When the Utah Territorial Legislature created Davis County in 1852, it placed the county seat at North Cottonwood and renamed it Farmington. The small Mormon farming community gradually adopted its new name and helped build Utah’s first courthouse in 1854-55, a two-story adobe building that for its first dozen years served both government and religious purposes. Centrally located between Salt Lake City and Ogden, and thus at Davis County’s midpoint, Farmington remained an agricultural town for its first half century, then joined in the effort to develop a commercial base. Eventually, Farmington settled in as a residential community tied economically to the metropolitan areas to the north and south.
Known for a time as the City of Roses, Farmington battled flash floods in the 1920s and 1930s and again in 1984, and now prides itself as a city using rocks as a distinguishing architectural element in its major buildings. Two pioneer landmarks built of fieldstone in the 1860s–the Latter-day Saints’ meetinghouse and Franklin D. Richards’s grist mill–and a dozen pioneer rock homes helped establish that image.
Farmington began when Mormon herder Hector C. Haight wintered cattle in its grassy lowlands in 1847-48. Five other families soon joined him to found a community at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains near a stream they named North Cottonwood. On the narrow benchlands overlooking the Great Salt Lake, settlers laid out a formal town to serve the area’s four hundred people, built a log school and several mills, and in 1854-55 partially surrounded the town with a mud wall. After the Utah War, settlers spread out along the road to the north and south and created a “string town” differing in shape from most planned Mormon villages.
For most of its first century, Farmington lived up to its name as an agricultural community. Its farmers specialized in raising alfalfa, grain, and livestock, including dairy herds. Millers, blacksmiths, and other craftsmen sustained the rural lifestyle. In the early twentieth century, orchardists grew cherries, peaches, apricots, and apples. Sugar beets processed in Layton became a popular cash crop for a time.
Latter-day Saint bishops managed most community affairs during the community’s first forty years, including recreation, irrigation systems, roads and bridges, silk production, and cooperative herds, stores, and tanneries. A rock meetinghouse built in 1862-64 is one of Utah’s oldest still in use. In that building in 1878 Aurelia Spencer Rogers organized the first Primary organization for children of the LDS Church .
Transportation routes influenced Farmington at several times in its history. In territorial days, several inns became favorite stopping places for local and long-distance travelers. In 1870 the Utah Central Railroad came through Farmington; a century later Interstate 15 closely paralleled the railroad’s route. Even more influential was the Bamberger interurban; shoppers rode the Bamberger south to Salt Lake and students rode it north to Davis High School in Kaysville. When Simon Bamberger developed Lagoon resort at Farmington in 1896, he created what expanded to become Utah’s largest amusement park and the city’s largest source of tax revenue. The private Oakridge Golf Course brought another recreational facility to the community in the late 1950s.
Beginning in the 1880s, the LDS Church-managed economy gave way to private businesses and government employment. Farmers formally incorporated to oversee irrigation. Businessmen launched Davis County Bank, new grocery stores, a drug store, and Miller Floral, famous for its greenhouse roses. Utah State Agricultural College (now Utah State University) established an experimental farm in Farmington. A Victorian brick court house supplanted the original building in 1890, and was expanded and remodeled in 1932 and again in 1958. The county jail, library, fairgrounds, and school district are also established in Farmington. Despite the construction influenced by the county government, Farmington’s downtown business district remained compact. Residents resisted commercial growth there, but in the late 1980s a suburban commercial center blossomed along Highway 89 in the north part of town.
It was during the first commercial boom that Farmington was incorporated, on 15 December 1892, with 1,180 residents. City government promoted the construction of better streets, replaced private wells with a culinary water system, encouraged electrification, and eventually installed a city-wide sewer system. With support from civic clubs, Farmington developed a city park in the mid-1950s and added others later. In July 1978 the Farmington Area Pressurized Irrigation District began serving homeowners and the few remaining farmers.
By 1990 the city had grown to a population approaching ten thousand, a quadrupling over twenty years, the result of numerous new subdivisions. New residents applauded the small-town, rural atmosphere of Farmington, its tree-lined downtown area–still mostly residential–and its friendly people. By 1992 the city boasted three elementary schools and a junior high. Ten meetinghouses served twenty-five Latter-day Saint congregations, while members of other religious groups traveled to nearby communities for worship. Pinched between the mountains and the lake on a narrow strip of usable land, Farmington faced defined geographical limits to any future growth, perhaps assuring its small-town atmosphere will remain for the foreseeable future.
Glen M. Leonard