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Description of Spring City

Spring City is one of eleven still existing settlements located in the upper Sanpete Valley of central Utah. Each of these settlements figured in the overall colonization of the area by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the years after 1849. Mormon town planning in the Sanpete Valley closely followed an agricultural village system advocated by the L.D.S. church leadership. By this design, dwellings were clustered together in towns which in turn were surrounded by individual farm holdings. Such a village living arrangement strengthened church authority, fostered communitarian activity, and facilitated the defense of the population against Indian attack. Villages were platted into 5-8 acre blocks with each family generally receiving a quarter-block allotment. On this townsite, the Sanpete farm family erected a dwelling house, a barn, granary, and other necessary outbuildings. While all eleven communities in the upper Sanpete Valle y are the products of this system of farm planning, Spring City best represents the original nineteenth century character of the settlements.

Spring City lies in the northern half of the Sanpete Valley about seventeen miles north of Manti, the Sanpete County seat. U.S. 89, the principal route through the valley^ bypasses the town one mile to the west. The town is tucked up beneath the Wasatch Plateau which rises dramatically on the eastern perimeter of the town. A line of low lying limestone hills to the south and west effectively cut the town off from the larger valley. The current (1979) population is 450.

In keeping with the religious nature of the town, Spring City is dominated by a large L.D.S. Meetinghouse. This elegant stone structure was built in 1900-1914 and replaced an earlier building. In 1973 a stone wing was added on the north of the structure. This addition was designed to match the character of the original building and does not detract from the historical integrity of the Church. Other buildings in the district which display the prominent role the L.D.S. Church played in the town are the Bishop’s Tithing Office, the Endowment House-School House, and the Relief Society Granary. Orson Hyde, one of the twelve Apostles of the L.D.S. Church, resided in Spring City. Other homes of local church leaders are the Jacob Johnson house and the James A. Allred House.


Outside of these few buildings with strong religious links and a small commercial area on Main Street, Spring City is predominantly residential. While modern intrusions do occur (and are occurring with more frequency), the ambience of the town remains strongly that of the rural farm village. Most of the streets are unpaved, town lots retain a high percentage of the original outbuildings, picket fences continue to grace many lots, and it is not uncommon in the spring and fall to witness large flocks of sheep being driven through the main streets.

Architecturally, the town is overwhelmingly vernacular in character. Folk house types from the 1865-1890 period comprise over one-third of the extant total, and range from one room cabins to two-story hall and parlor houses. Adobe and stone are the most common building materials; though log, frame, and brick are also in evidence. Nearly all of the barns and granaries found in town follow traditional patterns. The origins of the folk designs reflect the overall diversity of the settlement population. Yankees and Southerners brought along familiar house plans from their eastern homes, and Danes (a sizeable percentage of the population) brought along Old World houses such as the “parstugen.” In general, folk styles predominate and generate much of the nineteenth century quality of the town.

Pattern book styles of the 1880-1910 period make up about another one-third of the town’s architecture. Economic prosperity during the later nineteenth century enabled Spring City residents to emulate architectural fashions found in population centers like Salt Lake City and Provo. Carpenter-builder designs were made available in Sanpete Valley through architectural pattern books. As a result, hip roofs gradually replaced the simple gable, pyramid cottages with projecting gables became extremely popular, and several successful entrepreneurs created elegant monuments to their own prosperity the John Baxter Sr. House, the Brail Ericksen House, the William Osborne House, and the Jacob Johnson House are rather large and picturesque renderings of the pattern book style. Builder’s manuals also introduced the bungalow to Spring City. While several good bungalows can be found within the town limits, these buildings make up only about one-tenth of the housing stock.

Intrusions into the historic district occur in the form of mobile and prefabricated homes and variations of the ranch styles of post World War II years. In 1973 there were thirteen trailers in town; today (1979) there are about twenty-two. About thirty ranch-style houses are found in Spring City, mostly built in the 1970s. Alterations of older houses occasionally detract from the visual nature of the district, but severe modification is minimal.

