BrondaBailey’s Weblog

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Fillmore – the once (and hopefully not future) capital of Utah

Utah Territorial Statehouse

I looked carefully - there was no do not touch sign.

Utah Territorial Statehouse

Here's a picture of the architectural drawings. FUN FACT: The same guy (Truman O. Angell) designed the Territorial Capitol building and the Salt Lake Temple.

Utah Territorial Statehouse

It's officially called the "Territorial Statehouse" on the brochure - but since it wasn't ever the capitol when Utah was a state, I don't understand why they call it a "statehouse."

One of the unfortunate totally awesome things about being in a family with a history teacher is that you get dragged off to all kinds of places that normal people don’t find terribly interesting. Lindsie had to go to the Golden Spike National Historic Site once with me and a few years back Brenda and I spent a lovely weekend in Vernal for our anniversary so I could take some pictures of petroglyphs inside Dinosaur National Monument too. Since we went down to St. George this weekend, I decided we should stop on our way back at Fillmore so I could see the Territorial capitol. I’ve talked about it in Utah Studies class for years, but I’d never been there, so this seemed like a good chance to snag some pictures for my power point presentation in class and have a nice break from driving.

WARNING: HISTORY CONTENT AHEAD – And so Brenda, Luke and I pulled off the freeway into the thriving metropolis of Fillmore, Utah (population as of 2000: 2,253.) In 1850, Utah Territory was created. It was a lot smaller than Brigham Young’s original plan for a State of Deseret, but still much larger than today’s Utah (woot, Utah once owned most of Nevada!) Despite being settled before many other cities in Utah (Cedar City was founded the same year, Logan seven years later, and St. George 10 years later) Fillmore never really caught on with people as a great place to live. As a city, it came into being when Brigham Young, who had been appointed governor in the year before, chose it as the site for the new territorial capital in 1851. Utah was still larger then (see the map) and the site was chosen because of it was basically at the geographical center of the territory. That may not make much sense in today’s world of instant communication, but I think for the time period it was a novel solution to the problem of everything being a very long horse ride away.

Utah Territorial Statehouse

I really like this model. I do. It shows the basic outline of what the capitol was supposed to look like - and the red section is the part that was actually built. But I do admit I wonder why they let a first grader color it with a dying crayola marker. Shouldn't it, you know, look . . . good?

Unfortunately, novel ideas don’t always work out. The new city was named Fillmore (in Millard County), after one of the (somewhat) revered Presidents of our great nation – Millard Fillmore.  Naming both the city and a county after the guy may seem a little much. This was at least partially due to an attempt and a desire to keep the Mormon’s on the president’s good side, but I like to think that there was at least some gratitude on their part as well for being made a territory so quickly after settlement. One section of the capitol was completed, and used for two full and one partial session of the territorial legislature – but a much more grandiose building was planned.

Utah Territorial Statehouse

The outside walls were never even stuccoed to make them all smooth and pretty as planned. The workmen who built the building carved their initials into the rock because they thought it would later be covered up. See the "SB" in the shadow in the top center?

The attempt to curry political favor floundered though, when President Fillmore was refused re-nomination from the Whig Party (many Northern Whigs still held grudges against him for signing the Compromise of 1850 – I still do too, but I’m not a Whig.) The Whigs instead nominated the increasingly rotund war hero Winfield Scott, who lost badly to Franklin Pierce – neither one of them was incredibly popular though.  In protest over the two crappy candidates, Daniel Webster got 7,000 or so votes despite the small problem that he was, you know, dead at the time.  Anyway, President Fillmore left office and Utah Territory quickly lost its funding to finish its new capitol (as you know, Mormons weren’t very popular back in the day), which stands about like it did then, not even one quarter finished. As far as I can tell, with no money to finish the capitol building, the legislators decided that it was not worth the hassle to head to Fillmore every year (which was even smaller and less populated then, plus fewer fast food restaurants) and they switched the capital to Great Salt Lake City (which made good use of the occasion to officially chop the “Great” off the name of the city – the lake is still Great.)

Utah Territorial Statehouse

Ron and Luke in the basement. It's not very far below ground level for a basement, but whatever. I like the pioneer pictures covering the walls.

Being so pragmatic, the pioneer people put the abandoned capitol to good use. They used the building for offices and as a theater/dance hall. It was even used as a jail for a while (which seems appropriate given my opinions of politicians.) Both Mormons and Presbyterians used it as schools. When Johnston’s Army was approaching Utah in 1857 and all heck broke loose as the Mormons thought they were about to be exterminated, Brigham Young had everyone living in Salt Lake City flee south of Provo (again, they were pretty freaked out.) The Deseret News relocated to the basement of the capitol in Fillmore during this time, probably rightly assuming that Johnston’s Army would probably not even notice Fillmore existed.

Utah Territorial Statehouse

Here's the first floor hallway. There's some really cool pioneer quilts in some of those rooms. That's worth the $2 entry fee right there.

Since then it has kind of become a dumping ground for historical “stuff” from around the region. Most of the rooms in the basement have different kinds of small town style museum displays (be ready to pony up $2 to get in, if you go visit, BTW.) The first few were all related to the capitol itself, but there was a room dedicated to guns (it was something like this, “Pioneers had guns. They used guns to shoot things. Sometimes food. Sometimes Indians.” I’m not kidding, that’s what it was really like.) About that time I stopped paying as much attention if the subject of the room was not related to Fillmore specifically (I’ve been to the Daughters of the Utah Pioneer Museum – I’ve seen enough pioneer junk to last me a lifetime.)

A picture I found out on the Interwebs that shows what the second floor is like when not being used for a weding reception

The first floor has more small rooms with pioneer style bedrooms and assorted other historic bric-a-brac, but its halls are plastered which makes it look slightly more upscale than the rock walled basement. The top floor is where the legislature actually met (for a whole two and one half years.) Compared to the capitol building in Salt Lake, it’s a pretty boring room. No gold inlay. No really cool wood work. There are some chairs though! Governor Huntsman made one of his State of the State addresses here during the modernization of the capitol building (I think he did one at a school too – weird, I’d probably make the press come to my house so I could do it in my pajamas and go back to bed.) Actually, we didn’t get to see the chairs – they were setting up for wedding reception that night. Anybody getting married soon? I know a great reception hall about three hours south of Salt Lake! They had brownies!

Utah Territorial Statehouse

Pink and yellow? What happened, did the bride let the groom randomly select their wedding colors from a hat?


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October 19, 2008 - Posted by | Flickr Update, Oh no! History!, Ron's Posts | , , , ,

4 Comments »

  1. Wow Ron, that was terribly boring, oops, I mean interesting! Seriously though, it was interesting…I learned something. Way to be a history teacher!

    Comment by Chew | October 19, 2008 | Reply

  2. zzzzz…Oops, sorry, I feel asleep! Can you repeat the question Mr. Bailey? Oh I was in the middle of commenting and I just fell asleep. My bad!

    Comment by Brittany | October 19, 2008 | Reply

  3. Brenda’s finally starting to look pregnant! She does the pregnant thing very well.

    Comment by Cassie | October 22, 2008 | Reply

  4. Fantastic – we’ve driven by there a few times, but never stopped in. I learned recently, however, that my great-great-however many greats-grandfather John Lovell did masonry work on the Fillmore capitol. I wouldn’t mind learning more about that and checking it out.

    Comment by Liz | October 22, 2008 | Reply


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