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American Fork Historic District

The American Fork Historic District is locally significant, both architecturally and historically, because it represents the social, economic and architectural history of American Fork, Utah. The district is significant under Criterion C for its concentration of intact examples of residential buildings built during the major construction periods in the town’s history, from 1868-1940. The district accurately represents the wide range of architectural styles, types, and construction materials found in American Fork. The district is also locally significant under Criterion A as a reflection of American Fork’s residential settlement patterns and community growth through 1940. Founded by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, or Mormon church) in 1850, American Fork experienced steady growth as an agricultural community, and later as a commercial center for northern Utah County through the arrival of the railroad in American Fork in 1873. This growth has continued into the twentieth century and up to the present.

Mormon Settlement 1850-1867

The site of American Fork was first considered as having potential for settlement by two early pioneers, Arza Adams and Stephen Chipman, who camped in the vicinity while traveling to Provo in the summer of 1850. Favorably impressed, Adams and Chipman asked permission from Brigham Young to establish a cattle ranch in the area, but instead were instructed to undertake a survey. Two sections of land were laid out in what was known as the “Big Survey,” encompassing the early townsite and the riparian area along American Fork Creek. The town of Lehi, a few miles northwest, had recently been surveyed, and this was used as the baseline.

Three aspects of the community’s inception differ from that associated with traditional Mormon settlement, two of which are noted by Lowry Nelson in The Mormon Village. First, the intention of Adams and Chipman to establish a large ranch was a departure from the usual pattern of Mormon settlement in which land was subdivided into small tracts. Second, many families constructed a house and lived on their farms, rather than reside in the village and travel to their land. Finally, settlers first lived on along the creek, where they had proximity to water, rather than in the orderly lots laid out in even blocks that characterized Mormon villages.

The threat of unrest between the settlers and the Indians in 1853 ended any dissimilar patterns. Residents were instructed to construct a fort and move within its walls. The pioneers’ log homes were moved within the fort but as the Indian danger dissipated, enthusiasm to complete the fort faded and it was never completed. From 1853 on, settlement was less dispersed and the plan of the village followed that of the fort.

During the 1850s and 1860s life in American Fork centered on survival. Farming and raising livestock was the basis of the economy. Small businesses and stores, such as the glass and crockery store established by Richard Steele in 1851 existed, but the exchange of goods transpired through trade and little cash was used. These decades were spent in building the community’s economic and physical infrastructure, and establishing the institutions that the settlers had known elsewhere. George Shelley describes the early accomplishments:

Among these were the gathering of the people together from their various locations along the creek into a compact community surrounded by a wall, the assuming of the distribution of the irrigation water… the allotment of land to the settlers, the making of roads and bridges…

The subsistence standard of living, the lack of materials and sophisticated tools and the isolation from national markets affected the community’s architecture. The first homes were constructed of logs, (some of hewn-log construction), chinked with chips and covered with mud mortar.

The next phase of construction was characterized by the use of adobe bricks. Residents found a good quality of clay in the wetlands southwest of the community and constructed an adobe mill. Adobe provided a more comfortable dwelling and allowed for stylistic forms and embellishments. In 1860 a new meetinghouse was built out of adobe with a granite foundation; later photographs indicate that the building had the moderately-pitched gable roof and cornice returns associated with the Greek Revival style in Utah. This building also served as a school.

Stability and Growth, Construction of Railroad through American Fork, 1868-1880

By the late 1860s life in American Fork was stable enough for residents to strengthen municipal institutions, support mercantile trading, and create more substantial and style-conscious structures. In 1867 the Deseret Telegraph Company opened an office in American Fork, providing access to communication on a national scale. Also in this year territorial legislation was passed giving local governments the right to maintain free public schools through taxation; this bill was sponsored by Leonard Harrington, American Fork’s first mayor, LDS bishop and Utah County legislative representative. After the bill passed, American Fork residents voted in favor of this option and became the first community in the territory to fund public education. A road and a narrow gauge railroad were constructed in the 1870s in American Fork Canyon to service mining activity. This, along with the construction of a mill with a circular saw at the mouth of the canyon, provided a much greater supply of lumber. Mining also brought in an influx of cash and helped the growing mercantile base in the town. Most significantly, the Utah Southern Railroad Company opened transportation through American Fork in 1873.

These developments affected the architecture and the physical appearance of the town. Residential architecture began to reflect national trends. Although the Greek Revival style, which had died out nationally by 1840, remained popular in American Fork and throughout Utah through the 1880s, the Victorian Eclectic style was used in American Fork by 1875. The William-Abner Chipman House at 269 S 100 W (c.1875) is a prime example of the Victorian influence. Homes in this style exhibited cross-wing, side-passage and central block plans. Adobe continued to be used but fired brick became the predominant material. An example of adobe house remaining in American Fork is the Greek Revival George & Mary Spratley House (c.1875) at 29 E 100 South. These trends are reflected in the surviving buildings of the district.

