Of sacrifice and struggle, faith and fortitude: Celebrate St. George’s 160th birthday with several free offerings

ST. GEORGE — St. George will celebrate 160 years as a city Saturday with root beer floats and free admission into various city facilities.

In this file 2017 photo, St. George City Council members prepare root beer floats for citizens at for St. George Heritage Day, St. George Social Parlor, St. George, Utah, Jan. 14, 2017 | Photo by Ric Wayman, St. George News

The city of St. George was incorporated in the middle of the Southern Utah desert on Jan. 17, 1862. At the time, as put by a song from a play called “So This is Dixie” that was performed at the Tuacahn Center for the Arts amphitheater many years ago, it was called a place that people “came to perspire,” due to the heat. With the city having grown to an estimated 95,000 residents from the original 309 Latter-day Saint families sent to colonize the area over 160 ago, the song goes on to refer to St. George as the place where “people came to retire.”

The city – and surrounding area – is much more than a retirement destination, of course, as it has also become a renown tourist and outdoor recreation destination and plays host to major sporting events like the St. George Marathon and Ironman 70.3 triathlon.

To commemorate the city’s 160th birthday, Mayor Michele Randall and members of the City Council will be preparing free root beer floats and distributing other goodies at the Social Hall, located at 47 East 200 North by the St. George Opera House, from noon to 2 p.m.

In addition to the refreshments, there will be several other freebies available, including the following:

“This is a community party and everybody is invited to come celebrate our city’s history and heritage,” Randall said in a press release. “We invite everyone to experience what we call The Brighter Side.”

St. George historic Dixie Academy, St. George, Utah | Photo courtesy city of St. George, St. George News

The people who originally settled St. George were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and had been sent there by church president Brigham Young in late 1861. They joined the previously established communities of Santa Clara and Washington City.

According to author Lyman Smith, who was interviewed by St. George News in early 2020, these families were handpicked for their specific skills and trades. This was done as a way to help build and establish a lasting community. They also had to be self-reliant and able to weather the adversities settling in the desert along the Virgin River would bring.

“The 309 families that came in late 1861 were really the founders of St. George where it sits now,” Lyman said. “They were all called to come during the October general conference in Salt Lake City by church leaders, and by the end of November, the families started showed up in the St. George valley.”

St. George has gone on to become Utah’s seventh-largest city and one of the nation’s fastest growing metropolitan areas. Randall gave credit to the city’s original settlers for being able to persevere through the trials of the city’s early years.

Historic St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy city of St. George, St. George News

In the early days, settlers dealt with water issues – either a lack of moisture through dry seasons or an overabundance from monsoons and snow runoff that resulted in flooding. They were able to get through, however, thanks to early water projects used for irrigation and learning from previous disasters wrought by Mother Nature.

“We truly admire the sacrifice and struggle of the early settlers of St. George,” Randall said in the press release. “The fortitude and faith that they were doing the right thing is an inspiration to me, as well as many others.”

Many of the early settlers came from European countries, having been converts to the Latter-day Saint faith due to missionary efforts overseas. Others, however, came from the Southern states and took part in the area’s short-lived cotton and silk industry. This played a part in the area becoming known as Utah’s Dixie.

Those wanting to learn more about St. George’s history can visit the Washington County Historical Society’s website or stop into the McQuarrie Memorial Museum in St. George.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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