On this page we will discover the history of Washington County and St. George in general.
General Area History
Saint George has a strong sense of history, tracing back to its first residents in 200 BC. Historic buildings and archaeological sites are well preserved and a great source of interest. Evidence of inhabitants from 200 BC can still be seen, as the area was well populated by Indians continuously through the arrival of the first Europeans in 1776. The Virgin River Anasazi (native American) inhabited the area, leaving evidence on rock formations in the area in the form of petroglyphs. There are many sites in the area that are accessible. The Dominguez-Escalante Party were in this area in 1776 - they explored the area and many of their trails are still marked. Famous fur trader, Jedediah Smith, later visited the area.
Washington county was first visited by settlers in 1852, but it wasn't until the Mormons came in 1861 to start the Cotton Mission, that it really became a settlement. They particularly focused on agriculture. Because of the warm climate the agriculture produced and it took on the nickname "Dixie". The first LDS (Mormon) Temple in the west was completed in 1877.
The Mormons were a group of the time that sought shelter from early persecution and were kicked out of Missouri, having out of necessity to leave house and home to settle the west. A line of prophet leaders succeeded early founder, Joseph Smith, from which Mormons claim (Official Church Site) a restoration of the early Christian church from the time of Christ with apostles and prophets.
George A. Smith picked 309 families for this mission (in St George), and the town was named after him, even though he did not come to St. George. Brigham Young's vision for Washington County was to grow cotton, wine grapes, and silk for shipping to the Northern States, which were at war with the Confederate states. Because of the cotton production, the area was named "Utah's Dixie". Now, about all that remains is the old cotton mill, which now houses Star Nursery in Washington City. There was a small group of Mormons that did settle Santa Clara in 1854, to establish the Indian Mission.
In 1863, construction of the St. George Mormon Tabernacle began, and St. George was named the county seat that same year. The Tabernacle was then completed in 1875. In 1871, the construction for the St. George LDS temple had begun at a cost of $800,000.
You will find many mulberry trees in St. George area, because they were brought in to feed the silk worms; however, the silk industry never became profitable. Other products that were made by the early settlers were: wine, dried fruits, and molasses.
The Dixie Academy Building was built in 1911 for the fiftieth anniversary of St. George. It is now the campus of Dixie State College since 1960. The LDS Church owned the building from 1911 to 1933.
The city population has grown tremendously over the years from 309 families in 1861 to a population of 4562 people in 1950. In 1960, the population was 5130 - today it continues to grow at rates not seen by any other city in Utah. In fact, for 2003, St George was named the second fastest metropolitan area in the nation.
In 1995, there were approximately 35,000 in St. George and 50,000 in Washington County. Today (10 years later), there are approximately 75,000 in St. George and over 125,000 in Washington County (more than doubled in county population). With low crime rate St George enjoys a central location. The population growth can also be partially traced to many publications reporting St. George as one of the top places to retire in the West. Its location along I-15 connecting with California, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and Denver makes it somewhat central. Not only have retirees accounted for the population growth, but many families, couples and individuals continue to pour in. A large immigration flux come from both to the north, Utah and Idaho, and to the south, Las Vegas, Arizona (mild climate as well) and California.
St. George has an airport with daily commercial flights to Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and other destinations. A newer International Airport is coming soon in the Little Valley (south St George) area with its main purpose to run and carry larger commuter jets and passengers.