Centerville

Centerville

This article originally appeared in Vol.65, No.2 (2018) of Pioneer Magazine.

by Royce Allen

In late August 1847 when Jesse C. little and his five companions met with Brigham Young to describe their circuit of .what would become Utah’s Davis and Cache Counties, they made particular mention of a beautiful swath of land a half-day’s tide north of Salt Lake Valley. Situated between the Wasatch Range on the east and the Great Salt lake and the west, this land was thick with willows and cottonwood trees. Mountain streams flowed into the lush valley, spreading out over old beaver dams and emptying into the lake. Grasses grew to the horses’ bellies. It would, they said, be an ideal area for grazing a portion of the five thousand head of cattle that Young’s vanguard company had brought with them.

Shortly thereafter, Brigham asked his friend Thomas Grover to drive a sizeable cattle herd north to this promising herding ground1 Thomas immediately accepted Young’s assignment even though he knew that, in caring for the cattle, he would be separated from his three wives and children during their first winter in the Utah Territory. Joined in the early fell of 1847 by a small group of men selected by the newly-organized Salt Lake High Council, Grover drove his animals north and set up camp along the stream just below Hogback Mountain. Over the winter he built a two-room cabin for himself, together with corrals and a shelter for his horses.2 He planted wheat and a garden, then diverted water from the stream for irrigation. In this unglamorous yet providential way, Thomas Graver became the founder of Centerville, Utah.5

Returning to Salt Lake in the early spring of 1848, Grover gathered his family, livestock, and necessary possessions and returned with them to his cabin near Hogback,4 Soon joining the Grovers were several other families who had traveled to the Salt lake Valley with the Charles C. Rich Company in the summer of 1847. Two of these were the families of Thomas’s closest friends, his brothers-in-law Osmyn and William Deuel, former Quakers who had been baptised in Saratoga, New York, The Deuels and their brother Amos claimed land along the same stream where Thomas had built his cabin, and both the settlement and the stream were soon known as Deuel Creek, After clearing and planting their land, the Deuels setup a small shop providing blacksmith and farrier services to the area.5 Charles Rich himself, who was married to one of Grover’s daughters, came to the fledgling settlement long enough to claim 61 acres for a family farm and build a cabin.6

Samuel and Fanny Parrish were also former Quakers who settled on Deuel Creek in 1848. They initially immigrated from Quebec, Canada, to Stark County, Illinois, where they had accepted the restored gospel. Two of their five children had come to Utah with them— Joel, twenty, and Priscilla, barely sixteen.

Their married daughter Jane came west with her husband Ephraim Lindsay in 1852 and eventually settled in Bennington, Idaho. Their other three daughters were buried side by side in Montrose, Iowa, after dying in separate epidemics.7 While still in Canada, Samuel and Fanny had taken in an orphaned toddler, William Reed Smith, two months shy of his third birthday and had raised him as one of their own. William was fifteen when he was baptized with the rest of the Parrish family in Stark County; he was twenty-one when the Rich Company left Illinois in the summer of 1847. Because he himself was recovering from malaria, however, he remained in Illinois for the next two years, working as a laborer and assembling a small herd of cattle. He was reunited with his family when he arrived in Deuel Creek in 1849.8

Fanny Parrish was a red headed Irish woman with freckles dotting her arms and face. She was a trained midwife whose skills were invaluable to members of the small settlement.9 Her husband Samuel was a hardy man, trained as a miller. Shortly after the Parrish family arrived in the settlement, Samuel began making equipment for a gristmill. Dressing the millstones was the most time-consuming part of the project, but Samuel’s mill was up and running by the end of 1848. While the mill could not produce fine wheat flour, its cornmeal was immediately popular, and families in the area were soon enjoying Johnny cake, corn dumplings, and cornmeal porridge.10

Deuel Creek remained an unplanned settlement No community form was organized, no master plan was established. Farms were marked out and homes went up along the primary streams where settlers had easy access to water. Each stream took on the name of settlers first arriving there—Deuel Creek, Parrish Creek, Stoddard Creek, and Ricks Creek. Most early settlers located themselves along or near Deuel Creek, just below Hogback Mountain. Some joined the Parrishes along Parrish Creek. The Judson Stoddard family had moved on by the late 1850s, and the stream name was changed to Barnard Creek—for James Barnard, whose family had followed the Stoddards in settling alongside it.11

Ricks Creek was named after Joel and Eleanor Martin Ricks, who crossed the plains in the summer of 1848 with the Heber C. Kimball Company. They arrived in Deuel Creek in the fell of 1848, claimed ground, and then spent the winter in Bountiful where Joel worked in Heber Kimball’s sawmill. In the spring of 1849 they built a lean-to enclosure against a stand of rocks and cleared and planted farmland. While managing their crops that summer, they also constructed a proper cabin.12

