My Views of Utah

Historic St. George

Photos taken Spring 2004

Photos by Venita*

small map

St. George, also known as "Dixie," was settled by Mormon pioneers sent here by Brigham Young. Named the "Cotton Mission," 308 families arrived here in 1861 with a goal of growing cotton and other semi-tropical plants which would contribute to the self reliance of Utah Territory residents. In spite of floods when it rained and drought when it didn't, crop failures, oppressive heat, and malaria, the pioneers persevered and created settlements which have grown into prosperous towns. Dixie is now one of fastest growing areas of the southwestern states. Many of the most important buildings of the early years are being preserved as heritage sites. These pages feature some of them with a brief history of each one.

(For more information, visit the St. George Chamber of Commerce and/or the City of St. George websites.)

NOTE: A major reference for information on this page is "Utah's Dixie, the Cotton Mission," Utah State Historical Society, Edited by A. R. Mortensen, Reprinted from Utah Historical Quarterly, Volume XXIX, Number 3, July, 1961. © 1961, Utah State Historical Society, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Springville Sunset

Above: This view of St. George (taken from the red mountain north of town and looking southwest) presents a much different view from that which greeted the early pioneers. Most trees and other plants have been transplanted by the residents over the years. Native plants would have been the same as those seen in the Mojave desert today. Leaving the developed area in any direction reveals the propensity for the land to maintain its original desert state. Finding and controlling water sources has made the difference. The elevation of St. George is about 2000 ft. lower than the more populous Wasatch Front, about 250 miles north.


Above: In a letter to Erastus Snow, leader of the Cotton Mission, dated October 1, 1862, Brigham Young wrote: "...I wish you and the brethren to build, as speedily as possible a good, substantial, commodious, well-finished meeting house, one large enough to comfortably seat at least 2000 persons, and that will not only be useful, but also an ornament to your city and a credit to your energy and enterprise." The cornerstone of the St. George Tabernacle was laid on Pres. Young's next birthday, June 1, 1863, and the final stone to complete the tower on December 29, 1871.

It is built of red sandstone from the hills to the north (see previous photo), each block hand-cut for its special place, as were the caps over the doors and windows. The inside is graced with two self supporting circular wooden staircases with hand-carved, fitted balustrades leading from each of the doors to the gallery above. White ceiling tiles and frieze around the walls were created from plaster of paris made from local materials and poured into hand-carved moulds.

Note: There is a bust of Erastus Snow in front of this building.


Above: By 1866 local residents agreed on the need for a courthouse. In June 1868 Erastus Snow wrote to Brigham Young, "... Our tabernacle begins to make a respectable show. The basement story is finished and the main floor timbers will soon be in their places. Work is also progressing on the Court house. My new house is enclosed, the family occupying the wing..."

The court house was begun in 1866 and finished in 1876. As with other public buildings, the basement was finished first and put into use as soon as possible, in this case as a jail. The design is similar to many court houses being built across the country at the same time. It is embellished with same beautiful woodwork and plaster accents as the Tabernacle. The familiar front portico, the cells in the basement, and the dome on top (fully equipped with a scaffold and trap door for a hanging, should one be decreed) announced to residents and visitors alike the importance of the law.

Green Gate B&B

Above: At the same time the Tabernacle and Court House were being built families were also building homes for themselves. There are reports that by 1870 at least sixty homes were finished or under construction, many of them two- and three- story buildings. This photo shows examples of the types of homes of the day. Some of them stand where they were built; others were moved to this location to become part of the Green Gate Village Historic Inn.

Orson Pratt home

Above: The Orson Pratt home, now part of Green Gate Village, was the home of a prominent family of St. George and the LDS Church.

There was essentially no money here in the early years. Most commerce was carried out by barter and trade of work and goods, notably foodstuff. Exchanges were recorded in dollar values. An example comes from the book cited at the beginning of this page: "... disbursement prices: Molasses, $2.00 per gal; corn, $2.00 per bu; flour, $10.00 per cwt; cotton yarn, $5.00 per bunch; beef, 10 & 12½ cents." (Ibid, p. 54)

Young's winter home, north side

Above: The most famous pioneer home in St. George is Brigham Young's where he spent his winters from 1874 to 1877. (It may be said that he was the first Utah "snowbird" - someone who spends winter in St. George to escape the cold and snow.) The home has been restored to its original condition and furnished with period furnishings, some of which actually belonged to the Young family including pieces made by Brigham himself. It is open year-round for tours which are hosted by knowledgeable guides dressed in period clothing.

Young's winter home, west side

Above: The western aspect of the Young home showing the vineyard. Brigham Young is remembered in western history as the man who led the Mormons from Illinois to the valley of the Great Salt Lake in 1847. During the next thirty years he directed the colonization of hundreds of settlements in territory which later became Utah and the surrounding states of Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and California. He was the first governor of the territory and was sustained as the second Prophet and President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the position he held till his death in 1877.

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For more photos of historic St. George, please turn to page two.

*Unless otherwise noted, all photos on this website were taken by Venita, who also holds the copyright. Should you wish to download any of them for any reason (other than your own enjoyment), please credit  Venita  as the photographer and add my URL:

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