Hundreds celebrate St. George’s 157th birthday with root beer floats and other freebies

City officials make root beer floats during Heritage Day celebration, St. George, Utah, Jan. 12, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The community came together Saturday to celebrate the past while enjoying the present during St. George Heritage Day, marking the city’s 157th birthday.

Crowds gather near root beer float bar during Heritage Day celebration, St. George, Utah, Jan. 12, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Saturday’s celebration was highlighted by a tasty social where more than 1,000 root beer floats were hand-crafted by City Council members and enjoyed by attendees at the historic St. George Social Hall Parlor on Main Street.

“We are celebrating our birthday with a little fun, floats, music and cookies,” St. George Mayor Jon Pike said while taking a moment away from the bustling activity behind the soda bar as crowds mingled in the parlor.

“It’s something families look forward to every year,” he said.

For the nearly two decades since former St. George Mayor Dan McArthur started it, Heritage Day has seen iterations both large and small. The event is designed to celebrate the founding of St. George and in the process help residents understand the heritage and rich history of the city, an evolution that has endured since the mid-19th century.

“St. George was chartered Jan. 17, 1862, and while the pioneers came down a year before, that is the day we officially became a city,” Pike said.

Root beer floats and other freebies

St. George Support Services Director Marc Mortensen, a 20-year veteran of root beer float operations at the event, said one of the most charming parts of the annual party is that it hasn’t really changed since it first started.

Children and families gather outside during Heritage Day celebration, St. George, Utah, Jan. 12, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

“There is something really fun and unique about that,” he said.

Mortensen added that Heritage Day great event for anyone new to the area, serving as an opportunity for them to meet their local officials.

The free root beer float social was just a small part of the celebration. In addition to the refreshments served downtown, several other freebies are available Saturday, including free admission to the Sand Hollow Aquatic Center, St. George Recreation Center and St. George Art Museum, as well as free rides all day on SunTran buses.

“Just go out and enjoy,” Pike said. “That’s the message here today.”

Barren desert becomes flourishing oasis

The high spirits of Saturday’s festivities stand in stark contrast to the hardships faced by the city’s founders.

“This was a difficult and harsh environment, with disease, flood and heat,” Mortensen said. “Many families didn’t even know if they would make it in such an extremely inhospitable area.”

“Look at it today, though,” he said. “It’s a wonderful place.”

Utah’s first settlers entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Less than 15 years later, pioneers made their way about 300 miles south to what was then a barren desert wasteland. In the ensuing 150-plus years, the area has flourished. St. George is now home to approximately 90,000 residents and is the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the U.S.

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