Parowan City – Southern Utah’s First Pioneer Settlement
As southern Utah’s first pioneer settlement, Parowan serves as the western gateway to Brian Head Ski and Summer Resort, Cedar Breaks National Monument and many other attractions along Utah’s Patchwork Parkway. Blending a rich, historic past with present-day, small-town hospitality, Parowan is home to many original and early 20th-century homes and business, plus a number of commemorative museums and heritage parks.
Parowan celebrates its rich heritage with an annual birthday party featuring a community luncheon, pioneer dancing and singing, and a town meeting. Other traditional celebrations include federal and state holidays, annual musicals and dramatic performances in the historic theater, Autumn Fest and an annual summer solstice observation program at Parowan Gap. These events celebrate the cultural heritage of both the people and the region.
Parowan was founded on January 13, 1851. Just one year earlier, on January 8, 1850, Mormon apostle Parley P. Pratt and members of his exploring party had discovered the Little Salt Lake Valley and nearby deposits of iron ore. He raised a liberty flag above Heap’s Spring (now Parowan Heritage Park) and dedicated the site as “The City of Little Salt Lake,” inspiring Mormon prophet Brigham Young to establish Parowan as the center for colonization across southern Utah. George A. Smith was called to lead this “Iron Mission,” setting out with the first company of 120 men, 31 women and 18 children from Provo to southern Utah in December 1850. Building roads and bridges as they traveled, the party reached Center Creek in Parowan on January 13, 1851.
Within days, the settlement was established. Companies of men were dispatched to build a road up the canyon, a town site was surveyed and laid into lots, and a fort and a log council house were built. The council house was used as church, schoolhouse, theater and community recreation center. 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 the immigrants who would open up the coal and iron ore deposits. Parowan settlers also developed local industries including a tannery, sawmill, cotton mill, and factories for making saddles, harnesses, furniture, cabinets, shoes and guns. There also were both carpentry and blacksmith shops.
By the early 1900s both sheep and dairy industries were well established. Local farms were eventually noted for their quality Rambouillet sheep, and for “Pardule Cheese” produced by the Southern Utah Dairy Company. Iron mining in the 20th century brought prosperity to Iron County until the economic downturn of the 1980s. Determined Parowan citizens pulled together to develop an economic plan of action to keep the community viable. Farmers and ranchers still work 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. Each year, Parowan is the site of the annual Iron County Fair held over 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, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the Utah Quality Growth Commission started restoring and developing the Dr. Meeks Pioneer 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, the Third/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. According to the 2010 Census, Parowan City’s population is approximately 2,800.