A few weeks ago I was invited to go down to Spring City with some friends to celebrate Pioneer Day, a state holiday here in Utah. We were guided around the town by Spring City native, Zina Bennion, whose family settled there in the 70s and helped turn it into the artist destination that it is today. Zina is a wealth of knowledge about many things but especially about Utah history and artists as both of her parents are well-respected artists and she grew up immersed in that community. Today, we are lucky to hear the full guide to Spring City.
And you might be wondering why you even need to know about this little town in Nowheresville, Utah. I would have wondered the same thing before visiting. Guys, this place is a little piece of magic. Only this town and Williamsburg, VA are listed as complete towns on the national history registry. and Forbes listed it as one of the top prettiest towns in America. And I had never even heard of it until a few months ago. We need to change that people!
We’re releasing the guide today just in time for Labor Day, when the annual Artist’s Studio tour and plein air competition takes place. If you haven’t made Labor Day plans yet, I’d strongly suggest going!
So, without further ado, here’s Zina!
Guide to Spring City, Utah
Spring City is located in almost the geographic center of Utah (the actual center is further south between Manti and Ephriam) in beautiful Sanpete County. It is known as a historic treasure with the entire town is on the National Historic Registry as the best example of a Mormon Pioneer village. In the past 40 years it has become an inspiration and home for many artists and arts enthusiasts and in 2010 Forbes listed it as one of the top prettiest towns in America!
Spring City was founded in 1852 by Englishman James Allred under the direction of Brigham Young. The early inhabitants of the town were predominantly English and Danish, (and for a long time there was a healthy rivalry between the two groups) who brought with them the architectural styles of their homelands which they adapted to the materials of the area. Many homes, and the chapel are built from gorgeous creamy off white Oolite limestone (the same stone the Manti temple is built from) quarried from nearby hills.
At one point the town boasted a theater, several stores and gas stations, but after WWII the population gradually declined and by the mid 1970’s it was officially deemed a ghost town. However, slowly people started to rediscover this hidden gem and lovingly restore the historic homes and bringing to life the town’s original charm.
Spring City is located off of Highway 89 between Mt. Pleasant and Ephriam. It is about a two hour drive from Salt Lake City, and an hour or so from Provo. It makes for a perfect day trip or weekend getaway and feels like stepping back in time with the vivid history and slower pace of life. Here is
Events: Spring City has a number of organized events each year that are a great way to experience the town!
- Heritage Days: Probably the very best way to see Spring City is to attend the annual Heritage Days celebration that takes place every year over Memorial Day weekend. If you enjoy peeking in other people’s homes (who doesn’t!) this day is your jam. Each year dozens of gorgeous historic homes are open for you to tour, talk to the owner, and peek to your hearts content. In addition there is a silent auction called Art Squared where artists like Brian Kershisnik, Lee Udall Bennion, Doug Fryer, and more paint a 24” x 24” panels which go up for silent auction. At the Spring City Old School there is a KILLER antique sale, there is a Sanpete style turkey BBQ for lunch, wagon rides, and pottery and artisan sale, and more!
- Artist’s Studio tour and Plein Air painting competition: Art lovers! This event is for you! Every Labor Day Weekend artists from all over the state come to compete in a Plein Air painting competition for two days (September 2 – 4th) which culminates in a winner and a show where you can buy the paintings (September 5th). In addition on September 5th many of the artists who live and work in Spring City will have their studios and galleries open for you to tour (again, who doesn’t love to peek in someone else’s space!?).
- Concerts at the Spring City Arts Center: Spring City Arts is a community group that is dedicated to promoting artists, and the arts in the Sanpete County community. They run a cooperative gallery where you can stop by anytime to see (and purchase!) art. In addition they help host classes and events. You can keep track of upcoming events here.
- Life Under the Horseshoe Live Radio Show: Move over Serial . . . the next big thing in radio is Spring City’s very own live radio show Life Under the Horseshoe. Every episode is written, directed, and acted by town locals, and performed live in the historic Victory Hall on Main Street. Live shows usually run early April through mid-July.
- Bluegrass Festival: Every summer all the fiddles, mandolins, guitars and banjos make their way to Spring City for a few days of good tunes, good, people and lots of laughs. If Bluegrass is your thing, you won’t want to miss this.
- 24th of July Pioneer Day Celebration: The 24th of July is a state holiday in Utah commemorating the arrival of the first Mormon Pioneers in the Salt Lake valley. While Salt Lake hosts a huge parade and events, it’s Spring City’s celebration that is really worth attending. The parade is filled with local talent, tons of salt water taffy being thrown, and is just the right length. There are BBQ’s, Pioneer games, softball tournaments, fireworks and more. It’s pretty much the best day ever. The end.
