In honor of yesterday being Pioneer Day, the state holiday celebrating the Mormon pioneers first arriving in Utah in 1847, we’re looking back on the history of St. George, Utah.
The earliest known inhabitants of the area that would later become St. George were the Virgin River Anasazi, who resided here from approximately 200 B.C. to 1200 A.D. While the reason for the Anasazi people’s disappearance remains a modern-day mystery, evidence of their existence remains in the cave art and fossilized ruins of their dwellings found throughout the local area. Overlapping with their departure, the Paiute tribe of Native Americans settled in Southern Utah between 1100 and 1200 A.D. Once here, the Paiutes turned to farming and grew crops along the banks of the Virgin River including wheat, corn and a variety of melon fruits. In 1776, the Dominguez-Escalante Party became the first European-Americans on record to discover the area, followed eventually by fur trappers and government surveyors.
In 1854, the Mormon Church established a mission in present-day Santa Clara, and within seven years had sent more than 300 families of church members south to establish experimental farms and grow cotton in the dry southern heat. Because of the Cotton Mission (different from the earlier Indian Mission), the area eventually became known as “Utah’s Dixie” in relation to cotton plantations in the American South.
The city of St. George was named after Mormon apostle George A. Smith, nephew of church founder Joseph Smith and grandfather of eventual prophet and namesake George Albert Smith. While Smith never actually lived in St. George or took place in its settlement, he personally selected many of the pioneer families assigned to establish the city. In 1863, St. George became the county seat of present-day Washington County. That same year, construction began on the historic St. George Tabernacle with the building of the St. George Temple beginning eight years later in 1871. Dedicated on April 6, 1877, the centerpiece of the community remains the longest continuously operating Mormon Temple in the world.
Today, St. George is the largest city in Washington County, as well as the eighth-largest city in the state of Utah. The population has boomed in the last 15 years, with nearly 120,000 residents calling the St. George metropolitan area home (including SunRiver St. George). In the last two decades, it consistently ranked as one of the fastest growing areas in the country, nearly topping the list at number two from 2005 to 2010.