Area: 2,014 square miles; population: 263,590 (in 1990); county seat: Provo; origin of county name: after the Ute Indians; principal cities and towns: Provo (86,835); Orem (67,561); American Fork (15,696); Springville (13,950); Pleasant Grove (13,476); Spanish Fork (11,272); Payson (9,510); Lehi (8,475); economy: steel industry, light manufacturing, agriculture; points of interest: Brigham Young University (Monte L. Bean Life Sciences Museum, Museum of People and Culture, Harris Fine Arts Center), Camp Floyd Stagecoach Inn State Park, Timpanogos Cave National Monument, Utah Lake State Park, Springville Museum of Art, Hutchings Museum of Natural History in Lehi, McCurdy Historical Doll Museum in Provo, Bridal Veil Falls, Sundance ski resort, historic downtown Provo.
The most striking geographical features of Utah County are the Wasatch Mountains along the eastern boundary, and Utah Lake, the state’s largest fresh-water lake. The high mountains, rising over 11,000 feet, receive heavy snowfall which feeds the numerous rivers and creeks that flow into the lake. Though large in surface area, Utah Lake is very shallow–18 feet at its deepest point.
Before the valley was settled by Mormon pioneers in the 1840s and 1850s it was the home of the Ute Indians. They lived along the eastern shore of the lake and used fish from the lake as their main food source. These Indians were described as peaceful and kind by the Spanish Catholic priests Dominguez and Escalante, who observed them in 1776. Dominguez and Escalante were trying to find a route between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and what is now southern California. When they came down Spanish Fork Canyon in the summer of 1776 they were the first non-Indians to enter Utah Valley.
Mormon pioneers began settling Utah Valley in 1849. Like the Indians before them, they chose to settle on the fertile, well-watered strip of land between the mountains and Utah Lake. More than a dozen towns were established between Lehi on the north and Santaquin on the south. Provo, named for the French fur trapper Etienne Provost, has always been the largest town and the county seat.
In March 1849 thirty-three families, composed of about 150 people, were called to go to Utah Valley under the leadership of John S. Higbee to fish, farm, and teach the Indians. During the next two years – 1850 and 1851 – communities were established at Lehi, Alpine, American Fork, Pleasant Grove, Springville, Spanish Fork, Salem, and Payson.
Farming was the most important early industry in the county, with fruit growing and the processing of sugar beets being especially important. The first large-scale sugar beet factory in Utah was built in Lehi in 1890. In recent years, the center of the fruit industry in the county has shifted from Orem to the south end of the valley, where orchards are not threatened by housing developments.
Mining was also an important industry in Utah County. In the late 1800s and early 1900s there were many successful mines in American Fork Canyon and in the Tintic mining district centered near Eureka, Juab County but included part of western Utah County. Many of the fine homes and business buildings in Provo were constructed with mining money.
Today, Utah County is best known as the home of the Geneva steel plant and Brigham Young University. Geneva was constructed at this inland location during World War II in case the steel plants near the coast were destroyed in the war. BYU was established in 1875 as a small high-school level “academy,” but it has grown to become a major university with 27,000 students. The Utah Valley Community College at Orem has grown rapidly and plans are being developed to make the institution a four year college. Other major Utah County employers include WordPerfect Corporation and Novell, two companies that began in Utah County and have become international leaders in the computer software industry.
Each of the major communities in the county have high schools and libraries. A culturally active area, the county has its own symphony–the Utah Valley Symphony, and one of the state’s finest art museums: the Springville Art Museum. Provo’s Fourth of July Celebration is the largest in the state and other special community celebrations include Pleasant Grove Strawberry Days, the Lehi Round-up, Steel Days in American Fork, Fiesta Days in Spanish Fork, Golden Onion Days in Payson, and the World Folkfest in Springville.