Utah History to Go
What Made the Mormon Landscape Unique?
Overland Migrations
Bartleson-Bidwell party
Nancy Kelsey
Bryant-Rusell Party
Harlan Young Party
Hastings Cutoff
Donner Party
This is the Place
Mormon History
Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company
Handcart Companies
A Girl Triumphed Over Handcart Tradegy
Many Mormon Immigrants Delayed Their Journey
Settlement and Exploration
Colonization of Utah
Salt Lake City
The Founding and Naming of Moab
Hole-in-the-Rock Trek Remains an Epic Experience
What Made the Mormon Landscape Unique?
Snowslides Devastated Northern Utah in 1875
A Fatal Snowslide in Provo Canyon
Those Pioneering African Americans
The Lives of Six Pioneer Girls
He Was an Outsider in Utah But Not For Long
Forty-Niners in Salt Lake Valley
Utah Farmer and the Pike's Peak Gold Rush
Emma Lee Endured Many Hardships in Pioneer Utah
Alice Parker Isom Faced Challenges WIth True Grit
19th Century Utah Women Spun Yarn and Dug Ditches
Hilda Anderson Erickson, Working Woman
Oliver B. Huntington and His Bees
A Policeman's Lot in Early Salt Lake CIty
A Blind Man and His Harp
Fanny Brooks Helped Establish the Jewish Community
Reverend McLeod and Building of Independence Hall
Jenny Baker Stanford Bridged Mormon-Gentile Gap
Welshman Dan Jones Was One of Zion's Busiest Bees
The Case of Grave Robber Jean Baptiste
Slavery in Utah
History of Polygamy
The History of a Pioneer Utah Cottage
The Pioneer's Cost of Living Versus Today's
Coins and Currency
The Sego Lily, Utah's State Flower
Pestiferous Ironclads: Grasshopper Problem in Utah
From Pioneer Fort to Pioneer Park
Ensign Peak
Temple Square
Virgin River Doused Cotton Mission Settler's Hopes
Gardner Mill and the Birth of the Valley's West Side
The United Order Movement
The Beginnings of the University of Utah
Arrival of the Episcopal Church
Ben Holladay, the Stagecoach King, in Utah
The Pony Express Added a Colorful Chapter in Utah
Mark Twain's Utah
Pony Express in Utah
The Telegraph Was Information Highway of the 1860's
The Steamboat Era Was Glamorous But Brief in Utah
Cowboys and the Cattle Industry
Old La Sal Was Once a Thriving Cow Town
Preston Nutter Made Utah Home of His Cattle Kingdom
Robbers' Roost Was a Haven For Outlaws
Utah Had Hollywood Style Western Gunfights
Just Who Was the Outlaw Queen Etta Place?
Josie Bassett-Jensen's Remarkable Woman Rancher
Military in Utah
Utah War
The Civil War in Utah
Mountain Meadows Massacre
Fort Douglas
Fort Duchesne
Camp Floyd
The Colonel Orders a Grand Review

Becky Bartholomew
History Blazer, December 1995

What distinguished (or at least used to) a Mormon village from other western towns? According to Richard Francaviglia in his book The Mormon Landscape, a primary element was domestic architecture--house design. In contrast to the smaller, hip-roofed, frame houses that dominated the rest of the West, large and sturdy brick houses were the traditional architecture of Mormon towns. The brick might be fired or adobe, red or yellow, but the floor plan was almost uniformly symmetric, of the central-hall type called the Nauvoo style. They were Old Worldly in feel and usually boasted a gabled room with chimney at either end. Many also sported two front doors--seen by some observers as a sign of polygamists, although Francaviglia states that double doors were common in the East during the mid-1800s.

Even smaller Mormon pioneer houses had this strong if simple English appearance because of neo-Grecian cornices making heavy roof lines. It was not until about 1900 that Victorian-style houses began to be built by wealthier families. These homes had more complex floor plans, hipped roofs, and ornate bay windows, cornices, and porches.

Another uniquely Mormon town feature is the strict north-south grid with the LDS chapel as the focal point, the unusually wide streets (as much as 88 feet), and city blocks divided into four lots of about an acre each with a house on each corner. While many lots were later subdivided and the wide road shoulders left unused, many rural Utah towns retain a wide open feel. Dominating this spaciousness is the LDS chapel. Pioneer chapels were often sited in the central public square, appropriate to their function as the secular and religious focus of the community. Those built since 1950 almost uniformly boast rambling wings and tall steeples but no crosses or other conventional religious symbols. Buildings of other denominations are seldom seen. In some towns a separate Relief Society hall or bishop's storehouse remains from pioneer days.

"One more unpainted, crooked element in an already cluttered landscape" is how Francaviglia describes Mormon fences. Because the one-acre city lots were mini-farms with many uses, much fencing was needed--fences often built out of a medley of whatever materials and woods were available, including cedar, juniper, and even wagon wheels.

A few decades ago piped and pressurized irrigation systems replaced pioneer irrigation systems. Now even the empty ditches are disappearing as culinary and sewer upgrades require excavation and fill. But the ditches were once omnipresent, flowing along every street and byway, with diversion gates that directed a main stream into private orchard, garden, or pasture. Guillotine-like headgates controlled the larger channels. All were once a source of endless recreation for children. The ditches furnished the lifeblood to settlements entirely dependent on mountain snowpack for survival. 

Poplar planting was so widespread in early Utah that the ubiquitous olive green trees still line irrigation ponds and canals. Along with steeples, the poplars direct the eye toward heaven, helping to form the basic horizontal/vertical composition of a Mormon landscape.

Francaviglia lists other elements of the Mormon townscape: the simple rectangular barn with pitched roof and adjoining shed on one or both sides; open hay barns, "usually the most dilapidated structure in the farmyard"--leaning at a slight angle or even propped up by hay; weathered granaries; inner-city corrals and woodpiles; the distinctive Mormon hay derrick; the protective barrier of mountains behind almost every Utah town.

Those weed-ridden road shoulders, unpainted barns, and rustic fences create a genteel shabbiness that sometimes inspires beautification committees to urge residents to mow their weeds and paint their houses and fences. Other Utahns--including many an artist--hope the villages will never change. But Utah's rural landscape is changing, as new brick rectangles replace the adobe houses. In time it will be gone except for those buildings preserved by a few loving keepers.

Grafton Utah

Grafton, Utah


Rural Utah
Rural Utah


Source: Richard V. Francaviglia, The Mormon Landscape: Existence, Creation, and Perception of a Unique Image in the American West (New York: AMS Press, 1978).



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