Oct 11, 2011

From Fort to Town: Building Provo

This is the post I've been waiting to do. I love the detective work that goes into figuring out an old town, and I love browsing through old photographs, and trying to capture a picture in my mind of places as they used to be.

So, let's talk about how Provo became a town.

After some more hostilities were exchanged between the settlers and the Indians, hostilities which later lead to the Walker War (yes, named after Walkera in my previous post, more on that later) Brigham Young advised the settlers to move in close to town and fortify the area with walls.

Provo was platted at this point. The surveying was done by many people, but Shedrick Holdaway and George Washington Bean, two people mentioned in previous posts, were a big part of this effort. After Brigham Young's instructions trickled down through the various settlements and into Provo, everyone began moving off the riverfront, out of the fields that spread out around the budding town, and clustered in close, buidling homes out of adobe bricks and logs along the newly-platted streets. A wall was began. It would eventually stretch along where 7th west is today, from sixth south to fifth north, east all the way to what we know today to be University avenue. The wall had a rock foundation 1 1/2 feet tall, and it ranged in height from 14-16 feet. It was six feet thick at the base, and contained bastions and portoles through which settlers could defend themselves from attacks. Fields and flocks were still kept outside city walls, in the fields that stretched off in all directions.

Back then, the streets of provo were known by letters (west to east) and numbers (north to south). The main thoroughfares were center street (or 7th, as it was called back then) and fifth west (then, J street.) Present day University Avenue was called "east main," then, and 2nd west, along which many of the principal families in town chose to build their houses, was called "west main."

Some of the first business and city buildings to be constructed were:

The sawmill, built by James Porter and Alexander Williams. This was located east of town, using the river out of the canyon as power.

The gristmill was built by James A. Smith and Issak Higbee (remember him? He was president of the first group of settlers to come to the valley) and was located inside town walls to keep the grain secure from theft. It used a "run," or large creek/canal that ran the western border of town.

The tannery was Bult by Samuel Clark. He produced the first leather in the fall of 1849. Apparently bark is needed, somehow, in the tanning of leather; this was taken from the pine trees growing in Provo canyon. There was no road back then, and so "A party of men and boys forced their way through the brush as far as Bridal Veil Falls, taking oxen with them." (from History Of Provo, Utah by Jens Marinus Jensen).

George A. Smith was the leader Brigham Young eventually appointed to oversee Provo City. The people of provo built him a fine brick house, very large especially for residences back then, in order to honor him.

According to lore, George A Smith refused the honor of living there. He said it was "too much for him," and that the city ought to use it as a gathering place. And so it was. The Seminary Building, as it was called, became meeting place for wards, for various official city business and counsels. And (as I tell in my story, Lightning Tree) this is the building that Judge John Cradlebaugh surrounded with a contingency of Johnston's troops and used as his "courthouse," during his brief occupation of Provo.

There was a bowery constructed in Town Square, which is now called Pioneer Park, and is located in the block of 5th West and Center Street. Just south of this, a tithing house was built, and under it was dug "the biggest cellar in the territory," to store the goods that settlers often used to pay tithing. The schoolhouse, made of logs, was located just north of the square, and just to the east was the Redfield/Bullock Hotel, which Harlow Redfield originally built, but was bought out by Bullock, who later became mayor of Provo, and was one of the men of the city taken by Cradlebaugh during the occupation earlier mentioned.

There were more buildings, mostly along the thoroughfares mentioned, and also strung out along 7th (now center) street. Sadly, none of these buildings still stand. At least not the ones I'm talking about, the ones built pre-1860.

Provo city was described in Eugene P. Moehring's Urbanism and empire in the far West, 1840-1890, as

"a city as well as a garrison....not just a thriving commercial center but a functioning strong-point." p.99

If this interests you at all, I would suggest these two sources for further reading, and to see some magnificent pictures that I could not provide in this post:

Provo, by Marylin Brown and Valerie Holladay

and the Provo City Library's digital collection of historical photographs, hosted by the Mountain West Digital Library



PsychDoctor said...

I think I might be related to the Samuel Clark mentioned here...If it is the same man as this:


He was one of my many 5th great grandparents...

Putz said...

i was there in the beginnnning