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When iron deposits were found in southern Utah, Brigham Young called for volunteers to colonize the Iron Mission Area. A site near Coal Creek (Cedar City) was selected in November 1851 for the Iron Works. Originally called Little Muddy, then Coal Creek, Cedar City was named for the cedar trees in the area. (These trees are actually juniper trees.) Ten months after site selection, the new colony completed a small blast furnace and began to operate the iron foundry. It was the first iron to be manufactured west of Missouri. Unfortunately because of problems with the furnace, flood and hostility between settlers and Indians, the foundry closed in 1858. Unlike many small mining towns of that era, Cedar City continued to grow and prosper. Residents turned to farming for economic well being. (Mining continued to play a part in the economy through WWII to the 1980's.)

In 1866 Robert LeRoy Parker (later known as Butch Cassidy) was born in a neighboring community. He often came back to Southern Utah to hide out or ranch throughout his years as a rustler and gunfighter. Robbers Roost, a gang hang out in Southwest Utah was a popular hideout because of its rough terrain. Although theories of Butch Cassidy's death vary, it is rumored that Butch Cassidy is buried in an unmarked grave in Parowan, Utah.

In 1897 the people in Cedar City learned that the Utah Legislature had authorized a school for higher learning in Southern Utah. The community labored to construct the Ward Hall. However, after being in session only two months the Attorney General stated that the school had to have its own building on land deeded to the state, and if a building was not erected by the following September, the school would be lost. At that point winter had set in and Cedar City's building materials were nonexistent, but Cedar City residents argued Nobody was going to take their school away from them.

For four days men of the town waded through snow that was often as deep as their shoulders, pushing their way up the mountain to the lumber mills. They slept in holes scraped out of the snow. After reaching the sawmill the men found that they had to turn back. The wagons that could not make it were abandoned. Tired to the bone, the party felt they couldn't go any further. It was at this phase of their march that an old sorrel horse proved valuable. Placed out at the front of the party, the horse would walk steadily into the drifts, pushing against the snow, throwing himself into the drifts again and again until they gave way. Then he would pause for a rest, sitting on his haunches the way a dog would. Then onward he would push. "Old Sorrel" was credited with being the savior of the expedition. In 1898 the building was complete, and Cedar City had its school.

The Union Pacific Railroad Company reached Cedar City in 1923. This development contributed greatly to Cedar City's growth in mining, providing an outlet for the products of the iron mines. The railroad also contributed greatly to the growth of agriculture and tourism. The railroad exposed Utah's National Parks to the world of tourism and Cedar City was dubbed "the gateway to the parks." The railroad still comes through Cedar City and transports products in and out of the community. However, the Depot was closed in 1959.

Of many of the old buildings still standing around town probably the most familiar is Rock Church. Built in 1930 from local materials and volunteered help it has always seemed a part of the community. Today it stands as a monument to past generations, as well as a place to worship to today's generation. The Old Hospital built in 1922 with total public support was another such building that represents the community feeling of Cedar City. All of the land and equipment for this building were donated. When the new hospital was built in 1964 the Old Hospital was donated to the College for dorms and classrooms. Later it was acquired and renovated by the Dixie Levitt Group.

In 1913 the college became a branch of Utah State Agricultural College of Logan. In 1968 legislature transformed it into a 4-year college of liberal arts and sciences with elementary and secondary teacher education programs. On January 1, 1991 it attained University status. Presently it is the home of the Utah Shakespearean Festival and The Utah Summer Games. Both of these events, in addition to the surrounding National Parks, brings more tourists to this thriving community every year.

Text by Heidi J. Bertolino




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