Prehistorically, the area around Garland was inhabited by the Fremont Indians. In later times, the Shoshoni Indians used northern Utah as their fishing and hunting grounds. They wintered on the foothills west of Garland, especially at Point Lookout. In the 1820s trappers came to the area. Among them were Etienne Provost, Jedediah Smith, Kit Carson, and Jim Bridger.
The first permanent settlements in the Bear River Valley were along the foothills and east of Garland at Bear River City, Collinston, Fielding, and Plymouth. The settlers grazed their livestock, used the springs for water, made attempts to divert irrigation water from the Malad River, and established dry farms.
Settlers also looked to the Bear River as an important source of water, and the river has had a profound effect on the history of Garland. Alexandre Toponce, a freighter, miner, cattleman, contractor, and promoter, purchased 52,000 acres of land from the Central Pacific Railroad Company for $1.25 an acre. In 1883 he took as a partner John W. Kerr, owner of a sheep herd, and they bought more land on the hills west and north of Garland for about 50 cents an acre, bringing their holdings up to 90,000 acres. Toponce and Kerr formed the Corinne Mill Canal and Stock Company. Settlers began arriving in the Garfield area in the late 1880s and acquired land by purchasing it from the company, the railroad, or by homesteading. Toponce filed on the water rights of the Bear River, but was unsuccessful in developing a canal. In 1889 another promoter, John R. Bothwell of Kansas City, secured financing for a canal from Quaker societies in the British Isles. The contract to build the canal was given to William Garland of Kansas City and excavation began in September 1889 with about seven thousand men working on the project.
The availability of abundant irrigation water brought people to Garland from other places in Utah, including Farmington and Cache Valley, as well as outside the territory from as far away as Japan. The settlement in and around Garland was at first called Sunset and the first church was called the Sunset Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mail was delivered by horse and carriage from Hessville to the east. In 1895 citizens met to push for the establishment of a post office in the community, and at this time it was decided to change the name of Sunset to Garland in honor of William Garland.
The first school in Garland was built in 1898 and was located one mile north of the main intersection. Later, in 1921, the Bear River High School was built at the southern edge of Garland and has served students from both Garland and Tremonton since its construction. A Carnegie library, which has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was constructed in 1914. That year the Garland Tabernacle was built by members of the LDS Church. Today most residents of the community are Mormon and comprise three wards in Garland. Non-Mormons attend church services in Tremonton and other places.
A commercial district was established at the intersection of Main and Factory streets and flourished after the construction of the Utah Sugar Company factory in 1903. By 1907 there were fifty-seven different businesses in Garland. The Utah Sugar Company purchased large tracts of land and gained control of the canal system. The land was sold to farmers under long-term credit arrangements, with special encouragement given to sugar-beet growers. The company also pushed the construction of the Oregon Short Line, which was completed to Garland on 16 June 1903 and connected Garland with the main Union Pacific line at Corinne. The company also constructed houses along and near Factory Street for its employees. The sugar factory and production of sugar beets remained the primary economic activity in Garland until the factory was closed after the 1978 harvest. In 1990 the population of Garland stood at 1,637 people with most of the adults either retired or employed at Thiokol or the nearby La-Z-Boy chair factory.