Payson Historic District
The Payson Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2015, The Gombach Group.
The Payson Historic District is located in the historic city center of Payson, Utah County, Utah. The Payson Historic District represents the architectural, economic and social significance of the historical development of the City of Payson. The period of historic significance is exactly one century: from 1857, the construction date for the oldest extant settlement-era building, and 1957, representing the beginning of Payson's suburban transformation. The district boundaries encompass 670 contributing buildings, including 520 primary buildings and 259 outbuildings. The historic district is significant for its association with the gradual development of Payson from an agricultural outpost to a thriving city with a diverse economic base.
The district is primarily residential with a commercial core concentrated at the intersection of Main Street and Utah Avenue. The contributing buildings represent Payson's major historic construction phases, which resulted in an impressive range of architectural styles, types, and materials. The building stock includes representatives of architectural styles and types for the entire historic period, ranging from well-preserved early adobe homes, to elaborate examples of Victorian Eclectic architecture, to the numerous twentieth-century styles of the middle class.
The historic and architectural resources of the district are eligible within the following areas of significance: Exploration/Settlement, Community Planning & Development, Social History, Agriculture, Commerce, and Architecture. During the events of the early settlement period, Payson's town site was established as a uniquely irregular adaptation of the typical Mormon town plat that would guide the town's later development. Historically, the residents of Payson were a close-knit community consisting mostly of descendants of its first pioneer settlers. The Social History of the insular community is found in the history of its residents and their associations with the various institutions (represented by numerous extant buildings) throughout the district. Agriculture and water have been major themes in the history of Payson, and the early community was nearly self-sufficient. After the coming of the railroad, mercantilism and light industry gave a boost to the economy. Payson's business district was established in a relatively short time and the current compact commercial core still reflects the hey-day of its turn-of-the-century prosperity. The majority of homes associated with Payson's historic farmers, merchants and working class were located with a few blocks of the commercial core. Along Main Street and Utah Avenue are the substantial homes of Payson's most prominent citizens during the period of significance.
The Payson Historic District has three characteristics that are unique compared to other Utah towns of similar age and size. The first is the unusual irregular plat. The second is the town's distinctive commercial business district. The third is an unusually high number of a particular house type, the extra-wide bungalow. While bungalows were quite common in Utah between 1905 and 1925, wide ones were relatively rare. In Payson the occurrence of wide bungalows exceeds those of typical size, and especially where they are concentrated along north Main Street and Utah Avenue they are a distinctive feature of the historic district. Despite the presence of some late-twentieth-century construction and intrusions, the district retains a high degree of historic integrity.
On October 20, 1850, sixteen members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon Church) arrived at the banks of the Peteetneet Creek with a mandate to establish a new settlement. They had been chosen by Brigham Young and had journeyed from Salt Lake City, sixty miles to the north. The settlers built a small fort at approximately 300 North between Main Street and 100 West. In 1851 more families arrived and the settlement was named Payson, after one of the first settlers, James Pace. The Payson Post Office was established in 1852 and the town incorporated in 1853. The Walker Indian War of 1853 disrupted the settlement for a time, but relations between the settlers and the Utes were fairly peaceful. The only other conflict was during the Black Hawk War of 1865. The fort was enlarged during the 1850s. An adobe wall (partially completed) became the back wall of the cabins, which faced the interior. A tithing office, bowery, well and visitor campground were located in the central square of the fort. Though the fort was demolished, markers were placed by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers (DUP) to mark the four corners in 1931. The cautious settlers were slow to build permanent homes outside of the fort.
The first settlers built cabins of logs, cut and dragged from Payson Canyon. One log cabin, built by Jeremiah Reece, is located within the district boundaries and may moved from within the fort walls in the 1860s. Later several sawmills were built. The first adobe yard was established in 1852 and at least one adobe home has been documented within five years of this event. William and Grace Wignall immigrated to Utah in 1856. After a few months of living in the Payson fort, Grace told William "if he didn't build her a home by March she would take the children and go back to England." Her adobe home at 389 N. 100 East, completed in 1857, is oldest surviving residence within the boundaries of the historic district.
In Payson, as in other early LDS Church settlements, emphasis was placed upon co-operative enterprises, especially those involving the scarce commodities of water and wood, which benefited the community as a whole. Local residents contributed their own labor, materials and support services to the construction of civic improvements in the town (e.g., irrigation, roads, bridges, fortifications, and public buildings). Early projects in Payson included the construction of schoolhouses and a public meeting hall. All within the boundaries of the district have been demolished with the exception of the Rock School at 289 N. 200 West, which was built in 1863 and converted to a residence in 1923. In 1859, the first nail factory in Utah was established in Payson, and in many old homes local nails are extant. The 1860 census indicates that most of the residents were farmers. Several listed their occupation as day laborers. There were also a handful of other occupations important to a self-sufficient settlement: blacksmith, miller, hopper, tanner, wheelwright, merchant, gunsmith and distiller. Several women were listed with occupations such as seamstress, weaver, washerwoman, and milliner. The town had numerous men in the buildings trades: six carpenters, two stone masons, a shingle maker and a nail maker. According to the census, Josh Cook made the adobe brick, and George Pickering laid them. A city census taken in 1866 gave a population of 1,139 in Payson. The telegraph office was opened that year. Also in 1866, the town and surrounding farmland was re-surveyed and the first street names assigned. The Salem Canal was begun in 1868. By the time the Payson Cooperative Mercantile Institution was organized in 1869, a downtown business district was located in the center of town. The first brick building constructed in Payson was the City Hall, built in 1870 and located at about 250 South Main Street (demolished in 1926). The first Payson LDS tabernacle was constructed in 1872 (demolished by fire 1904).