Two new schoolhouses, serving the neighborhoods east and west of the creek, were constructed. The 1860 adobe church was expanded in 1877 by a 30 x 50 foot addition and was thereafter known as “the Science Hall.” Bate Hall, a community recreation center, was built out of rock in 1876. A Gothic Revival Presbyterian Church was constructed the next year.

Once American Fork had rail access, its history and architecture were very much in keeping with the rest of Utah and the nation. Its location, between Provo and Salt Lake City, meant that it had a steady stream of travelers and access to outside markets and culture. The community continued to mature during the 1880s and through the first decade of the twentieth century. In 1883 rail service expanded with the extension of a Denver and Rio Grande Railroad line through American Fork. In the early 1890s municipal services improved: new streets were opened, a new survey was undertaken, city government became more structured and uniform city ordinances were established. Electric street lights were installed in 1901, the houses were numbered in 1905, and a fire station was constructed on Main Street in 1913. In 1899 the American Fork Co-op built “a commodious brick store” on Main Street, contributing to the town’s prosperous appearance. The Co-op was established in 1873 as part of Brigham Young’s efforts to keep mercantile business in Mormon hands. Closing in 1930, it had outlasted other co-ops in the state. In 1892 the Chipman Mercantile company was founded and became the largest retail operation in Utah County. The opening of the sugar beet factory in Lehi in the 1890s augmented the agricultural base in the county. This commercial growth in American Fork is reflected in the homes of the district. There are many large homes from this period still extant on Main Street including the Victorian Eclectic J. Chipman, Jr. House (c.1893, 121 W Main), the Greek Revival Emeline Sykes House (c.1905, 184 W Main), and the Queen Anne Vance/Walton House (c.1902, 195 W Main). Many homes built in the district were by families newly prospering from the City’s commercial growth. Often these owners were members of established American Fork agricultural families branching out into new commercial and industrial interests.

In 1901 a general reorganization of the LDS Church in Utah County took place. The original Utah Stake of Zion, (the LDS “stake” is equivalent to a diocese) which once encompassed Mormon wards (equivalent to parishes) in all of Utah County, was divided into three Stakes. American Fork became part of the new Alpine Stake. The single ward in American Fork was divided into four congregations, necessitating four new chapels. All four, two of which were in the district, were of built of brick in a Gothic Revival style. The Alpine Stake Tabernacle, found within the district boundaries at 110 E. Main St., is another significant LDS structure of this time. It reflects a new era of church building in a variety of revival and modern styles.

In 1914 Jesse M. Walker began raising white Leghorn hens for egg production on a commercial scale, marking the beginning of a prosperous poultry industry for American Fork. This seems to have had a great effect on the town, both economically and physically, as it was an enterprise that many people could participate in because it did not involve a large capital investment. The large lots of 1.25 acres (eight to a block) were conducive to the growth of this industry; Lowry Nelson writes that the space provided in this area was often sufficient for a poultry business large enough to supply a family’s livelihoods. This resulted in an expanded agrarian overlay to a community in which keeping livestock on property within the city was not unusual. Even today many henhouses and outbuildings associated with the poultry business are extant.

Progressive-Era Ideals and Economic Depression, 1900-1940

Beginning about 1910, domestic architecture moved away from the prevailing Victorian Eclectic style and bungalows became popular. The 1987 architectural survey indicates that this house type was used as early as 1901 but had become very popular in the next decade. Bungalows in American Fork are generally simple brick structures with a rectangular form and a hipped roof; more elaborate examples have Prairie School and Arts and Crafts elements. A few larger, Prairie style foursquare plan houses were also constructed in American Fork during this time, including the Chipman/Firmage House at 6 S. 100 West, and the Chipman/Robinson House at 208 W Main Street. Frame Craftsman bungalows, with brackets, clipped gables, and clapboard siding, offered an alternative for a small, modest house. Period Revival cottages of English Tudor styling were built beginning in the teens and through the 1930s and 1940s.

American Fork continued to benefit from the progressive ideals characteristic of the turn of the century. The city purchased land for a city park in 1920 and received a grant from the Carnegie Foundation and constructed a library designed by Ware and Treganza in 1923. School consolidation occurred in 1915. In 1929 state legislation was passed establishing several institutions assisting the mentally and physically disabled; American Fork was chosen as the site for the State Training School for mentally retarded citizens. By 1945 the school had 659 students and 86 full-time employees — a boost for the local economy.

During the 1930s American Fork experienced the hardships of the Depression but received some relief through the Works Progress Administration. WPA projects within the district included the improvement of City Central Park and graveling and hard-surfacing the streets. Outside the district boundaries, an amphitheater and wall at the State Training School, a stone wall around the cemetery, and an addition to the Harrington School designed by Provo architect Joseph Nelson of Nelson and Ashworth were all WPA projects that had a lasting influence on the physical fabric of the city.

Recent Development and Influences, 1940 – present

In the early 1940s the Geneva Steel plant was constructed to meet the demands of World War II. Several large subdivisions, including Columbia Village, Thornwood and Richland Park, were constructed to meet the related housing demand. Although located outside the district boundaries, these subdivisions had a lasting impact on the physical surroundings comprising the setting of the district area, and diminished the surrounding farmland that many residents of the district once owned as farmland. Architecturally these subdivisions represent one of the state’s “Levittowns,” in the sense that the homes were almost identical and small with compact floor plans. Their design lent them well to cost-effective and speedy construction. These subdivisions, along with those more recently constructed, have disrupted the pre-1940s layout and appearance of American Fork.

