establishment of settlements promised by these Franciscan missionaries.
Fur trappers and traders frequented the area in the early decades of the
nineteenth century, and it is from one of these trappers, Etienne Provost,
that Provo takes its name.
Provo was settled by Mormons in 1849, and was the first Mormon colony in
Utah outside of Salt Lake Valley. Troubles with Indians gave rise to a popular
saying in early Utah: "Provo or hell!" When President James Buchanan
sent United States troops to Salt Lake City to put down the "Mormon
insurrection" in 1858, thousands of Mormons, including leader Brigham
Young, moved to Provo. "The Move South" came to a quick end as
the Mormons were "pardoned" and new governor Alfred Cumming made
peace with the Saints.
Provo remained the second largest city in Utah until Ogden became Utah's
primary railroad terminus in 1869. Provo lost in its bid as a transcontinental
railroad stopping place, but thereby retained its distinctly Mormon flavor.
It soon came to be known as the "Garden City" because of its extensive
fruit orchards, trees, and gardens.
In 1875 Brigham Young Academy was founded. From humble beginnings, this
institution has grown into Brigham Young University, the largest church-affiliated
university in the United States today. The city and the university have
enjoyed a symbiotic relationship and have grown together. Today, the university
has helped generate a fledgling high-technology industry in the Provo area
and sometimes attracts national attention through its academic and sports
Historically, Provo has served as the focal point of Utah Valley industry,
commerce, and government. Agriculture and the Provo Woolen Mills (which
had its origin in the Mormon cooperative movement of the late 1860s) served
as Provo's commercial staples in the late nineteenth century. Mining magnates
such as Jesse Knight, made rich by nearby precious-metal mines, made their
homes in Provo and helped create a thriving financial industry in the city.
The coincidence of a major water source and the intersection of two railroad
lines led to the completion in the Provo area of the Ironton steel mill
in the early 1920s and later the much larger Geneva steel plant. The railroads
brought in needed raw materials and transported finished steel products
from Provo. Area residents currently argue about whether the Geneva plant,
which many assert is a major cause of Provo's serious air pollution problems,
should continue to be operated or whether Provo should rely on new high
technology as its industrial base. As county seat of Utah County, Provo
is the home of county offices and courts. Since the mid-1880s Provo has
been the home of the State Hospital, originally the Territorial Insane Asylum.
Because of its close proximity to the mountains, Utah Lake, and rivers,
Provo residents have many recreational outlets. In winter, alpine and cross-country
skiing, ice skating, and other winter sports are available within minutes.
In summer, hiking, camping, fishing, and boating are equally accessible.
Provo residents have long been proud of their city. Supreme Court Justice
George Sutherland, United States senators Reed Smoot (who also served as
an apostle in the LDS Church) and William King; LDS Church apostle Dallin
Oaks (who also served as president of Brigham Young University and as a
justice of the Utah Supreme Court); Jack Dempsey, former heavyweight champion
of the world, and numerous less well-known political, church, sports, and
business figures have lived in Provo.
Today, Provo is a thriving community of 86,835 (1990 census). The city's
downtown heart is no larger the center of Utah Valley commerce, having lost
that honor to large suburban shopping malls. Provo's once proud train depot
was recently demolished, a symbol of the declining importance of passenger
rail transportation in the West. Provo's downtown area remains, however,
the focal point of Utah Valley political life, and nearby Brigham Young
University remains the education center of the area. Provo has grown from
a quiet, small Mormon city to a substantial modern metropolitan area. Some
of its traditional quaintness is gone, but its heart and soul continue to
See: Kenneth L. Cannon II, A Very Eligible Place: Provo and Orem, An
Illustrated History (1987); J. Marinus Jensen, History of Provo,
Utah (1924); John Clifton Moffitt, The Story of Provo, Utah (1975);
John Clifton Moffitt and Marilyn McMeen, Provo: A Story of People in
Motion (1974); WPA Writers' Project, Provo: Pioneer Mormon City
Kenneth L. Cannon II