Located in Utah Valley, Utah County, Springville is about midway between the north and south borders of the county to the east of Utah Lake at approximately 4,500 feet in elevation, at the foot of the Wasatch Range.
One of the most important features of the Springville location is Hobble Creek, a stream draining the modest watershed of Hobble Creek Canyon. Springs from both forks of the canyon feed the creek above what is now the Hobble Creek Golf Course, but irrigation keeps Hobble Creek from flowing perennially. These springs and others north of town give Springville its name, although it was first called Hobble Creek.
Native Americans of the Ute tribe occupied land in the well-watered valley. They hunted and fished, but left no written record of their lifeways. The first such record of these people is in journal entries of the Dominguez-Escalante expedition, which left Santa Fe for Monterey in July 1776. The Spanish fathers leading the expedition were delighted to find many Utes living around Lake Timpanogotsis (Utah), and felt the Indians, including those living on Hobble Creek, might be subject to their missionary efforts.
Aaron Johnson led settlers to Springville in 1850. Mormon settlers displaced Native Americans and relegated them to an "Indian Farm," located on poor ground, unfit for farming, at the mouth of the Spanish Fork River near the Utah Lake. Mormon settlers developed subsistence farming for fewer families than was hoped, due to lack of water. Some Springville farmers turned to hauling freight from California twice a year. Following the Civil War in 1865, other farmers turned to raising cattle and sheep. Completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 made rail shipment of stock to market possible, so stockmen used more intensive grazing practices. The railroad also helped make mining products profitable, and many mines started to be developed. Beginning in 1878, Springville merchant Milan Packard built a railroad to bring coal from Scofield to Utah Valley. The Rio Grande Railroad bought out the line in 1882.
Like the Native Americans before them, Springville stockmen lived in the valley during the winter and grazed their animals in the mountains in summer. Valley precipitation is generally low, six to twelve inches per year. Above 6,000 feet elevation, precipitation in the mountains is 20 inches to 30 inches annually. Most of the water comes in the form of winter snow. Stockmen over-used grazing resources. The stock consumed most of the grass from the hillsides, leaving surfaces unprotected from summer cloudbursts and spring runoff. The resulting floods and mud flows nearly caused abandonment of some rural communities.
The results of land abuse prompted community leaders to call for federal help for their problems. In 1902 Albert Potter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture surveyed the mountains. His report, coupled with pleas from community leaders, brought in the recently created U.S. Forest Service to manage area forest resources, including grasslands above Springville.
During the stockraisers' struggle with grassland use, area farmers were looking for ways to find more water for irrigation. They also invited the federal government in by applying the recently passed Newlands Act (1902). The new law loaned federal money to local groups to develop water projects in arid or semi-arid regions of the country. The Strawberry Project was the result of farmers in Utah Valley trying to use the Strawberry River to irrigate their land. Springville's "Union Bench" was a beneficiary of the project, and led to formation of Mapleton City out of Springville benchland. Springville farmers grew sugar beets as a cash crop. Local companies built a system of factories to process sugar that sold nationwide. Fruit farms expanded at the demand of national canning companies like Del Monte.
Following World War I, L.F. Rains established a steel plant north of Springville to take advantage of his coal interests in Carbon County. He formed the Columbia Steel Corporation at Ironton in 1922 to make pig iron. He negotiated with J.W. McWane to use iron to make cast-iron pipe in facilities adjacent to the Ironton plant. He also invited Republic Creosoting Company to establish a plant to use coal tar, a by-product of the coking operation at Ironton. This industrial complex employed Springville men.
In 1921 the U.S. government passed a law to assist states with highway construction. Several companies from Springville organized to take advantage of the opportunity. Springville families including the Clydes, Strongs, Sumsions, Reynolds, Whitings, Thorns, and Mendenhalls benefited until the Great Depression eliminated federal money. In 1936 construction of roads and other public works was part of the recovery plan and Springville contractors again were active participants. Springville was said to have had more contractors than any other town of its size in America.
During World War II, Springville's young men and women served in military efforts, and its contractors built many defense installations. Following the war, Springville developed water from springs in Bartholomew Canyon and installed two new electric generators to improve the power supply.
During the 1960s, the Utah Department of Transportation was busy with construction of the Interstate freeway system. These roads took traffic out of the towns and increased the speed and safety of automobile travel. The new freeways also made possible travel for work from Springville to many places in the county and beyond. Springville became a bedroom community for industries such as Geneva Steel, for Brigham Young University, and for an array of businesses in Salt Lake City.
Springville is noted around the state for its art museum, and it also has a business district. However, removing traffic from the city also removed it from the Springville business district. The net result has been a reduction of retail business activity in Springville. Nevertheless, Springville's population has grown steadily since the 1920s, reaching 13,950 in 1990.
Springville's largest employers include Stouffer Foods Corporation, with over 500 employees, and Valtek, which has more than 400 employees. There are five elementary schools and one junior high school, one middle school, and one high school in Springville. Most of the community are LDS and attend twenty-nine wards in four stakes. The Presbyterian Church has been active in the community since its establishment in 1880.