Category Archives: Wasatch

The Old Fort

Published / by Aaron Stark / Leave a Comment

Write-up by Aaron Stark

Placed by: Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, No. 253

GPS Coordinates: 40° 30’54.5″N, 111° 24’46.0″W

Historical Marker Text (Center Plaque):

THE OLD FORT In 1858 a group of men came from Provo, surveyed the valley into 20-acre plots, and selected the townsite of Heber. The following winter twenty families stayed here. As protection from the Indians, they built a fort 1 block south and 1 block west from this site. Homes built of cottonwood logs and joined together formed the outside walls of the fort. A schoolhouse 20 by 40 feet was built within the fort with two fireplaces and a stage. The building also served for church and socials. In 1860 the fort was enlarged to house forty-four families.

Center Plaque of Marker. Photo by Aaron Stark

Historical Marker Text (Left):

  • Elizabeth Carlile
  • George Carlile
  • John Carlile
  • C. N. Carroll
  • Jean Clotworthy
  • John Crook
  • William Davidson
  • James Carlile
  • James Davis Richard Jones
Left Plaque of Marker. Photo by Aaron Stark

Historical Marker Text (Right):

  • John Jordan
  • John Lee
  • James Laird
  • Hyrum Oaks
  • Thomas Rasband
  • Alex Sessions
  • Bradford Sessions
  • John Sessions
  • Charles Thomas Elisha Thomas
Right Plaque of Marker. Photo by Aaron Stark
Full Image of Marker in-front of a Smiths Marketplace. Photo by Aaron Stark

Extended Research:

During the 1850s some settlers at Provo, in Utah County, began to feel squeezed out of the best plots of land. The first settlers had claimed the prime spots which left newcomers looking for new opportunities. The settlement of Heber City, in Wasatch County, was thus a spillover of settlers from Provo. Most of Wasatch County’s early population thus came from Utah County as people moved from Provo to claim land in Heber Valley.

The major obstacles to settling Heber Valley were its cooler climate and the treacherous route through Provo Canyon which made it difficult to access. To make the settlement of Heber Valley possible, colonizers first had to build a road through Provo Canyon.

By 1852, a man by the name of William Gardner explored a hazardous route into Wasatch County and then proposed a road be built there. Just before the end of the Utah War in 1857, a group of men pitched a proposal to leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to construct a road into Heber Valley. In response, on 6 June 1858, Brigham Young, LDS president and former territorial governor, along with a group of volunteers, met in Provo and formed the “Provo Kanyon Company,” organized to build the road.

The company completed the construction of the road by 1859, thus making the settlement of Heber Valley possible.[1]


Layout of the Old Fort. Photo by Utah Centennial County History (Wasatch County)

In the winter of 1858, even before the road was finished, a group of men explored the land in Heber Valley and made plans for a new settlement. By the following year, the settlers built a fort as the initial communal structure. Over time the building became known as the “Old Fort.” The settlers chose a fort as their initial structure principally for the protection they believed it would provide. Their fort was rectangular in design with settlers’ cabins forming the outside walls. Native Americans were a common threat at the time and the fort served as a safe haven for the Mormon settlers. Ultimately, however, it was Native peoples who needed protection from Mormon settlers who displaced Native Americans and occupied their land. By late 1859, eighteen families had moved to the fort as their new home. Within the same year, settlers dedicated the fort to Heber C. Kimball, an LDS apostle, and the fort, the new community, and the surrounding valley thereafter carried his name. By 1860 nearly sixty-six homes had been built in the fort although the town remained isolated due to the challenges that deep snow and winter weather presented. By 1864, residents began to move from the fort and form a city outside its walls.

Growth came rapidly to the new thriving city of Heber. By 1868, the Desert News reported that Heber City was in a “very prosperous condition and that the facilities for farming and stock raising are excellent…”[2]

Excerpt from The Wasatch Wave in July 1957

Even though the “Old Fort” was eventually abandoned, it nonetheless represented the first Euro-American settlement of the valley. By the 1950s, community members expressed a desire to commemorate the town’s beginnings at the Old Fort. From 1957 to 1959, the Daughters of Utah Pioneers (DUP ) worked on marking the land where the Old Fort was originally built. It was their desire to forever commemorate those settlers who first came to Heber Valley and called it home. On 21 July 1959, the DUP placed a stone marker that holds the three plaques discussed here.

More from The Wasatch Wave in July 1959

In the twenty-first century, Heber City has grown from its beginnings at the Old Fort into a developed and thriving settlement. In 2003, CNN Money placed Heber City on its “Best Vacations” list. Calling Heber City “an uncrowded weekend haven,” CNN extolled the city’s scenic beauty and outdoor potential.[3] Only two years later CNN Money called  Heber  “a fast-growing metropolis at 15.1% growth.”[4] Even on TripAdvisor, Heber is marked as a popular location to visit. Overall, Heber has experienced steady growth since the days of its founding, the rate of which has only accelerated since 1940.

Heber City Census:

YearPopulationGrowthAnnual Growth Rate
19402,7480.00%
19502,9361880.66%
19602,9360.00%
19703,2453091.01%
19804,3621,1173.00%
19904,7824200.92%
20007,2912,5094.31%
201011,5124,2214.67%
Heber City today. Photo by Trip Advisory

[1] Embry, Jessie L. A History of Wasatch County. Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, 1996.

[2] “Deseret News: 1860-08-08: Improvements in Provo Valley.” Utah Digital Newspapers. Accessed January 29, 2020.

[3] “Best Vacations: Heber Valley, Utah.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network. Accessed April 1, 2020.

[4] Christie, Les. “The Nation’s Fastest-Growing Areas.” CNN Money.com, September 22, 2005.


For Further Reference:

Primary Sources:

“Deseret News: 1860-08-08: Improvements in Provo Valley.” Utah Digital Newspapers. Accessed April 2, 2020. https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/details?id=2584652&q=(Heber+City)&sort=rel&year_start=1857&year_end=1860.

Secondary Sources:

Embry, Jessie L. A History of Wasatch County. Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, 1996. https://issuu.com/utah10/docs/wasatchcountyhistory

“History: ‘Discovery, Paradise Land, and Timeline.’” History | Heber City, UT. Accessed April   1, 2020. https://www.heberut.gov/229/History.

Jenson, Andrew. Encyclopedic History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Salt Lake City, UT: Printed by Deseret News Publishing Company, 1941.

Christie, Les. “The Nation’s Fastest-Growing Areas.” CNN Money.com, September 22, 2005. http://cnnmoney.printthis.clickability.com/pt/cpt?expire=&title=Nation%27s+fastest+growing+metro+areas+-+Sep.+22,+2005&urlID=15626342&action=cpt&partnerID=2200&fb=Y&url=http://money.cnn.com/2005/09/22/pf/fastest_growing_metropolises/index.htm.

“Best Vacations: Heber Valley, Utah.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network. Accessed April 1, 2020. https://money.cnn.com/2002/03/26/pf/saving/travel/bpvac_heber_valley/index.htm