When It Began
Iron County is located in southwestern Utah, and has a population of approximately 52,000 people (pre 2020 census). Our county seat is the city of Parowan; and our largest City is Cedar City with approximately 32,000 (pre 2020 census).
It was named for the Iron Mines west of town when it was created in 1850, and organized in January 1851 with a population of approximately 300 people.
There are 19 properties and districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places for Iron County, as well as a number of historic places owned and maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints.
The first Mormon expedition, called the “Iron County Mission”, arrived in “Little Salt Lake Valley” in 1849. Because of those efforts, Little Salt Lake County was one of the 1st six counties created by the General Assembly of Deseret on January 31, 1850. By November of 1850, the county name had been changed to Iron in recognition of the reserves of Iron ore therein.
The hope for the county envisioned
- to place strong settlements along the corridor to San Diego;
- develop the agricultural resources of the alluvial valleys; and
- establish an iron industry to support the Great Basin.
The iron missionaries were primarily men with frontier survival skills – many from the British Isles with mining and iron-making experience – totaling approximately 120, many accompanied by wives and children. Traveling almost a month through snow and bitter cold, they arrived at Center Creek on January 13, 1851. Their object was to determine if the local iron ore could be successfully reduced to pig iron and useful articles made from it.
Iron historian James D Norris has observed, “Unlike most frontier industries, the manufacture of iron required a large amount of capital, a highly skilled labor force, and some of the most advanced technology of the nineteenth century.”
While the “Iron County Mission” brought people, material and money to barren lands occupied by Piute Indians, it served as the focal point for offset industries and opportunities. By 1858, the failure of the mining operations under the Deseret Iron Company proved to be the change the church and residents had to acknowledge when the 1891 census showed only 400 residents.
Abundant land made fur trading, stock raising, and agriculture were far more attractive to westerners than factory and foundries that were too capitol-intensive to survive. In 1868 a new effort in the Pinto-Iron Springs area by the newly founded Union Iron Work began an effort to make another attempt to produce pig iron with a profit. They operated three beehive coke ovens on Pinto Creek (west of Cedar City off what is now SR56), producing pig iron destined for the stamp mills of Bullion, Nevada. The company underwent a series of reorganizations to attract new capitol; but eventually failed for the same reasons that plagued the Deseret Iron Company –
- iron ore so hard it was difficult to flux
- coal too high in sulfur to easily coke
- charcoal increasingly expensive to create
Frontier Homestead State Park Museum
There is one beehive left at “Old Iron Town” that is open to the public and managed and maintained by the Frontier Homestead State Park. You can see a mining shovel at the park and the museum there is full of old mining relics and other historic memorabilia of Iron County.
Visit the museum while in Cedar City. And follow them on Facebook.