Fremont and Anasazi Indians were the first known inhabitants of Parowan. Petroglyphs, pithouses, arrowheads, pottery, and manos dating from A.D. 750 to 1250 found in the area are evidence that it was on a major thoroughfare of early Native Americans. At Parowan Gap, a natural mountain pass twelve miles northwest of Parowan, ancient Indians inscribed petroglyphs on smooth-surfaced boulders that feature snakes, lizards, mouse-men, bear claws, and mountain sheep. In addition, the Old Spanish Trail also passed through the area.
An annual birthday celebration commemorates Parowan's founding on 13 January 1851, just twelve months after Parley P. Pratt and members of his exploring party discovered the Little Salt Lake Valley and nearby deposits of iron ore. On 8 January 1850 Pratt had raised a liberty pole at Heap's Spring and dedicated the site as "The City of Little Salt Lake." Based on Pratt's exploration report, Brigham Young called for the establishment of settlements in the area to produce much-needed iron implements for the pioneer state.
Mormon apostle George A. Smith was appointed to head the establishment of this "Iron Mission" in 1850. The first company of 120 men, 31 women, and 18 children braved winter weather traveling south from Provo during December. They sometimes built roads and bridges as they traveled, and they finally reached Center Creek on 13 January 1851. After enduring two bitterly cold nights, they moved across the creek and circled their wagons by Heap's Spring and Pratt's liberty pole, seeking the protection of the hills. Within days, the settlement organization was completed: companies of men were dispatched to build a road up the canyon, a townsite was surveyed and laid into lots, and a fort and a log council house were begun. The council house was used as church, schoolhouse, theater, and community recreation center for many years.
In 1861 construction was begun on a large church building to stand in the center of the public square. The pioneers envisioned a building of three stories, built from the abundant yellow sandstone and massive timbers in nearby canyons. Known as the "Old Rock Church," the building was completed in 1867 and served as a place of worship, town council hall, school building, social hall, and tourist camp. In 1939 it was restored through the efforts of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers and a Parowan-sponsored WPA project. It is now a museum of Parowan's early history.
Parowan has been called the "Mother Town of the Southwest" because of the many pioneers who left from there to start other communities in southern Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, and even Oregon and Wyoming. In its first year, colonists were asked to settle Johnson Fort, now Enoch, where a stockade was built, and were also sent to settle along Coal Creek, site of the settlement to manufacture iron which became Cedar City.
Parowan's first settlers were instructed to plant crops so that following immigrants could open up the coal and iron ore deposits, but local industries were also developed. Self-sufficiency was envisioned, and local industries included a tannery, sawmill, cotton mill, factories for making saddles and harnesses, furniture and cabinets, shoes, and guns; there also were both carpentry and blacksmith shops. In the early 1900s both sheep and dairy industries were well established. Local farms were noted for their quality Rambouillet sheep, and the Southern Utah Dairy Company, a cooperative venture begun in 1900, produced dairy products and was known for its "Pardale Cheese."
The first attempts at iron manufacturing were unsuccessful, but mining in the twentieth century brought prosperity to Iron County. When the closure of the mines and the completion of Interstate 15 threatened economic depression in the early 1980s, determined Parowan citizens pulled together to develop an economic plan of action to keep the community viable. Businesses now support Brian Head, a year-round resort featuring great powder snow for downhill and cross-country skiing in the winter and numerous summer mountain activities.
Parowan's Economic Development Office actively recruits small manufacturing companies looking to relocate to a rural community. In addition, the farmers and ranchers of Iron County are working together to increase the number of agribusinesses and dairies. Significant growth has occurred in the 1990s in Parowan; it has been attributed to affordable utility fees and a positive economic climate. City officials have maintained financial stability while encouraging community projects that preserve the pioneer heritage and increase tourism during all seasons. Parowan is the site of the annual Iron County Fair on Labor Day weekend; it also is a host community for the Utah Summer Games and sponsor of the annual "Christmas in the Country" celebration each November.
In 1993 the city began development of Heap's Spring Memorial Park. Plans for this site include a park and amphitheater, a grotto and pond, and a museum of southwestern Utah history. Other local historic sites include the original town square with the Old Rock Church, the War Memorial and Rose Garden, the Third/Fourth Ward LDS chapel built in 1915, and the Jesse N. Smith Home Museum. Parowan City supports the Parowan Community Theatre, which produces outstanding theatrical productions throughout the year.