In March 1849, John S. Highbee led a company of about 150 persons, bringing their goods, cattle, equipment and provisions into the Utah Valley. They formed the nucleus of the town of Provo City. The company had been sent by Brigham Young, President of the L.D.S. (Mormon) Church, and as part of an effort to secure a territory in which to establish a theocratic hegemony.
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In keeping with the ideals of Jeffersonion agrarianism which infused Mormon philosophy and practice, and the necessities of producing food and feed, Provo was surveyed (1850) as a plot one mile square surrounded by several acres of land put into eight lots. This grid pattern was the "Plat of Zion" pattern used repeatedly by the Mormon settlers.
Brigham Young had instructed the settlers, particularly the church and city officials, to establish their homes and farms in the town site. When many chose to build outside the city, those on the townsite petitioned Brigham Young (1852) to appoint church leader George A. Smith to move to Provo and regulate the affairs of Utah County. Smith did so, and with his encouragement the frontier town with its accompanying industrial and commercial enterprises began to emerge.
The first merchant in Provo was Andrew J. Stewart who operated a general store out of his home on what is now 5th West. He later moved his business into a building he had erected on what is now Center Street—the street which would become the center of Provo's commercial district.
By the end of 1852, Provo had several industries and businesses—a pottery for brown ware, two grist mills, one sash factory, three cabinet shops, one wooden bowl factory, three shoe shops, two tailor's shops, one meat market, two store houses, and two lime kilns. The Deseret Manufacturing Company organized by John Taylor had brought in sugar refining machinery from England and had obtained land for raising sugar beets. Provo also had two hotels.
The hotels and most of the businesses were clustered at 5th West and Center Street. However, other businesses followed and established themselves east along Center Street. These two streets had been surveyed eight rods wide, with other streets five rods. As the demand for city lots increased, Plat 13 of Provo city was surveyed (1856) on the Mormon Tabernacle. It is obvious from the additional placement of the tithing yard diagonally across the street from the Tabernacle, that the city organizers planned for this east end of Center Street to be used for religious activities rather than commercial. Eventually even the county and city governmental buildings were located at this end.
However, commercial establishments did not remain clustered on the west side, but rather pushed into the east—even including on the LDS blocks. The two streets—5th West and University—were to become the focal point of the west-east commercial development in the City and the conflicts between the west and the east side merchants which would spill over into politics.
The arrival in Utah of the United States Army (1857) in an effort to control the seemingly rebellious Mormons was a stimulation to the economy of Utah and particularly Provo. The several thousand Mormons from Salt Lake City significantly, the soldiers from Camp Floyd needed materials and supplies. When the army finally left the area in July of 1861, more than $4,000,000 worth of Government property was sold at a public auction for about $100,000. One of the merchants who had prospered because of the residence of the soldiers was Samuel S. Jones. He had begun his mercantile business in Camp Floyd, first by making adobe bricks for the fort and then in partnership with William Daley by selling vegetables to the men. After the army left, Jones who had bought some of the government property, established a business with a Jewish merchant Benjamin Buchman. This partnership and its later dissolution are symbolic of the sometimes cooperation, more often competition, between the Mormon and non-Mormon merchants in Provo. The competition intensified with the Mormon cooperative effort. In a 1867 church meeting, Brigham Young exhorted the Mormons to maintain economic self-sufficiency and to trade only among themselves. He soon afterward suggested cooperative merchandising. Late in 1868, the ever enterprising S. S. Jones organized a group of Mormon merchants including David John and A. O. Smoot, at the "Provo Co-Operative Institution." Utah's first cooperative store—the "West Co-Op" was established on Center Street in the building built by Andrew Stewart. S. S. Jones became the manager.
A flood of "Gentile" business never did come into Provo as it did Ogden. Although Provo Canyon was examined as a possible route for the Pacific railroad, the "iron horse" found its way to Ogden rather than to Provo. After 1869, Ogden's population and commerce increased rapidly in comparison to Provo's. Provo, as the W.P.A. writers put it, "maintained its identity as a solid Mormon town." There were non-Mormons who came to Provo. Some were successful businessmen—such as the Bee brothers whose twin buildings which housed their harness and mercantile businesses still stand. The entire Bee family—Jane Bee, Jennie Bee Jones, Fred Bee, Cal Bee—was involved in Provo commerce. Earlier than the Bee family was the Freshwater family who began business in Provo in 1871 and continued successful through the 1920's. Samuel Schwab developed a clothing business which attracted customers from throughout the state.
There was a building boom in Provo in the late 1860's. Several businesses—many substantial brick buildings of two or more stories—locate along Center Street. The quagmire in the street was eliminated by grading in 1865. The Provo Woolen Mills was begun in 1869 on a block just north of Center Street. It would become one of Provo's major industries.
Some of the early commercial buildings in Provo were built of wood. Many others, in accordance with advice given by Brigham Young, were made of adobe. Adobe yards were located in what is now North Park. In 1866, Philander Cortor built Provo's first kiln, and by 1874, W. Alien's brickyard was employing ten people. Many of Provo's commercial buildings built in the 1850's boom, suet as the West Co-Op, were constructed of adobe and brick.
Samuel Giddiard established a cement business in Provo in 1865. His son—the Liddiard Brothers—continued the operation, building many of the commercial structures on Center Street. (The Cal Bee building). Later, S. H. Belvant established a stone work business (1890) examples of which are still standing (Smoot building). E. J. Ward and Sons (1889) became the Central Lumber Co. (1904), competing with the Beebe and Smooth Lumber Companies (1870). The Provo Foundry and Machine Company (1885) produced much of the heating and plumbing systems included in Provo's buildings. The building boom of the 1860's included the establishment on West Center Street in 1866 of the Taylor Furniture Company. Members of the George Taylor family established a number of successful Provo businesses—the West Side Business District.
However, the Provo commercial district had continued to move east along Center Street, and in 1883, Samuel S. Jones erected a handsome store (demolished) on J Street, now University Avenue. The next year the first bank in Provo, the First National Bank of Provo (1882), moved into its own building just down the street from Jones. Although businesses would continue to prosper and new ones would continue to be established on West Center Street, the next years would see the shift in Provo's Commercial District to the east. The impressive buildings on either side of University Avenue (the Excelsior, the Union Block, the Knight Block) remain as evidence of this shift.
Part of the impetus for new businesses and new buildings in the 1880's was the spinoff from the mining boom which had been going on in the Tintic mining district since the late 1870's. Many who made their fortunes in Tintic came to Provo and established businesses and residences, building substantial homes and often extravagant buildings. Russel S. Hines who built the Palace Drug Store and Saloon which is still standing, was but one example. The relationship between Tintic and Provo would continue as other businesses and buildings were established and built in Provo with capital made in Tintic.
Nearby Towns: Lindon City • Orem City • Springville City • Vineyard Town •