Probably the most significant post-World War II change to the physical character of this community was the construction of an interstate highway along the western edge of the city during the early 1960s. The resulting bypass of traffic has negatively affected Main Street businesses, as have the more recent construction of regional shopping malls. American Fork is no different from all communities along the Wasatch Front, in that maintaining a distinct identity, rather than acting as a bedroom community for Provo, Orem and Salt Lake, has become difficult.

The American Fork Historic District is an important historical resource because it represents the settlement and development of American Fork, Utah. The district is locally significant as a physical reflection of the residential architectural and historical development. The houses and outbuildings within the district provide a complete representation of the wide range of architectural styles and plans popular in the city between 1870 and 1940.

The district excludes the downtown commercial district including a city hall, a school, the old dance hall and more because of their lack of integrity.

Narrative Description

American Fork is located in Utah Valley near the north end of Utah Lake, fifteen miles north of Provo, the Utah County seat, and thirty miles south of the State Capital, Salt Lake City. The city contains a central historic commercial and residential core area, which is surrounded by suburban subdivisions built on what was once agricultural land.

The American Fork Historic District is located in the historic core of the city and is built upon a grid of five acre blocks separated by wide streets. Following the original Plat of Zion as envisioned by Mormon church founder Joseph Smith, each block was originally divided into eight lots, though every block within the district has since been subdivided and open space filled with new construction. All of the streets are paved and are lined with curb and gutter and sidewalks. Large, mature trees line the streets and shade residential lots throughout the district.

Residential Buildings:
The district is irregularly shaped, and includes only portions of twelve downtown blocks, wrapping around the commercial area that no longer retains its integrity. The primary east-west axis of the district runs along 100 South, while the north-south axes are 200 West, 100 West, Center St., and 100 East. The district is almost exclusively residential in character, and contains a variety of houses from four general building phases: 1868-1880, 1880-1910,1910-1940, and 1940-present. Although out-of-period and altered structures are found throughout the downtown area, the district retains its overall integrity of feeling and association.

No properties dating from the earliest period of American Fork’s settlement (1849-1868) are contained within the district. The earliest properties in the district date from the late 1870s, around the last years of American Fork’s pioneer settlement, before the arrival of the railroad. The remaining examples from this time are single-story, symmetrical hall-parlor or crosswing type, gable-roofed houses, in simple vernacular classical styles. Decorative details, when present, are inspired by the Greek Revival. These houses are generally constructed of adobe or soft fired brick and are most often covered with stucco.

The bulk of the district’s buildings (approximately 67) date from the period 1880-1910. These are primarily Victorian Eclectic and late Greek Revival crosswing or central-block-with-projecting-bays houses, usually one or one-and-a-half stories in height. Fired red and putty colored brick is the most common building material of buildings of this time, though wood frame houses are also found. The Victorian houses are characterized by asymmetrical façades, prominent front gables, and substantial one-story porches with Classically inspired turned columns. Foundations are most often coarsely laid sandstone, though concrete came into use toward the end of this period. Roofs are a mix of gabled and hipped types. Windows on the front elevations consist of large single panes with fixed transoms, or one-over-one double-hung sash types.

Houses of the period 1910-1940 fall into two distinct types: the bungalow and the period cottage. The bungalow appears frequently in the district; approximately twenty-eight houses in the district are bungalows, or variations thereof. Two variants of the bungalow style, most examples of which were built in the first half of this period, were commonly found in the district: the more popular dark reddish brown brick version with a low-pitched hipped roof and broad front porch embellished with battered concrete columns; and the more modest frame, side gabled dwelling with clipped, or jerkinhead, gables. Both are distinguished by simple, rectangular footprints and wide, low slung eaves. Often both types were adorned with arts and crafts details such as roof brackets and exposed rafters and purlins. A few examples of the Prairie School style of bungalow can also be found in the district. Stylistic features include the wide overhanging eaves, a low hipped roof, horizontal banding, and geometric ornamentation.

Approximately 18 Period Cottage houses built during this period are located in the district. This house type encompasses several different period revival styles. By far the most frequently occurring style of period cottage in the district is the brick Tudor Revival cottage, in which a relatively simple rectangular cottage is elaborated upon by a steeply pitched entrance gable intersecting the side-gabled roofline.

Approximately 29 out-of-period buildings comprise the rest of the properties in the district. These consist of post-WWII cottages and modern ranch houses. Although such out-of-period buildings are found throughout the district, they are compatible in scale and materials with the historic buildings and do not detract overall from the character of the district.

Several historic outbuildings are found scattered throughout the district. These are largely wood frame granaries and sheds and wood frame and brick automobile garages. Many out-of-period outbuildings are also present. Like the out-of-period houses, these outbuildings are compatible in scale and materials with the historic buildings and outbuildings and do not detract overall from the character of the district.