The Ensign-Smith House in Paragonah, built in 1862, is primarily
significant due to its association with Silas S. Smith, an important early
Utah settler and the leader of the legendary “Hole-in-the-Rock” expedition of 1880 in which a small group of Mormon pioneers cut their way across what is now considered an impassable section of the Colorado River canyon. Listed in the National Register in 1982, the Hole-in-the-Rock trail and expedition has come to reflect the dedication and courage of a people who were convinced they were a part of a divinely inspired and directed mission to build a millennial kingdom of God in Utah’s Great Basin. The trail itself is an important symbol of the Mormon colonization effort in the West and although it came at a relatively late date in this history, the descent through the Hole-in-the-Rock and the struggle to construct a road through one of the most rugged and inhospitable sections of the United States illustrates the fortitude of the Mormon pioneer and serves as a vivid lesson to later generations of the importance of commitment and cooperation in meeting the challenges of their day. As the captain of the Hole-in-the-Rock expedition, Silas S. Smith achieved prominence in the settlement history of early Mormon Utah. He continued as a leader in pioneering endeavors, reportedly having established 35 different residences on the Mormon frontier. However, the Paragonah house, which he owned until 1882 is the only documented one that remains in Utah. The Smith house is also important as an unusually large and well preserved example of early Utah vernacular architecture–the original structure being a “double-pen” type (two rooms), with the later addition a “square cabin” type, forming an essentially new house.
Silas S. Smith was born October 26, 1830 in Stockholm, St. Lawrence
County, New York. Born the same year that his cousin Joseph Smith Jr. founded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Silas S. Smith’s life was in the mainstream of Mormon history for its first eighty years until his death on October 11, 1910. His parents, Silas Smith and Mary Aikens, were early converts to the Mormon church. In 1836 the family moved to Kirtland, Ohio, the first gathering place for members of the new Mormon faith. Tying their own destiny to that of their relative, Joseph Smith Jr., the Silas Smith
family participated in the move to Missouri and the Mormon expulsion from that state to Illinois. Shortly after the move to Illinois the family leader, Silas Smith died leaving Silas S. and Jessie N. to care for their mother.
Following the abandonment of Illinois by the Mormons in 1845, the mother
and two sons moved with the main group to Winter Quarters, Nebraska. In 1847, during the first of year of Mormon emigration ot Utah, the family traveled West with the Parley P. Pratt company and reached Salt Lake City on September 25, 1847, two months after Brigham Young’s vanguard group had arrived.
Once in Utah, Silas S. Smith and his younger brother Jessie, (his house in
Parowan was listed in the National Register on June 20, 1975) emerged as two of the stalwarts of the Mormon colonization process in the West. Both were continually on the edge of the Mormon frontier as it first pushed north from Salt Lake City into Davis County, then south two hundred miles from the Mormon capitol with the Iron Mission in 1851. Silas and Jessie constructed the first log building in Cedar City to help pay for the use of a home in Parowan, 18 miles away. The two brothers took up farms as part of the Mormon effort to establish an agricultural basis for the intended iron industry of that region.
In 1854 Silas Smith left his two wives both sisters Clarinda and Sarah
Ann, to serve a two-and-one-half year proselyting mission in the Hawaiian
Islands. After his return home Silas Smith moved to Paragonah, four miles
northeast of Parowan, in the Spring of 1857. Here he served as bishop for
several years and was elected to terms in the Utah Territorial Legislature
from 1859 to 1878. While a resident of Paragonah,. Silas Smith served as a
Captain in the Territorial Militia during the Black Hawk War of 1865-1866.
During 1864 Silas’ two wives died within four months of each other leaving a total of nine children between the ages of 11 years and 3 weeks. A year
later, on July 19, 1865, he married Martha Eliza Bennett who helped raise the nine motherless children in addition to her own twelve children by Silas S. Smith.
During the winter of 1878-79, Silas S. Smith was selected by Mormon church
President John Taylor to lead a settlement effort to the San Juan country of
southeastern Utah and southwestern Colorado. Accordingly Smith led a scouting party of 26 men, 2 women and 8 children southeast into Arizona then back northeast into Utah, reaching the junction of Montezuma Creek and the San Juan River at the end of May 1879. Here ditches were dug, a diversion dam constructed, crops planted, some cabins constructed, and the surrounding region explored for potential settlement areas before returning to their homes in Parowan and Paragonah in September 1879 via the Old Spanish Trail route through eastern and central Utah.
