Utah’s First Fort
On this ten acre square during the years 1847-1849 stood the first fort, historic Mormon bastion, sometimes called the “Plymouth Rock of the West.” Homes were erected of logs or adobe, side by side, with the rear walls forming a protective barrier; enclosed by a nine foot mud wall. By December 1847, over two thousand people were living in the fort which was extended one block north and one block south. The first school convened here in October 1847. A bowery, built in the center, served as a meeting place. Within its walls Anglo Saxon civilization was first brought to the Great Basin and the ensign of our Republic raised over this domain, then Mexican territory. Here, on December 9, 1848, the first petition to establish self government in the Rocky Mountain West was signed. It became a public park July 24, 1898.
Three women came in the first company of pioneers; Harriet Page Wheeler, Wife of Lorenzo D. Young; Clara Decker, Wife of Brigham Young; Ellen Saunders, Wife of Heber C. Kimball. During the rugged journey the services performed by these heroic women were of incalculable value.
The first children who journeyed with the first company of pioneers were: Lorenzo Sobieski Young, age six years, son of Lorenzo D. and Persis Goodall Young, and Isaac Perry Decker, age seven, son of Harriet Page Decker Young. Both boys proved themselves courageous and helpful during the historic trek across the plains.
From the National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form:
The Pioneer Fort site, presently known as Pioneer Park, is located between 3rd South and 4th South and Second West and Third West.
Construction began on the Fort on August 9, 1847 and by the first of September the walls were completed. The walls were seven feet high and three feet thick and built of adobes 18″ long x 6″ wide x 12″ thick.
On August 10, foundations for the first homes were laid. These homes were located along the east side of the fort. They were owned by the church leaders: Brigham Young, Heber C . Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, Willard Richards, George A. Smith, Amasa M. Lyman, Erastus Snow, and Lorenzo Dow Young. There was room for about 160 families in the fort.
The homes inside the fort were constructed of both logs and adobes. The roofs slanted inward and were made rather flat. In August 1847 everything indicated that the Mormons had located in a dry climate. But in the early spring the rains were heavy, resulting in a great inconvenience for the inhabitants. It was often necessary to protect the women with umbrellas while cooking and both women and children while sleeping in bed.
The homes were also plagued by mice. One account says frequently fifty or sixty had to be caught before the family could sleep.
All the doors and windows faced to the inside with a loophole in each room facing the outside. Mrs. Clara Riches Young, wife of Lorenzo D. Young, said that her house had a wooden window “which thro’ the day was taken out for light and nailed in at night.”
Tents and wagon boxes were used for habitation until something more comfortable could be provided.
A week after the arrival of the first Mormon emigrant group to the Salt Lake Valley, a general assembly was called in which it was voted to unite the various camps into one location and construct a corral, houses, and a fort for protection against the Indians . On August 9 , 1847 seventy-six volunteers commenced work by gathering logs and making adobes for the walls.
The fort was an important part of early Mormon activity in the Great Basin. It was the home of the Mormon pioneers until they began to move to their town lots in 1848 and 1849.
It was in this fort that a meeting was held December 9, 1848 in the home of Heber C. Kimball, to organize the provincial State of Deseret. The first elections were held in an adobe school constructed inside the fort.
With the arrival of the larger emigrant groups of 1847, it was necessary to build another fort on two blocks south of the first fort. This second fort became known as the South Fort. On the block north of the original fort some houses were constructed and this became known as the North Fort.
Following its initial use, the Pioneer Fort site was utilized as one of the camping sites for newly arrived emigrants to Utah. After 1890 it was used as a playground and on July 24, 1898 the location was officially dedicated as Pioneer Park.
Although there is nothing left of the fort, the site remains as an important landmark in..the-colonization of the Great Basin.