Landscape features also enhance the historic village feeling of the town. The town is isolated from the main valley by two low lying bands of hills (the “Stone Quarry Hills”) on the west and south. Streets are generally tree lined and yards are maintained. Town lots contain orchards and vegetable gardens. Irrigation ditches still carry water to each water share holder in town. The rich cream-colored limestone used in the town’s stone buildings blend in particularly well with the cultivated landscape. The adobe, brick, and frame buildings also harmonize well with the general setting. Natural features of importance are the two creeks which run through town. Canal Creek cuts through the extreme southwest corner of the town and Oak Creek runs in a northeasterly course bisecting the city. The plentiful spring which gave the town its name is displayed prominently on block 32.

The quality which serves to distinguish Spring City from other towns in the valley is the large number of buildings which appear much as they did in the years before the First World War. The pace of life and character of the people also enhance the historic atmosphere. The lack of large commercial establishments, the large number of vernacular style homes, the landscape setting, and the spectacular view of the Wasatch Plateau all contribute to the singularity of the Spring City experience.

The historic and architectural significance of Spring City lies in two areas:

  1. the town graphically documents the techniques of Mormon town planning in Utah;
  2. architecture in Spring City is remarkably well preserved with an: abundance of religious buildings, homes, and small commercial establishments which predate World War I.

This Sanpete valley town effectively documents the pattern of Mormon exploration and settlement in the West and the particular agricultural practices which accompanied village living. Spring City is one of the best remaining examples of the Mormon “village” in Utah.

History of Spring City

Spring City was settled as a part of the colonization of the Great Basin planned and directed by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). In 1850, the Fourth General Epistle of the Church reported that Brigham Young, the Church President/ and his counselor, Heber C. Kimball had just returned from a tour of the Sanpete Valley:

On the last of July, Brothers Young and Kimball . . . returned . . . having found a place for a good settlement located a city at Sanpete (Manti) and noticed several immediate sites worthy of the attention of smaller colonies which we anticipate will be settled this fall making a pleasant and safe communication from this our most southern habitation.

Church leaders envisioned, a line of settlements stretching the length of the valley to ensure the effective control of the area. Defensive measures, gratuitous in some parts of Utah Territory, were necessary in the Sanpete Valley due to the presence of an Indian population capable of resisting the intrusion of the Mormon colonizers. Though part of the larger plan for the settlement of the Valley, the selection of the site for Spring City was largely the decision of one man, James Allred.

James Allred, born in 1784 in Randolph County, North Carolina, was an early convert to Mormonism and followed the Saints through the persecutions in Missouri and Illinois. Arriving in Utah in the fall of 1851, Allred was advised by Brigham Young to move to the Sanpete Valley and “select a place for a settlement where he could locate with his numerous posterity and kindred and preside over them.” On March 22, 1852, James Allred examined the country lying along what is today Canal Creek (located in the southwest part of town). Four days later he returned with several of his sons and, together with a number of men from Fort Ephraim, began settling the town of Spring City. The first house, a log home, was situated on Block 4 of the present town. During the summer of 1852, two adobe houses were constructed one located on Block 4 near the original log house and the other near the spring on Block 20. Also that summer, one of James Allred’s sons, James T. S. Allred, completed the first survey of the area. A tract of about one hundred acres was divided into five acre blocks. Some crops were planted and about twelve families spent the winter of 1852 in what was then called the “Allred Settlement.”

In July of 1853 open warfare broke out between the Mormon settlers and the native population. Pleasant Creek (now Mt. Pleasant) was raided in mid-July and residents fled to the Allred settlement for safety. People from both towns fashioned a fort-like structure by dragging their log cabins together and filling in the gaps between houses with rock walls. This first “fort” was completed on July 28 and stood on Block 20. Indian attacks, resulting in considerable loss of livestock and horses, drove the defenders from the Allred settlement back to Manti on July 31. An attempt at resettlement was made during the fall of 1853, but again, threat of Indian attack caused a second abandonment of the community. Many of these settlers who vacated Spring City and went to Manti were among the founders of Ephraim in 1854.

At the request of President Brigham Young, William Black, J. T. Ellis, and the Allred family reestablished the settlement in the summer of 1859. Albert Petty, the county surveyor, accompanied this group and laid off a townsite and 640 acres of farmland surrounding it. Farm land was surveyed into five and ten acre lots and distributed among the settlers. A log meetinghouse was erected on the southwest corner of Block 29, This structure housed a variety of activities until an adobe meetinghouse was built in 1863-1864. The community also attracted a large number of Danish immigrant converts. The number of Danes in the town was large enough to warrant the naming of the community “Little Denmark.” These Scandinavian converts transplanted many architectural forms and techniques into the area, and tradesmen blacksmiths, bakers, wheelrights, shoemakers, carpenters, and masons made valuable contributions to the life of the community. By 1860, the population of Spring City (then called Spring Town) was 243 people. Indian trouble continued through 1869, when treaties were signed ending hostilities. The towns people, with life more secure, turned full attention to agriculture, stock raising, wool growing, lumbering, and other rural pursuits, In 1870, the town was incorporated as Spring City.

