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Life In Brigham City 1855-1859

From Brigham City History Project

For most residents the safety and convenience of this central (fort) location was satisfactory, especially since many also had five-acre plots in the Big Field set aside for farming. The city lots were large enough for a home and kitchen garden, as well as a small corral and outbuildings. Most families had chickens, a milk cow, perhaps sheep for wool or even a pig or two. The town herder, Lewis Wight, built a large pole corral on his property located on First West midway between Forest and First North. Early in the morning, he would blow a horn to announce milking time, after which the cows would be herded from all directions to his corral. The cows were herded down Forest Street (then just a lane) to feed on the “grassy bottoms” located south almost to Perry and north to shallow water near 600 North. In the late afternoon they were driven back to the corral, with their arrival announced by horn.[1]


With the town now surveyed and ready to grow in an orderly fashion, Lorenzo Snow obtained unanimous approval of the people to change the name from Box Elder to Brigham City in honor of President Young, although "Youngsville" was briefly considered. It became official when Box Elder was made a county on January 5, 1856, and the county seat was “hereby located at Brigham City,” according to an account in the Deseret News of that date.


In fitting with his role as community leader, Snow built his first home in 1855 at the center of town, located on the west side of Main Street just south of where Forest and Main intersect. Hospitality was extended to President Young and his party to stay in the house during a visit to northern settlements even before the front door was in, the floors laid or the walls plastered. In the winter of 1855-56, before the home was completed, Snow converted the large parlor of his home into a theater with a stage at one end and organized a dramatic company.[2]


Box Elder Courthouse

Snow next turned his attention to the construction of a “public building” which would serve for community, religious, and social functions. Snow noted that “tithing funds were freely used in its erection.” Local men were called to spend a tenth of their time working on the Public Hall or else were required to supply commodities to those who did, two ways in which tithing was most often paid in a barter economy.[3] By 1856 a solid basement foundation had been completed, windows and doors installed, and roofed over with slabs to create an auditorium for meetings and the theater performances which had outgrown Snow’s parlor. In January 1857 the two-story adobe walls were under construction when a “hurricane” wind blew the walls down. After clearing the rubble, strenuous efforts by men of the community completed the outer walls of the building, plus a roof fastened with wooden pins, before the end of 1857. Interior work continued, amid the meetings and entertainments already being held in the public building.[4] Duly proud of the community’s efforts, Snow informed Brigham Young in a dispatch dated March 14, 1859:

“The {public) building is some larger (45 x 60 ft) than I dared to think this poor settlement could build . . . The Basement 9 ft high & workmanly lade in good lime mortar standing four feet out of the ground, three feet thick. The next story of adobies is 2 1/2 ft (thick) 12 ft. high. The upper story 2 ft thick 15 fit. high with room for arching. Theare is not a crack in the outside walls. I have taken every possible panes to bind the walls and make every thing Brigham safe and secure, if I may venture that expression.”[5]

This sturdy building remains the core of the larger Box Elder County Courthouse of today and was certainly the core of community activity for the early settlers as it housed religious and government meetings, schools, theater, lectures, concerts and dances.

County Government

A seat of government was needed by this time, for the Territorial Legislature had created eight new counties in January 1856. Box Elder County included Brigham City, Three Mile Creek, North Willow Creek, and Call’s Fort. Jonathan C. Wright was elected to serve as probate judge, and he appointed John D. Rees, Dwight Harding, and Alvin Nichols to serve as selectmen. They appointed county government officials including Joseph Grover (sheriff), Richard G. Evans (recorder and court clerk), Jefferson Wright (treasurer); and Eli H. Peirce (justice of the peace).[6]

Business and Community

By now, a community was emerging. It didn't take long for people’s talents and former occupations to create a business community with a tailor, cobbler, tanner, shoemaker, blacksmiths, potter, weavers, dressmakers, grocers, as well as farming and herding. Some of this was planned, for President Young and Apostle Snow had chosen settlers with certain skills, but their extended families and other settlers arriving on their own also represented varied trades. The barter system was prevalent since cash was scarce. Goods and services were traded for the items of daily living, such as eggs for cloth, butter for candles, a knit cap or mittens for a pair of shoes, or church tithing paid with a lamb or calf, or hours of work on a public or church project.


Agriculture remained important for the production of food. A few settlers who planned to make agriculture their main pursuit retained the 40 to 80 acre plots surveyed by Sherwood, and many others owned 5-acre acre plots surveyed by Fox in the Big Field. Once they had title to the properties, owners could sell or consolidate their holdings. Recording deeds and sales was the primary task of the newly appointed county recorder.


With a system of irrigation ditches distributing water, kitchen gardens within the city helped feed families, but nature wasn't kind to dry land hay or grain crops in those first years with crop failures caused by crickets and grasshoppers in 1854 and 1855 and by drought in 1856. The weather changed in 1857, with good crops and a fine harvest reported in church minutes, and there was time to pause for celebration.

“Holiday spirits were in the air on the Fourth of July, 1857, in Brigham City, and though there were no drums, fifes or music of any consequence, the people were determined to celebrate, so they employed tin cans and old dishes and listed to very patriotic speeches”.[7]


Notes

  1. Lydia Walker Forsgren, History of Box Elder County, (Brigham City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1937), 40.
  2. Eliza R. Snow Smith, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, One of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Company, 1884), 261-262.
  3. Ibid., 14.
  4. Ibid., 15.
  5. Bennion, Lowell C., Alan L. Morrell and Thomas Carter, Polygamy in Lorenzo Snow's Brigham City: An Architectural Tour," (Salt Lake City: College of Architecture and Planning, University of Utah, 2005), 11.
  6. Nielson, Vaughn, and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, The History of Box Elder Stake: written in commemoration of the hundredth anniversary of Brigham Young’s setting in order a state for Box Elder County, (Brigham City: Box Elder Stake, 1977), 13-15.
  7. Ibid., 16.


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