Written by Cory Jensen, NRHP Coordinator and Chris Merritt, Utah SHPO
Many Utahs and tourists do not know the depth and breadth of Utah’s architectural history, and the preserved building treasures you can find around the State. Besides the over 1200 buildings individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Utah has 66 historic districts in both urban and rural communities, from Escalante to Capitol Hill. If you do not see your neighborhood or community in this list, please reach out to the Utah State Historic Preservation Office’s National Register of Historic Places Coordinator, Cory Jensen to learn more!
First, we should answer what is a Historic District? In 1966, the federal government passed the National Historic Preservation Act that in part created a registry process for important historic buildings, structures, districts, objects, and sites around the country. Today, there are thousands of historic places listed to the National Register of Historic Places, most of which are privately owned businesses and homes. There is a popular myth that we still fight today from residents, realtors, and community leaders that listing on the National Register restricts what you can do to your property. That is not true! The National Register is an honorific designation that opens up opportunities for grants and tax incentives, but does not restrict your personal property rights. For more information on the National Register, please visit Cory’s blog post on the topic or the National Park Service’s Frequently Asked Questions.
Under the National Register’s categories, a “District”contains “a significant concentration, linkage, or continuity of sites, buildings, structures, or objects united historically or aesthetically by plan or physical development.” This is an elaborate way of saying that the district is a group of related historic buildings in a geographic area, so think about all the 1920s bungalow style homes in Sugar House, and how that grouping is different from the Victorian-era brick homes in downtown Panguitch. Once we identify this grouping and create a boundary, architectural historians individually assess each and every building or structure to see if it ‘contributes’ to the overall significance of the district. Major renovations and alterations are the main reason why something is considered ‘non-contributing’.
But enough of the background let’s get into the tour of Utah’s Historic Districts! As mentioned earlier, Utah has 59 historic districts that range from the 19th to 20th century and residential to industrial. We know there are more districts out there to be listed but we rely on local communities to be the primary drivers for any nomination process. If you are interested to see if your house or business is listed on the National Register please visit our online viewer or contact one of our staff. To wrap up this blog we are going to switch gears and take a quick tour of selected historic districts and end with a list of communities that we know already have enough building stock to be listed as a Historic District and open up those residents to recognition of their history and also incentives!
Escalante Historic District (Garfield County): Listed in 2013
Escalante’s architectural history reflects the evolution of a community that grew up around a single industry (livestock). In its early years (1876-1920) Escalante boomed with the expansion of the livestock industry. There are now 124 contributing historic residences in Escalante that illustrate this boom in architecture. Buildings in this district reflect the prevailing styles and types of this period and include bungalows, cross-wing, hall parlor, and foursquare type homes in Prairie School, Arts and Crafts, Classical and Victorian styles.
Panguitch Historic District (Garfield County): Listed in 2006
With 379 contributing historic residential and commercial buildings, the Panguitch Historic District is one of the largest in rural Utah. The majority of residences were built between 1890 and 1930, and mostly of brick that is a soft-edge, deep red brick which is unique to this area. This listing also includes two schools, two theaters, a jail, and a hospital in addition to residential homes. Besides the uniqueness of the brick, Panguitch also has a distinct hybrid house style from the 1920s-1930s which is a square footprint with a pyramidal roof and a mixture of architectural styles including Victorian, Bungalow, and Period revival.
Hurricane Historic District (Washington County): Listed 1995
Comprised primarily of both commercial and residential buildings, Hurricane’s sandstone gutters and the Hurricane Canal are key parts of this historic district. For the residential properties the overwhelming style is Victorian eclectic cross-wing, single-story foursquare cottages, bungalows and Period Revival cottages built between 1906 and 1940. Most of the brick commercial buildings in the District date to between 1911 and 1922, with the Spanish Colonial Revival style Dixie Hotel dating to 1925. There are also a small cluster of public buildings in the 1930s Public Works Administration Modern style like the City Hall.
Spring City Historic District (Sanpete County): Listed 1980
Perhaps one of the best preserved rural agricultural towns in the pattern espoused by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints settlement period, Spring City contains over 350 contributing historic buildings and structures. A 1900-1914 stone LDS Meetinghouse dominates the downtown of the community, with the majority of contributing buildings being residential homes radiating out from downtown. The majority of homes can be considered vernacular in style, date to the 1865-1900 period, and range from one-room log cabins to two-story hall and parlor houses. As is common for many settlements in Sanpete County, adobe brick and stone are the primary building materials of these homes.
Price Main Street Historic District (Carbon County): Listed 2008
Representing the commercial core of Carbon County in the early 20th century, the buildings of historic Main Street of Price represent the prosperity of the area between 1910 and 1960. Many of these businesses were owned or managed by the diverse group of immigrants who came to Carbon County’s coal mines, including Greeks and Italians. This District contains not only commercial buildings but the United Methodist Church, the Carbon County Courthouse and the Price Municipal Building. Styles of the commercial businesses include Italian Renaissance, Spanish Colonial Revival, Beaux Arts, and an eclectic mix.
Payson Historic District (Utah County): Listed 2007
With over 400 contributing buildings, the Payson Historic District is predominantly residential single-family homes surrounding a commercial downtown. A period of significance for Payson goes from 1857 to 1957, with the earliest home (1857) built from adobe and most later structures comprised of brick. Similar to many Utah towns of the late 19th century, early adobe homes were covered in stucco and brick veneers as the town grew. During the 1890s and early 1900s, Payson boomed economically which led to a number of Victorian-style brick homes being built in the residential neighborhoods, all with ornamentation.