The early settlers were primarily from the British Isles; however there was a contingent of Swiss-German immigrants by the 1860s. They maintained an enclave in the northeast corner of the town for many years. The economy of the Early Settlement Period was primarily family-subsistence farming. The architectural styles of the period were mostly vernacular version of mid-nineteenth century classicism and the Greek revival style. The homes that have survived belonged to Payson's most prominent citizens. Samuel Douglas built a two-story adobe home at 215 N. Main Street (within the walls of the fort) in 1874, the same year he married Emma Jane Dixon. Samuel Douglas owned a herd of cattle, but also ran an early mercantile business. His later operations included coal and ice delivery. The Douglas house was one of the earliest homes in Payson to have electricity (1897) and piped water (1902). It was updated with a bungalow porch in 1912, and listed on the National Register in 1992. The house at 144 W. Utah Avenue, was built in 1875 by Jesse M. Boyle for Tom Wimmer, a cattleman, and reportedly the wealthiest man in town at the time. The sixteen-room house was the first to have running water inside. It was later used as a boarding house and became the Payson Hotel in 1942.
The 1870 census enumeration lists 310 dwellings. The census also suggests a growing affluence in the community. Approximately one out of every six households had a domestic servant listed with the family. Although farming was the most common occupation, there were a number of merchants, traders, and freighters. Specialized occupations were more common. Hyrum Spencer was listed as a logger and Elizabeth Powell was a tailor. Eleven men were in the building trades, including Henry Barnett, a stone mason, and John Betts, a painter. George Pickering, an adobe mason in the prior census, was listed as a plasterer.
The Central Utah Railroad was construction through Payson in 1875, effectively ending the relative isolation of the settlement period. The tracks were about one mile west of the center of town. The railroad was known for a short time as San Pedro and Salt Lake (Pedro for short), and later became part of the Union Pacific. In 1891, the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad began service to Payson. The railroads brought economic growth and diversity to the community of Payson. Mercantilism expanded and several brick commercial buildings were erected during this period giving shape to Payson's current commercial district. These buildings include modest buildings, such as the Lindsay shoe shop built in 1888, and more elaborate buildings, such as the Exchange Savings Bank, which opened in 1890. The Payson Opera House opened in 1883. It was one of the first opera houses built south of Salt Lake City and was used for both performances and as a dance hall. Numerous residences and commercial buildings were used as hotels during this period, including the one adjoining the Opera House and operated by John E. Betts. The Payson Presbyterian Mission opened in August 1877. The Central School was completed in 1884 (demolished). The Presbyterian Church was completed in 1883 and listed on the National Register in 1986. The Methodist Church built the Iliff Academy in 1890 (demolished?). The Payson Ward of the LDS Church divided in 1891 due to the rapidly increasing population.
The 1880 census shows an increasing economic diversity heavily dependent on mercantilism that came with the railroad. There are a high number of store owners and stores. Specialized shops such as dry goods and millinery were prevalent. Occupations were also more specialized, such as telegraph operator, photographer, silk weaver, and bee culturists. The community had two physicians. Several men worked as miners outside in the nearby canyons. Payson had enough work for eleven carpenters, six brick masons, and four stone masons. By the 1900 census, the number of stone masons was reduced to one, but the number of carpenters and brick masons remained about the same. The town also had more finish work specialists, such as painters, plasterers, and an electrician.
The 1900 census also show a marked increase in service trades such as hotel keeper, saloon keepers, and a bartender. There are also bankers, printers, jewelers, druggists, and the local undertaker. Cattle and dairymen were more common than sheep herders by the turn of the century. Though farming was still the most common occupation, the number of men listed as day laborers was a close second.
In 1882, the boundaries of the original city were reduced, even though the population of Payson had doubled to 2,135 in 1890. There were numerous municipal and commercial improvements during this period: stage coach service (1879), streets straightened and graveled (1887), electric lights (1890), fire department (1892), street names changed (1893), shade trees planted (1893), water mains improved (1894) and power plant purchased (1897). Subsistence farming was gradually replaced by production agriculture. Principal crops included grass hay, alfalfa, and grains such as wheat, barley, oats, and corn. Beets, potatoes and onions were also important crops. Most families still practiced traditional farming, such as the Loveless family, who built a large two-story adobe home at 175 N. 100 East. Other families became wealthy in the livestock industries of cattle, sheep and hogs. In 1876, George Patten, a cattleman, built a similarly large adobe home at 47 E. 300 North. This home was used as Payson's first hospital operated by Parley Pratt Musser between 1901 and 1913. The original house is currently non-contributing, but still visible behind a newer porch. Most of the residences constructed during this period were located close to the former fort boundaries and the emerging commercial district. However others, such as the early brick house owned by the Waters family at 287 S. 300 West, were built for farming families at the edges of the town plat. As the settlers of Payson began to build more permanent homes, the log cabins of the previous period were relegated to use as outbuildings. The Reece cabin was used for fruit and vegetable storage after the family built a sturdy brick house on the lot.
The historic resources of the Payson Historic District are important as physical representatives of the history and development of Payson, Utah. The architecture of Payson represents the styles and types popular in Utah in the one hundred years between 1857 and 1957. However, during the bungalow-era, an unusually high number of extra-wide bungalows became a distinguishing part of the streetscape and a peculiarity of Payson builders in the early twentieth century. In addition, the Payson Historic District includes a distinctively compact commercial district that represents a remarkable high level of economic diversity for the rural Utah town. The resources of the historic district have good historic integrity and contribute to the history of Payson, Utah.
† Korral Broschinsky, Payson Historical Preservation Board, Payson Historic District, Utah County, UT, nomination document, 2007, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.