Thursday, November 27, 2008

Spanish Fork, Utah

Spanish Fork, Utah, the first permanent Icelandic settlement in North America
The Franciscan Friars named Silvestre Valez de Escalante and Francisco Atanasio de Dominguez were some of the first explorers to pass through the Spanish Fork area. The priests were in quest of a direct route from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Monterey, California. After traveling down Spanish Fork Canyon they camped somewhere near the present day city limits on September 23, 1776.
Many years later the name "Spanish Fork" appeared on John C. Fremont's map of the area published in 1845. This was two years before the Mormons settled in Utah, and five years before there were any settlers in Palmyra. Spanish Fork originally began as an outgrowth of Palmyra, but as the community developed, Palmyra diminished and became the northwest suburb of Spanish Fork. In the early days, both settlements existed with one fort, Fort St. Luke.
In all likelihood, the name "Spanish Fork" was derived from the fact that the route of the Taos trappers during the early part of the 1800's followed the canyon and the river. The indigenous population of Spanish Fork was composed of members of the Ute Indian tribe. They had no permanent villages due to their nomadic nature. Because these Indians ate so many fish, they were also known as the "water Indians".
In the winter of 1850-51 a few families settled along the Spanish Fork River. By the end of 1852 the population along the river had grown to over 100 families. In 1854 a fort was built in Spanish Fork to meet the needs of existing settlers. On 17 January 1855 Spanish Fork was incorporated as a city. In September of that year, the first Icelandic immigrants; Samuel Bjarnason, Margrét Gísladóttir, and Helga Jónsdóttir arrived in Utah, they were directed by Brigham Young to the city of Spanish Fork. From these first Icelandic pioneers nearly four hundred Icelanders emigrated to Utah by 1914, most settling in Spanish Fork.
By 1860, the population had grown to 1,069. Spanish Fork inhabitants were of Irish, English, Scottish, Welsh, Danish and Icelandic descent. In ten years the population had reached 1,450. The first commercial industry was a saw mill which began operation in 1858. One year later the first flour mill opened its doors for business. The business group known as the Spanish Fork Mercantile was opened on February 11, 1883; the association was similar in function to the modern day Chamber of Commerce.
Spanish Fork is part of the county of Utah in the state of Utah. Utah County is located 44 miles south of Salt Lake City, Utah. The name "Utah" comes from the Native American "Ute" tribe and means 'people of the mountains'. Utah County: Apparently anglicized form the word Yuta, which is what the Spanish Explores called the Ute Indians. It is called Utah Valley because mountains frame the county on both sides. Utah is the 2nd largest county, in terms of population, in the state.
Average Elevation of Utah County is between 4300-4700 feet above sea level. The highest points in Utah County are Mount Nebo, south of Spanish Fork at 11,928 feet and Mount Timpanogos at 11,750 feet to the north. On the eastern side of Spanish Fork is one of the most beautiful mountains of the Wasatch Mountains range, the official maps call it Mount Flonette, but earlier inhabitants of the area called it Sierra Bonita. Sierra Bonita means beautiful mountain. Sierra Bonita is also the name for this mountain found in the novel Paradise Reclaimed by Halldor Laxness.


john said...

I'm an desendent of lofter johnson
with family history and photos .
looking to trade info and photo with other desendents.
get in touch
John Johnson

Charlene said...

I too am a descendent of Lofter Johnson. I would love to get in contact with you! I am just beginning in this line so I have virtually nothing. You sound like an answer to my prayers. Please contact me at

Angel Johnson-Nelson said...


I would be interested in sharing what info I have on our great-great-great grandfather Loftur and others, as well as current relatives in Iceland. Contact me at

Scott Lewis said...

Any information locally of my Great-Great Grandmother, Ingibjorg Johnson( Arnisdottir), married to Einer Johnson and passed away here in Spanish Fork in 1913 would be wonderful! (Please excuse the spelling if I was not spot on with names.....)\
Living here in Spanish Fork now.
Her daughter was Christina Olson married to Robert Olson, and my Grandmother born here in 1905 was Esther Olson(Kraus) If help is out there, please let me know~~~ Thanks