Significance of Spring City

In town plan and in the distribution of farm land, Spring City (like other communities in the valley) adheres to a “farm village” system advocated by L.D.S. Church leaders. According to the village scheme, houses, barns, vegetable gardens and orchards would be contained within the boundaries of the village. The large town lots, approximately an acre each, easily accommodated this large number of buildings arid domestic activity. Farm land lay outside the village,, with farmers commuting daily to their outlying fields. The farm village settlement pattern is commonly found throughout the world and is particularly linked to early English agricultural practices. Village living, however, proved unpopular in the United States where the “isolated farmstead” individualized pattern of land tenure predominated. Communitarian thinking, inspired by the Utopian ferment of the early 19th Century, brought the village idea back into currency among groups advocating social reform. As part of this larger religious Utopia movement, the early Mormons were likely influenced in their town planning activity by the resurgence of the farm village pattern.

The Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith, outlined through his teaching a plan for the salvation of mankind. The Second Coming would not occur until the kingdom of God had been built on earth. The Saints were to “gather” together and build the City of Zion, a new Jerusalem, to await the millennium. The city of Zion would have a plan, and on June 25, 1833, the prophet delivered to his followers the “Plat for the City of Zion.” Smith’s “plat” basically called for a gridiron block arrangement, blocks divided into lots, center blocks reserved for Church buildings, wide streets, houses of brick or stone construction, and the town surrounded by fields. While some scholars have disputed the claim that Smith’s “Plat” influenced town planning in Utah, it appears that L.D.S. planners in Utah realized the “general principles” of the “Plat of the City of Zion” even if their interpretations were never literal.8 The perpetuation of the “Mormon Village” in the Great Basin has produced a distinctively religious landscape in the West.9 While non-Mormon western ranchers chose the isolated farmstead, the Saints opted for the controlled atmosphere of the nucleated village. If mining boom towns grew in a haphazard organic fashion, the Mormon village was nurtured to maturity by the application of specific planning rules. Spring City is historically significant as an outstanding example of this “village” settlement type.

Spring City continues to communicate visually the structure of the nineteenth century Mormon village. The guiding principles of Joseph Smith’s “Plat of Zion” are openly in evidence. The geometry of the gridion provides the overriding blueprint for the plan. The five acre town blocks are subdivided into lots of roughly an acre and a quarter. Town lots contain dwelling house, barns, granaries, orchards, and vegetable gardens. Wide streets are the rule, with the older houses following a uniform “set back” of fifteen to twenty feet. Architecturally, the town is dominated by the L.D.S. meetinghouse, centrally located on Block 20. Vernacular domestic architecture predominates with a large number of the homes of native limestone. Non-contributory buildings do exist, but development of the town has been slow during the twentieth century and the post-1950 intrusions do not detract from the historical nature of the town. Many outstanding architectural examples continue to be inhabited and maintained by town residents.

Scandinavian Folk Building in Spring City

The Scandinavian house type found in Spring City is a variant of the northern European “pair house,” a three-bay plan arrangement with a centrally placed hall flanked by a pair of living rooms on each side. In Sweden, the house enjoyed widespread popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries and is called the “parstuga” type. Danish examples are not as clearly defined, but the “tvillinghus” or twin house is closely related to this basic three-room floorplan. The pairhouse in Utah is not an exact copy of Scandinavian originals, but rather, has been modified to its new Utah circumstances. The entrance-hall, corner bake oven, and attached animal shelter of the European house failed to survive the Atlantic crossing and do not surface on Utah examples. The pair house in Spring City has a straight forward three-room floorplan, a symmetrical façade, and chimneys placed on the ridge. A similar process of component adaptation occurred on pair houses built by Finns in northern Minnesota. There are three pair houses in Spring City, the Peter Monson house), the Hans Morgan Hansen house, and the Jens Jensen house.

Structures in the Historic District