Parowan celebrates its rich heritage as the first southern Utah town with an annual birthday party including a town luncheon, pioneer dancing, singing and a town meeting. The town has traditional pioneer celebrations of federal and state holidays,annual musicals and dramatic performances in the historic theater. There is also an annual summer solstice observation program at Parowan Gap and Autumn Fest. Events such as these are an example of some of the regional cultural traditions. All of the cultural events held in the area are celebrations of the heritage of the people and the uniqueness of this region. A cultural tradition that is not an event, but is strongly valued, is the tradition of ranching and cattle and sheep drives along the corridor. This ranching tradition is treasured in this rural region.
The western gateway to Utah’s Patchwork Parkway is Southern Utah’s first pioneer settlement, Parowan. Many original and turn-of-the-20-Century homes and businesses in the center of Parowan are still standing. A number of museums and heritage parks commemorating the past are open to the public. Parowan City blends a rich historical past with present-day,small-town hospitality. Set in a beautiful natural location, it serves as a year-roundgateway to Brian Head resorts and Cedar Breaks National Monument. According to the Five County Association ofGovernments, Parowan City’s population in 2005 was approximately 2,800.
An annual birthday celebration commemorates Parowan’s founding on January 13, 1851, just twelve months afterParley P. Pratt, a Mormon apostle, and members of his exploring party discovered the Little Salt Lake Valley and nearby deposits of iron ore. On January 8, 1850 Pratt had raised a liberty flag pole above Heap’s Spring (now known as Parowan Heritage Park) and dedicated the site as “The City of Little Salt Lake.” Based on Pratt’s exploration report, Brigham Young, the Mormon prophet, called for the establishment of Parowan as the center for colonization across a broad region. Mormon apostle George A. Smith was appointed to head the establishment of this “Iron Mission” in 1850. The first company of120 men, 31 women, and 18 children braved winter weather traveling south from Provo during December. They sometimes built roads and bridges as they traveled, finally reaching Center Creek in Parowan on January 13, 1851. Within days, the settlement organization was completed. Companies of men were dispatched to build a road up the canyon, a townsite was surveyed and laid into lots, and a fort and a log council house were established.
The council house was used as church, schoolhouse, theater, and community recreation center for many years.In 1861 construction began on a large church building to stand in the center of the public square. The pioneers envisioned a building of three stories, built from the abundant yellow sandstone and massive timbers in nearby canyons. Known as the “Old Rock Church,” the building was completed in 1867 and served as a place of worship, town council hall, school building, social hall, and tourist camp. In 1939 it was restored through the efforts of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers and a Parowan-sponsored WPA project. It is now a museum of Parowan’s early history.
Parowan has been called the “Mother Town of the Southwest” because of the many pioneers who left to start other communities in southern Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado,and even Oregon and Wyoming. In its first year, colonists were asked to settle Johnson Fort, now Enoch, where a stockade was built,and were also sent to settle along Coal Creek to manufacture iron. That settlement became Cedar City. Parowan’s first settlers were instructed to plant crops to sustain themselves and immigrants who would open up the coal and iron ore deposits. Parowan settlers also developed local industries including a tannery, sawmill, cotton mill, factories for making saddles andh arnesses, furniture and cabinets, shoes, and guns; there also were both carpentry and blacksmith shops.
By the early 1900s both sheep and dairy industries were well established. Eventually, local farms were noted for their quality Rambouillet sheep, and the Southern Utah Dairy Company, a cooperative venture begun in 1900, produced dairy products and was known for its “Pardale Cheese.” Iron mining in the twentieth century brought prosperity to Iron County. Economic forces forced the closure of the mines and the completion of Interstate 15 threatened economic depression in the early 1980s. Determined Parowan citizens pulled together to develop an economic plan of action to keep the community viable. Farmers and ranchers are working together to increase the number of agribusinesses and dairies.
City officials have maintained financial stability while encouraging community projects that preserve the pioneer heritage and increase tourism during all seasons. Parowan is the site of the annual Iron County Fair on Labor Day weekend; it also is a host community for the Utah Summer Games and sponsor of the annual “Christmas in the Country” celebration each November. In 1990 Parowan City and Parowan Heritage Foundation began development of Parowan Heritage Park at Heap’s Spring. The park includes an amphitheater, a grotto and pond, a picnic site, and commemorative statuary.
In 1998 a cooperative venture between the city, Parowan Heritage Foundation, Parowan High School Agriculture Department, UtahDivision of Wildlife Resources and the Utah Quality Growth Commission started restoring and developing the Dr. MeeksPioneer Farmstead, urban fishery and Outdoor Learning Center on the original farmstead site of Parowan’s first doctor. Other local historic sites include the original town square with the Old Rock Church, the War Memorial and Rose Garden, theThird/Fourth Ward LDS chapel built in 1919,and the Jesse N. Smith Home Museum. Parowan City supports a Parowan Community Theater, which produces outstanding theatrical productions throughout the year.