Ever drive I-15 through Utah County and wonder about the names of cities and towns you pass by?
Where in the world do these names come from?
Brigham Young University professor Richard Neitzel Holzapfel has studied the origin of names of places in Utah and wrote “A History of Utah County.”
“How place names came to be is fascinating,” Holzapfel said. “They preserve our history. They tell us a lot about the culture of the time. They tell us about people’s perspectives. It’s fun that we have Spanish, Mormon, non-Mormon and Native American names represented. You can learn a lot about Utah’s history by looking at the names alone.”
Here’s a look at the origin of Utah County city names according to Holzapfel and other sources.
It is said that when LDS prophet Brigham Young visited Alpine after it was first settled, this town reminded him of the Swiss Alps.
American Fork/Spanish Fork
Both cities’ names are derived from nearby rivers, known as forks, flowing into Utah Lake. The names recognize people from two different cultures. American Fork was settled by American-Mormon pioneers and Spanish Fork was named for a pair of Spanish-Catholic explorers, Fathers Dominguez and Escalante, who entered the Utah Valley in 1776 along the Spanish Fork River.
This town was named for the many Juniper (“cedar”) trees found in this northern Utah County area.
In 1901, the water failed in this southern Utah County town and most of the settlers left. A New York native, Matthew B. Whitney, purchased the land in 1907 and renamed it “Elberta” after the peach of that name.
Town founder Phineas Cook named this Utah County town after his birthplace, Goshen, Connecticut.
Homesteaders settled this town in the 1870s and was named by Scottish Mormon immigrants who thought the land resembled the highlands of Scotland.
Mormon Pioneers settled Lehi in 1850, which was then known as Dry Creek, Sulpher Springs and Snow’s Springs. In 1851, it was renamed Evansville after David Evans, an LDS bishop in the area.
As the city was incorporated in 1852, the legislature also approved a request to name the city Lehi after the Book of Mormon prophet.
By the way, the name “Lehi,” according to the Old Testament, also means “jawbone” or “cheek” in Hebrew.
Once called Stringtown, this Utah County town was known for a string of homes built along the road. Mail for Pleasant Grove and Stringtown residents was dropped off by Pony Express under a linden tree. During the post office application process, a name was needed for the area. Because the linden tree was a local landmark, Linden was chosen. A spelling error at the post office headquarters in Washington, D.C., gave them Lindon with an “o.”
The city was named for Walter Orem, the owner of a railroad that ran between Salt Lake City and Provo, apparently in an attempt to attract investments from the wealthy Salt Lake resident. By the way, Walter Orem never lived in Orem.
At first, the name of the city was Battle Creek, named for a battle that happened there between Ute Indians and Mormon settlers in 1849. Deciding they needed a more positive name, the settlers started to refer to their town “Pleasant Grove” for a grove of cottonwood trees in the area.
In 1850, Provo was named for Etienne Provost, a French-Canadian trapper who arrived here in 1825. Before that, Silvestre Velez de Escalante, a Spanish missionary-explorer is regarded as the first European explorer to enter the valley. In 1849, Mormon settlers from Salt Lake City called it “Fort Utah.”
Ute Indian Chief Guffich forged a friendship with early white settlers to the region. Guffich secretly warned them about a plot among young braves, including his own son, Santaquin, to attack the white people. The settlers departed, and when the braves arrived to find the place deserted, Guffich told them the whites were honorable people and that the Great Spirit had alerted them of the attack. From then on, there was peace between the two groups. When Guffich was chosen as the name for the community, he declined and requested that it be named instead for his son.
Because of the natural hot springs here, early settlers built a resort town known as Beck’s Saratoga Springs. It was named after Saratoga Springs, New York resort owner John Beck.
Early on, Springville was called “Hobble Creek” by settlers because they loosely tied their horses’ front feet together (which is known as being “hobbled”) as they were left to graze. As the town grew, the name was changed to Springville after Fort Springville for the freshwater springs located in the area.
It is said that the small town near Orem was named after the first grapevines planted there. It wasn’t incorporated until 1989.