Self Guided Trip:
- Historic Homes: Even if you can’t go inside, just driving (or walking or riding bikes) around town and looking at the old homes is so fun. Here is a pretty comprehensive guide to many of the old homes and the history of each home. Make sure you click the “older posts” link at the bottom to get to all the pages with old homes on them.
- You might also want to stop by one of the local shops like Horseshoe Mountain Pottery (it’s never locked) or the gas station to pick up a copy of the book Spring City Guide to Architecture and History which includes a detailed tour of all historic buildings, their history, architectural notes, and color photos. Proceeds go to benefit ongoing preservations projects by the Friends of Historic Spring City.
- Or, you can schedule a tour of Spring City with local historian and Spring City expert Kaye Watson by calling her at 435-462-2211.
- My personal favorite homes are:
- The Lars & Petrea (Monson) Larsen House
- The Marinus Petersen House
- The Emil Erickson House
- The John F. Bohlin House
- The Niels H. Borresen House
- The Lauritz Larsen House (which is where artist Ella Peacock lived)
- The Old Endowment House/Schoolhouse
- The Judge Johson House
- The Moroni Brough House (this is the home I grew up in so I’m EXTRA fond of it)
- The Charles Crawforth Farmhouse (you have to drive a few miles south of town for this one, but it’s worth it!)
- Historic Chapel: The crowning jewel of historic Spring City is the gorgeous LDS chapel in the heart of the town. Built out of the iconic Oolite limestone between 1902 – 1911 this building has always been the center of both religious and community gathering for the people of Spring City. In the 1970’s the chapel was slated to be torn down and replaced with a more modern meeting house (c’mon 70’s??? Why so many bad architectural choices?) but the residents of the town fought hard to preserve this building their ancestors sacrificed to built. Eventually it went all the way to the President of the LDS church to gain clearance to instead make a historically compatible addition to provide a gymnasium as a part of the church. Today this lovely building is considered one of the top 15 most important historic buildings of the LDS church.
Photo from Patheos.com
- Pioneer Cemetery: 240 N 100 E The pioneers of Spring City established a cemetery at this location in 1857. It is in the shape of the State of Utah. Many of the markers are made of local sandstone, and the elements have washed away some of the names and dates. This cemetery was nearly covered with wooden markers, mostly children’s graves. Some graves were marked with only a square stone at the head and a smaller one at the foot, and still others with a pile of rocks. The last person buried here was Isaac Morton Behunin in 1910. PS see if you can find the grave of Lars Alexander Justesen!
- Old School: One of the most iconic and gorgeous buildings in Spring City is the old school. Built in 1899 this stately school was used through the mid 1900’s until a newer school was built right next to it (which has itself been replaced by a newer school and now houses the city offices). In 1977 the old school was deeded to the local chapter of Daughters of Utah Pioneers (DUP) for $1.00 and ever since then a very long slow restoration project has been eeking along. In recent years great progress has been made and they are in their final push to raise the money they need to fully restore this beauty as a thriving community center. (You can help! Go here!) Here is a full timeline of this labor of love.
photo from here
- Spring City Arts Gallery: Main street, the block before the chapel on the east side of the street in the old Strate’s Garage building. This co-op run gallery features artwork from members of the Spring City Arts organization and is run by the artists. Summer hours are Wed – Saturday Noon – 5:00 pm
- Black Sheep Gallery: Main Street, across the street to the north of the gas station. Home and studio of Lynn Farrar aka Sophie Soprano. Lynne’s work ranges from landscapes to portraits of animals, while her alter ego Sophie paints whimsical imaginings of rural Spring City life.
- Horseshoe Mountain Pottery: Main Street, a block past the chapel on the west side of the street. World renown pottery (and my dad!) Joe Bennion has shown is work and taught in places like Japan, Latvia, LA, and beyond, but made the intentional decision to sell primarily from his home studio in Spring City. He practices an open door policy and never locks the shop, trusting customers to pay for what they take and leave the money in a lock box in the gate that separate the showroom from his studio. If you’re lucky you’ll catch him there working, but if not just check at Das Cafe or call the number he leaves to have him come down and give you a tour. Also, bonus, all pottery is ½ off the marked priced any time you shop directly from the shop.
Photo from here
- Jock Jones Windsor Chairs: Main street, directly across the street from the historic chapel. Jock Jones is a master chair builder who hand crafts some of the finest (and most comfortable!) wooden chairs and tables in America. You won’t want to miss seeing his amazing studio and meeting this living legend.