Provo Downtown Historic District (Utah County): Listed 1978
Not surprising given the size of the community and wealth of buildings, Provo’s downtown was one of the earliest districts in Utah listed to the National Register. While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Tabernacle, now modified into a Temple, is outside the District boundaries, its imposing Gothic Revival style frames this district to the south. The 1880s to 1910s commercial buildings in this area went through significant alterations in the 1940s and 1950s, when many of the first-floors were altered to the new architectural aesthetic. However, these Victorian and Renaissance Revival style buildings still express the historic growth of Provo’s economy during this period, and have association with prominent individuals like Jesse Knight and T.N. Taylor.
Copperton Historic District (Salt Lake County): Listed 1986
Copperton was built between 1926 and 1955 as a planned residential community for Utah Copper Company employees and their families, and is one of the most unique towns in the state given this history. Contributing resources include 204 similarly styled homes and 64 accompanying garages, with the addition of the town park. Stylistically, all of the houses in the districts are bungalows, period cottages or a combination. Bungalows have broad front porches with exposed rafters and the cottages are modest examples of English Tudor and Spanish Colonial Revival styles. Scott & Welch, a Salt Lake City based architectural firms drew up nearly all the house plans and even the town’s layout.
The Liberty Wells neighborhood in Salt Lake City is the largest of the state’s Historic Districts, with over 3000 contributing buildings, most of which are residential. This neighborhood is exemplified by its tree-lined streets, uniform setbacks, and remarkable similarity of architectural styles and materials. In particular, the neighborhood is noted for its dense concentration of bungalow style brick homes dating to the first 30 years of the 20th century and is one of the most coveted areas of Salt Lake Valley.
One of the earliest nominations in Salt Lake City in 1982, the boundary and period of significance for the Warehouse District was expanded in 2016 to capture more of the industrial and commercial heritage of this area. After the arrival of railroad commerce in the 1870s, the west side of Salt Lake City rapidly developed to include warehouses, factories, and commercial buildings to service the growing Utah economy. Key features of the district are the similar massing and materials (brick) of these buildings, varying setbacks from the streets, and the various lines of railroads and spur lines to service these businesses and warehouses.
Bountiful Historic District (Davis County): Listed 2005
Formally platted on May 1, 1854, Bountiful grew quickly as a result of its close proximity to Salt Lake City, and the core of the city’s oldest residential and commercial buildings are within this historic district. The survey of Bountiful’s historic buildings show peaks in construction in roughly 30 year intervals, in the 1870s-1880s, 1920s-1930s, and 1950s-1960s. The earliest homes were log cabins, with adobe and stone houses in Classical, Greek or Gothic Revival styles. Later, availability of fired brick changed the materials for buildings and coincided with the Victorian style homes being constructed in the 1880s-1900 period, and bungalow styles in the 1920s. Finally, after World War 2, Bountiful exploded in construction and population with ranch style brick homes.
Ogden’s Central Bench Historic District (Weber County): Listed 2003
Covering 80 blocks of residential neighborhoods, the Central Bench developed between the 1860s and 1940s and contains nearly 3300 buildings, and is different historically and architecturally than other notable Ogden neighborhoods. Because of its location, the growth of this neighborhood was sporadic but boomed after 1888 when Ogden’s role as a leading railroad community in the West led to an increase in economic and population growth. Victorian style homes dominate the 1880s and 1890s period in this neighborhood, but then the buildings transition to the classic early 20th century bungalow style. These historic trends, tied to the overall history of Ogden, created a unique assemblage of historic homes.
Willard Historic District (Box Elder County): Listed 1974
Over a 12 block area the predominantly Greek Revival and Gothic style homes in Willard, represent a local expression of vernacular architectural style. Residential homes are 1 ½ to 2 story tall with high-gabled roofs. Made of locally procured stone, these homes include flared window wells that allow maximum light to enter the living spaces within. Many of the trees originally planted by the first settlers still exist along the roads in Willard which may include the oldest Box Elders still standing in the state, mulberry trees and Lombardy poplars. These homes are some of the most unique in both architectural style and materials within Utah, and are along the great “Fruit Way”, or the line of fruit orchards along Highway 89.
Logan Center Street Historic District (Cache County): Listed 1978
Logan remains one of the most historic communities in northern Utah, and its early historic district nomination still stands the test of time. In particular, this historic district is anchored by the Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the east, and the Union Pacific Railroad Station on the west. Beyond these two iconic buildings, the majority of the historic district comprise Vernacular, Prairie, Victorian, Neoclassical, and bungalow styles. The vernacular homes date to the 1860s-1880 were built of local resources, while the later buildings use imported materials such as brick, brought in by the newly completed railroad connections.
Historic District Wish Lists!
- Ogden Riverside Subdivision
- Ogden Downtown Commercial Buildings
- St George
- Mount Pleasant Residential
- Moab Downtown
- Castle Dale
- Richfield Residential & Commercial Downtown
- Provo South & West Sides
- Vernal Residential & Commercial
- Roosevelt Residential & Commercial
- Ft. Duchesne
- Salina Residential & Commercial