When the Mormons arrived in the Great Basin in 1847, they welcomed the opportunity to shape a virgin land into the Kingdom of God, and they pursued an aggressive colonization pattern. Heber Valley in the Wasatch Mountains, forty miles southeast of Salt Lake City and twenty-eight miles northeast of Provo, could not be settled until there was a wagon road through either Parley’s or Provo canyons. The first attempt to build such a road, however, was delayed by the Utah War and the Move South. Once Johnston’s Army was settled at Camp Floyd near Utah Lake, Brigham Young responded to appeals by residents of Provo to build a road up the canyon. By 1859 a road linked Provo and Heber Valley and newcomers who were looking for land settled the little valley communities of Heber City, Midway, Charleston, Center Creek, Daniels, and Wallsburg.
Replica of an old Heber house
According to John Creek, the first historian of the area, most of the initial settlers came from England and had been converted by Heber C. Kimball. To honor Kimball, they decided to name the valley and the first settlement after him. The residents harvested their first crops in 1859 but then returned to Utah Valley for the winter. The next year they returned to make permanent homes. They initially built a fort for protection from Indian raids. Once fear of raids ended, they started to build homes in the surveyed townsite. The settlers built using locally quarried red sandstone as well as adobe and brick. The sandstone was also shipped and used in buildings in other parts of the state.
When the area was settled, the northern part of what is now Wasatch County (including Heber City and Midway) was in Salt Lake County and the southern part (including Wallsburg in Round Valley) was in Utah County. In 1862 the Utah legislature created Wasatch County and made Heber City the county seat. At the time the county was created there were more than 1,000 people living in the area. Heber City was incorporated as a town in 1889 and as a city in 1901.
As in other Mormon communities, religion played an important role in Heber City. In 1867 Brigham Young called Abram Hatch, a businessman from Lehi, to be bishop of Heber City’s ward, and ten years later he became a stake president. Hatch, like the church leaders who followed him, played not only an important religious role but was also a leading merchant and elected official during and after his release from his religious calling in 1901. After only five years in the area, William H. Smart, another imported stake president, was called to the Uinta Basin, and Joseph R. Murdock, a local businessman, became the local stake president in 1906.
The Heber City area economy depended on agriculture, livestock, and dairying. Once the Rio Grande Western railway track was completed in 1899, the city became a shipping center for agricultural products. For example, in 1915 the D&RGW could boast that Heber annually shipped 360 cars of sheep, 280 cars of hay, 40 cars of cattle, and 60 cars of sugar beets. As Heber grew, local residents and imports started hotels, retail stores, markets, lumberyards, banks, and other businesses. The local weekly newspaper, The Wasatch Wave, began publishing in 1889. Elementary schools, middle schools, and eventually a high school trained the young. The local chamber of commerce was active in promoting the tourist industry and was pleased when U.S. Highway 40 passed through the community. In the 1990s Heber City continues as an agricultural center, an attractive place for tourists to visit, and a bedroom community for the Salt Lake and Utah valleys.
Jessie L. Embry