- Spring City Spring: Spring City is not named after the delightful season, but actually has delicious, cool fresh spring water- or as my family calls it ‘Spring City White Wine’. The spring bubbles up in the center of town through a historic marker located at the one gas station. Stop and get a drink and fill up your water bottles, maybe also bring huge jugs to fill up and take home with you. It’s the best water in the world.
- Das Cafe: If you go to Spring City and miss eating as Das Cafe you have basically failed. JK JK, but really you DO NOT want to miss eating the delicious German home cooking by the beautiful Schroeder sisters and their family who run this darling and delicious place. For breakfast you can’t go wrong with Opa’s Omelette, or their amazing oatmeal (with ALL the works), or if you are really hungry the Big Max will feed you for days. Lunch is all delicious (I’m partial to the Kraut Burger and the Reuben) but if they are doing their Goulash for a special do not miss it! Be forewarned they are closed Sunday and Monday and are only open till 3:00 pm.
- Zona Barrio Grill: Guys, I’ll be honest. I haven’t eaten here yet! But I have heard RAVE reviews. It’s fresh, elevated Mexican and is only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
- Sleeps: If you want to make a weekend getaway of your trip to Spring City you are in luck! There are several darling B&B’s so you can stay in one of these historic cuties and live out your fantasy of being a Spring City Pioneer.
Nearby: While Spring City is really the best town in the county, the rest of Sanpete County is pretty darling and fun to explore as well. Here are just a few of my favorite hidden gems you won’t want to miss:
- Fairview Museum: This place is so so awesome if you love small town museums. There are two buildings, one houses a full scale mammoth skeleton that is a copy of an actual full mammoth skeleton that was found in the mountains above Fairview. There is also an amazing little art collection, and collection of local Native American artifacts and a little gift shop that has antiques at screaming low prices. The other building houses any and all interesting artifacts from the city of Fairview’s history including a tree that grew through a sewing machine, old farm tools, an entire room dedicated to dioramas made by a local man, and much more.
- Corner Station: The Corner Station on Main Street in Fairview is a darling shop filled with gifts, decorations, and children’s toys – all with a vintage feeling. This is my go to shop for children’s gifts and vintage style decor.
- Nevan’s Thrift Store: Nevan’s Thrift Store is a total treasure trove. You have to dig, but one room is filled with consignment items and I’ve scored some amazing antiques there for great prices. It’s totally worth a stop, but be warned they are closed Mondays.
- Wasatch Academy: Founded in 1875, Wasatch Academy is the second oldest educational institution in the state of Utah, and hardly anyone knows about it! This hidden treasure is an amazing college prep boarding school that boasts students from all over the United States and globe (last I checked 50 countries and 28 states!). It’s a beautiful campus to drive around, and if you are interested in a tour just set up a campus visit ahead of time.
- The Basin Drive – In: Guys, there is nothing better than a drive-in movie. Oh wait. There is. Eating a cheeseburger at a drive in movie. The Basin is one of the few remaining drive-in theaters in Utah and it is the best. And really, their cheeseburgers are the best in the world. They usually open in May and close sometime in October. Be sure to check ahead for the schedule and what’s playing.
Getting there: If you are heading south on I-15 from Salt Lake or Utah County, I strongly recommend taking the exit for Highway 6 and heading east. You will drive through Spanish Fork Canyon, and then watch for signs for Highway 89. Head south on 89, and you will drive through a lovely winding canyon, and then descend into the Sanpete valley with gorgeous views of the mountains. You will hit Fairview first, and then Mt. Pleasant. At the south end of Mt. Pleasant watch for a brown sign (just after the Hardware Store) on your left that says Spring City Historic District. Take that left and it will lead you right into town.
You can also take I-15 south to Nephi and then catch UT 132 which will take you through Nephi canyon. You will hit Fountain Green First, and then Moroni and then Mt. Pleasant where you will head south on 89 and they look for the turn off for Spring City on your left. But really, this way is just not as pretty. Don’t do it.
about Zina Bennion
Zina Bennion is the Director of Business and Marketing for Mom’s Stuff Salve, a small business she runs with her mom, Lee Udall Bennion. Lee started making this hand-crafted salve for her family 20 years ago and it has slowly grown into a successful business helping people all over the world heal dry, cracked hands and feet, eczema and many other skin issues. A year ago Zina came on to handles all of the marketing, sales, shipping, website design, and business aspects of the company. Zina, in addition to having an idyllic childhood in Spring City, holds a BA from Sarah Lawrence College with an emphasis in literature and visual arts; a MS from Brigham Young University in Youth and Family Recreation, and has worked extensively in outdoor education and libraries. She is passionate about Mom’s Stuff, hiking, art, cooking, travel, her husband and cats, reading and creative collaboration with friends.