With word of a direct route to the San Juan River through Potato Valley,
later named Escalante, Mormons from a dozen southern Utah communities traveled separately to a rendezvous at 40 Mile Springs. From here exploring parties were sent out to reconnoiter the untraveled route down to the Colorado River and across what most concluded were impassable canyons and cliffs east of the river. With the unfavorable scouting reports, Silas S. Smith faced a difficult decision to push ahead toward the San Juan River with limited supplies and equipment or to return to their homes and follow the circuitous northern route in the spring. Because snow in the mountains would make the return trip dangerous if not impossible, Silas S. Smith asked the group to push ahead. Leaving his assistant, Platte D. Lyman, in charge of work on the road, Silas S. Smith returned to the settlements where he secured 25 pounds of blasting powder, reportedly all that could be found in Southern Utah, and sent it to assist the construction work. In meetings with Erastus Snow, the Mormon Apostle directing affairs in southern Utah, and his brother Jessie N. Smith, both of whom were members of the territorial legislature, he secured their endorsement for a $5000 appropriation for blasting powder, tools, and payment for work on the road. During the winter of 1880 Silas S. Smith was bed-ridden with pneumonia and did not rejoin the San Juan Mission, or Hole-in-the-Rock
expedition as it became known, until May 22, nearly two months after the group arrived at Bluff on the San Juan River.
Silas S. Smith had a broad vision of his responsibility as leader of the
San Juan Mission. Looking beyond the borders of Utah, He made exploring trips into Colorado with particular attention to Colorado’s San Luis Valley. This southern Colorado valley with its small population of Spanish speaking
residents and English speaking ranchers and miners, had drawn a group of
Mormon converts from the southern states in 1878-79. Dividing his time
between the Utah settlement at Bluff and those in Colorado’s San Luis Valley
250 miles to the east, Smith established a residence at Manassa, Colorado in
In 1883 two ecclesiastical districts were established and Silas S. Smith,
who had jurisdiction for the entire San Juan area until the division, remained in charge of Mormon activities in the San Luis Valley until 1892. Smith returned to Utah in 1901 living in Layton, Davis County, until his death in 1910. In a state which withholds its deepest respect for its pioneers, Silas S. Smith was a pioneer among pioneers. He reportedly established 35 different homes or residences on the Mormon frontier. The Paragonah residence is the only one that remains in Utah from the era of his pioneering endeavors and as such is significant in understanding and documenting the settlement process of Utah.
This large adobe house was originally constructed by Marius Ensign, an
early convert to the Mormon church and one of the original settlers of
Paragonah. Ensign had come to Utah in 1849 and accompanied the first group of Saints called to open the Iron Mission in central Utah. Ensign and several other men moved to Paragonah in the spring of 1852, the site having been previously selected because of its abundant water supply and suitability for agriculture. By 1853 log cabins and several substantial adobe houses had been erected by the pioneers. Indian hostilities necessitated the evacuation of the town in the summer of 1853 and the community was not resettled until At this time a large adobe fort was constructed and the residents occupied small homes within its protective walls (the fort was located on the block directly across the street west of the Ensign-Smith house). The fort was utilized until about 1860 when a townsite was surveyed and settlers began to move out onto their new city lots to build. It was in the 1860-1862 period that Marius Ensign built the first part of this house, perhaps using adobes secured from the dismantling of the nearby fort.
The original house was a 1-1/2 story adobe structure measuring roughly 33′
x 17′ and consisting of two equal sized rooms on each floor. The rooms
conformed to the vernacular “double-pen” type. The facade is asymmetrical
because the front door had to be shifted to one side to accommodate the
internal wall separating the two front rooms. As the house was nearing
completion, Ensign was called by church leaders to settle further south at
Santa Clara, in Washington County. The historical documents seem to indicate that Ensign left Paragonah shortly thereafter but it is not clear, however, what immediately became of the house. Silas Smith officially purchased the home from Ensign for $500 in 1872 and the use of the house during the ten years from 1862, when Ensign left for Santa Clara, to the time of the Smith transaction in 1872 is not known. It seems that Ensign could have left one of his plural wives in the home during this time, or that Smith could have bought the home earlier than the recorded deed indicates–not an uncommon practice in Utah during the early years of settlement.
Silas Smith had moved to Paragonah in 1857 and soon became a leader in
both church and civic affairs. Plat records for the early 1860s show that
Smith owned the city lot just east of Ensign’s house so that the purchasing of
the home required a move of only a short distance. Smith soon added a 1-1/2 story adobe section to the north end of the original home. This new addition gave the house its unusually long appearance and was remarkable compatible with the design of the original section. It was at this time that the other adobe sections were added to the rear of the home. Also, a small frame post office was attached to the southeast corner of the house to serve Smith’s duties as town postmaster. After his call to the San Juan Mission, Smith sold the house in 1882 to William H. Dame, another of Paragonah’s original settlers and one of its leading citizens. The Dames held the property until 1902 when it was purchased by William McBride. The house remained in the McBride family until 1976 when it was sold to Girald Smith. It was at this time that the house was remodeled on the inside and some changes were made to the rear exterior fabric. Such changes do not affect the historic integrity of the dwelling.