About 45 miles south of Salt Lake City, Provo is Utah’s second largest city, with a population of 113,135. This part of the Utah Valley had long been inhabited by Ute Indians when two Catholic missionaries led a group there in September 1776. The area was not explored further until the 19th century when fur trappers from Canada and the eastern U.S. came through. Later, Mormon pioneers arrived, under the direction of Brigham Young. In 1849 the pioneers started construction of a fort on the south bank of the Provo River. In 1850, they moved to higher ground, and land was divided into parcels for home sites. Provo became the county seat for Utah County on January 31, 1850.
Provo was built up quickly as many members of the Mormon church moved there to set up farms and industrial centers. It soon became known as the “Garden City” because of its extensive fruit orchards, trees, and gardens. In the late 1860s, industrialization began with the creation of the Provo Woolen Mills, and in the 1920s the Ironton Steel Mill.
Provo is home to Brigham Young University, the largest church-affiliated school in the U.S. The university’s library houses special collections which holds 350,000 rare books and prints, over 1 million photographs, 10,000 manuscripts and archival collections, many relating to early Mormon and Provo history.
In 2006, the Provo Housing Authority completed the adaptive reuse of the historic Maeser School building. The school opened two years after Utah achieved statehood in 1898 and operated until 2002. It had been threatened with demolition since 1999, and many Maeser neighborhood residents became actively involved in the school building’s preservation. It is now a 31-unit senior housing development and has been the catalyst for new economic growth in the distressed central city neighborhood. The Housing Authority divided the remaining city block into a 12-lot subdivision and sold it to the Rural Housing Development Corporation for development under its Mutual Self-Help Housing Program.
Each year during the week of July 4, Provo hosts America’s Freedom Festival at Provo offering hot air balloon races, baseball tournaments, fireworks, an awards gala, parades, and a historic homes tour. Owners of historic homes and buildings are recognized for their preservation efforts. Provo City became a Certified Local Government in 1995 and its local historic register was created then. Seventy-one homes are on the local register, while 38 properties are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Reed Smoot home is a National Historic Landmark, one of 13 in Utah.
Designated a Preserve America Community in July 2008.