Spring City: A hard heritage

From its impressive tabernacle to footings of headstones in its cemetery, this central Utah community's fawnskin-colored rock stands out like highlights in an artist's painting.

The rock is oolite limestone mostly hewn and beveled from a quarry outside town by those who settled in the mid-19th century. Because they built with rock instead of wood, they bequeathed an enduring legacy of pioneer times. Their legacy of rock seems to also testify of their struggles to survive a harsh environment. Theirs is a hard heritage.Enough 19th century remnants of the efforts of pioneer settlers remain that the entire town of Spring City is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a Historic District.

The most dominant structure fashioned of this stone is a massive Gothic Revival/Romanesque tabernacle on Main Street, the crowning effort of craftsmen who also helped build the Manti Temple.

The apex of craftsmanship, however, is perhaps best represented in the home of Jens P. Carlson, a mason of surpassing skill. The stonework speaks for itself: joints needing only an eighth-inch of mortar, and a common grain running from polished stone to polished stone across each course, or layer. The dedicated craftsman borrowed a wagon on weekends to haul stone from the quarry and labored on this house from 1896 until his death in 1904.

Many other pioneer buildings stand in Spring City, including nearly a dozen homes – from cabins to mansions – a tithing office, a store, a school, a Relief Society granary and a carriage house.

Modern residents of the diversified community are now slowly approaching the town's agricultural heyday in 1910 when its population reached 1,200. Spring City is a community where optimism prevails and restoration projects are underway at multiple locations. In other locations, plans are being made for future projects and hope awaits for those with plans yet unmade.

Spring City is similar to many of the nearly 500 Mormon settlements established in the past century and ranging from Cardston, Canada, to the colonies in Mexico. These colonies seemed to have sprouted wherever water was available.

Plentiful small springs of good water helped attract the first settlers to this community in 1852. That was the year James Allred and several families settled in what they called Canal Creek, later known as the Allred Settlement, 17 miles north of Manti.

Indian difficulties developed the first summer. The next year, a group of 50 Danish immigrant families – with many skilled artisans including stonemasons among them – was sent to strengthen the area. However, the Indian raids continued and in December the colony was evacuated and all the families traveled to Manti. Buildings left behind were burned. Over the next two decades, a number of fatalities were suffered. At the Manti fort in the winter of 1853-54, "Food. . . consisted of frozen potatoes, along with smutty bran and ground wheat," wrote local historian Kaye C. Watson. (Life Under the Horseshoe, p. 13.) "Even worse than their half-empty stomachs was their light clothing which denied them real warmth, especially in their weakened physical condition."

The area was resettled in 1859 as "Little Denmark" and was later known as Spring Town and then as Spring City when incorporated in 1870. Its residents learned to be self-sustaining because it was five days by wagon to Salt Lake City.

"The town is laid out using Joseph Smith's plan of 1.06 acres for each home allowing room for a barn and other outbuildings, a root cellar, garden, orchard and pasture area, making the opportunity for each family to be self-sufficient," explained Sister Watson.

"It was thought originally that there would only be enough water for 35 families; however, linking the waters of Oak Creek and Canal and construction of irrigation ditches provided water for many more families to live here. Now we have pressurized irrigation as well."

In 1860, Apostle Orson Hyde moved to Spring City and was appointed to be the presiding officer, Indian negotiator, and even served on the city council. He was known in the area as a hard worker.

Of this period, one early settler, Rosey Minerva Blain Olsen, wrote in her autobiography: "I remember some of the Indian trials and some of the hardships of settling Spring City. . . . I remember when we were lucky to have bread, and can remember when . . . my sister Mary and I used to sit and soak our bread in the ditch so we didn't have to eat dry bread.

"I remember many times when my father would sit by the window with his gun, and we were not allowed to stir, and no fire was built in the fireplace to make light, for fear of Indians."

John Frantzen, who later was to serve as bishop's counselor in the Spring City Ward, described in his journal his arrival to the settlement in 1860:

"In the month of March, I believe on the 1st, we moved there and pitched our camp . . . it was then covered with brush. It was quite cold having no house to go into. Father and mother were under the necessity of using the wagon box, which of course had a cover on it. Mother did the cooking on the ground. . . .

"There being such an immense amount of labor to do in a new settlement I worked very hard. As soon as the snow was off the ground, I commenced grubbing. . . . Father and myself each got 131/2 acres. After we got our crops in we had the water ditches to make, the roads in the canyon, fencing material to build fences around our city lots and also parts of our field, besides a great many other things we had to do."

Two years later, after his marriage, Brother Frantzen wrote: "The winter was very wet, raining a great deal of the time which made it quite disagreeable in the house, the rain going through the roof. This was the case in most of the houses, as I think there was not a house in town covered with shingles. During the summer I went about my usual work, that of farming. My wife did not enjoy very good health and was quite feeble a portion of the time. On the 24th day of September she gave birth to a fine boy but who in the providence of the Almighty was not permitted to remain with us but a short time. During his sickness all was done which possibly could be, but he continued to get worse. We finally concluded to call in the elders of the church to administer to him, bless him and give him a name in case he should not recover. . . .

"He still continued getting worse and suffered considerably and although we both felt as though we could not give him up, one evening after dark my wife remarked to me that it was too much for her to see his suffering . . . ."

The couple went outside and prayed and left the baby "in the hands of the Lord. . . . and when we came back into the house again he did not seem to suffer but very little and his suffering was ended and the Lord took him to Himself, which occurred the sixth of April 1862."

During this period, Indian threats continued and the Black Hawk Indian War ensued from 1865-1872. During this general period, after two mail carriers had been killed by Indians, the U.S. Post office advertised for a mail carrier between Ephraim and Spring City. Hans Jorgen Hansen of Spring City, who owned a very fast mare, accepted the job despite its hazardous potential. His son, Niels Peter, who also carried the mail, described his trips to his family who recorded his experiences:

"Near Spring city was a place known as Pigeon Hollow. Throughout Pigeon Hollow were clumps of bushes and cedar trees and there was always danger of Indian ambush as the Indians would lie in wait for him. But the faithful little mare always sensed their presence and avoided the Indians' hiding place.

"She would race down through the hollow to avoid all danger . . . then when he was far enough away from his pursuers, Grandpa would rein up to a stop, turn and wave to the Indians. It soon became a game. The Indians, too, would bring their mounts to a rearing halt, brandishing their weapons, wave their arms and whoop loudly." (Life Under the Horseshoe, p. 17.)