Utah County, Utah

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A Brief History of Utah County*

The most striking geographical features of Utah County are the Wasatch Mountains along the eastern boundary and Utah Lake, the state's largest freshwater lake, to the west. The high mountains, rising over 11,000 feet, receive heavy snowfall which feeds the numerous rivers and creeks that flow into the lake. Though large in size, Utah Lake is very shallow 18 feet at its deepest point.

Beaver County, Utah

Before the valley was settled by Mormon pioneers in the 1840s and 50s, it was the home of the Ute Indians. They lived along the eastern shore of the lake and along the Jordan River and used fish as their main food. They were described as peaceful and kind by the Franciscan priests Dominguez and Escalante, who observed them in the summer of 1776. When the Dominguez-Escalante party came down Spanish Fork Canyon, they became the first non-Indians to enter Utah Valley.

Mormon pioneers began settling Utah Valley in 1849. Like the Indians before them, they chose to settle on the fertile, well-watered strip of land between the mountains and Utah Lake. Eventually, over a dozen towns were established between Lehi on the north and Santaquin on the south. Provo, named for the fur trapper Etienne Provost, has always been the largest town and the county seat.

Farming was the most important early activity in the county, with fruit growing and the processing of sugar beets being especially important. In recent years the center of the fruit industry in the county has shifted from Orem to the south end of the valley, where orchards are not threatened by housing developments.

Utah County holds an important place in the state's industrial history. The Provo Woolen Mill, which sold its first cloth in 1873, was the first large manufacturing plant in Utah. The first large-scale sugar beet factory in Utah was built in Lehi in 1890. The Olmstead power plant and the Telluride Institute at the mouth of Provo Canyon made many technological advances in electric power transmission in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Mining was also an important industry in Utah County. In the late 1800s and early 1900s there were many successful mines in American Fork Canyon and in the Tintic Mining District centered near Eureka, Juab County, and including part of western Utah County. Many of the fine homes and business buildings in Provo were constructed with mining money.

Today, Utah County is best known as the home of the Geneva steel plant and Brigham Young University. Geneva was constructed at this inland location during World War II in case the steel plants near the coast were destroyed in the war. BYU was established in 1875 as a small high-school level "academy," but it has grown to become a major university with 27,000 students. Both Geneva and BYU have contributed greatly to making the county what it is today.

*Used by permission. Beehive History 14: Utah Counties. 1988. Utah State Historical Society, 300 Rio Grande, Salt Lake City, UT 84101-1182, 801/533-3500.

Beehive History A History of Utah  County
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Utah County Quick Facts

Area: 2,014 Square Miles
County Seat: Provo
Origin of Name: the Ute Indians
Population: 516,564 (2010 Census), 368,536 (2000 Census); 464,760 (2006 Estimate)
Bordering Counties: Carbon, Duchesne, Juab, Salt Lake, Sanpete, Tooele, and Wasatch