Joel and Eleanor were assisted by their son, Thomas, who had been in a near-death shootout with Indians on the trail West the previous summer. Indians had stolen cattle belonging to the company, and Thomas and other young men had gone after them. After locating the missing cattle Thomas and his friends sought to reclaim them, but in the melee that followed Thomas was shot three times, felling from his horse. His companions, fearing for their lives, rode back to the wagon train, reporting that Thomas had been killed. Joel Ricks and a second man retraced the trail, hoping to retrieve Thomas’s body, but they themselves were ambushed by Indians and forced to rejoin the wagon train. In the meantime, other men had found Thomas and, realizing he was still alive, managed to return with him to the camp, at one point floating Thomas across a stream on a stiffened buffalo hide. Receiving a blessing from Heber C. Kimball promising full recovery, Thomas was placed in a bed in the back of a jostling wagon and nursed by his mother Eleanor for the long six weeks until the company arrived in the Valley. Years later, Thomas would found Rexburg, Idaho, and would organize the Bannock Stake Academy, later renamed Ricks College in his honor.13

In the summer of 1849 Samuel Parrish opened a wooden molasses press, driven by oxen, adding a second home industry to the gristmill he was already operating. The molasses press would not see lull use until the autumn of 1849 when an abundance of corn stalks were harvested—and then it was used to produce corn syrup, not molasses.14 Joel Parrish assisted his father’s projects and helped with the family form. He also claimed land of his own, and because his property was on the main road through Centerville, he set up a trading post to take advantage of the 1849 Gold Rush travelers.15 When Joel’s foster brother, William Smith, arrived in the late summer of 1849, he willingly supported Joel’s and Samuel’s endeavors; in late fell he took a log-cutting job with the Heber Kimball sawmill in Bountiful.16

Other members of the Rich Company to help settle Deuel Creek were brothers Aaron and Ebenezer Cherry. They and their families spent their first year in the Territory at the Old Fort at Salt Lake. But in the fell of 1848, encouraged by their friends, Osmyn and Mary Deuel, they traveled north looking for richer farmland. Satisfied with what they found at Deuel Creek, they determined to put down roots.17

As it turned out, Ebenezer and his wife Suzannah were only temporary residents, eventually moving near Bear Lake in Idaho. But in the short run, Ebenezer’s skills as a cooper meant that area families could buy barrels for preserving pickles, curing salt pork, making sauerkraut, and storing dried fruits.18 Aaron and his wife Margaret remained in Deuel Creek, along with their large family of nine children. A native of Kentucky, Aaron had long experience as a horse breeder and trainer. He brought blooded horses west with him, intending to breed and raise saddle horses to sell. Aaron purchased Thomas Grover’s home and farm in the late fell of 1848.19

During their trek west with the Rich Company, the large Aaron Cherry family managed three loaded wagons pulled by oxen. One was driven by their oldest daughter Rebecca. She was a headstrong seventeen-year-old who thought the trip was a grand adventure. While making a river crossing, however, her oxen became tangled in their harness and began to founder. Young Nathan Porter, riding up from the rear of the wagon train, noted that Rebecca’s wagon was slowly being washed downstream.

He quickly rode his horse into the river, grabbed the bow of the lead oxen, and helped the struggling animals regain their footing. Safely on the other side of the river, Rebecca was shaken but smiling. She watched as Nathan rode back across the river to assist others, declaring to herself, “I am setting my cap for that curly-haired chap.”20

Less than a month after the Cherrys arrived at Deuel Creek, Nathan Porter and Rebecca were married. They lived in Aaron Cherry’s former residence in the Old Fort until the spring of 1849 and then joined the Cherrys at Deuel Creek. Nathan purchased ten acres of land and began building a cabin and planting wheat. At Nathan’s urging, his parents Sanford and Nancy also came to Deuel Creek. Unfortunately, that first summer Nathan’s crops turned yellow and withered from too much alkali in the soil.

Forced to select new land, Nathan vowed to start over the following spring. Their first child, Sarah Jane, was bom in November 1849—barely a week after they moved into then-new cabin.21 By 1852 four of Nathans married brothers had joined the Porter clan at Deuel Creek—John, Chauncey, Lyman, and Sanford Jr. In the meantime, Nathan had been called as a missionary to Gibraltar, and his brothers helped look after his farm and family in his absence.

For the first eighteen months or so of its existence, Deuel Creek was officially part of the North Canyon Ward—but the hour-long wagon rides to and from meetings in North Canyon were discouraging for Deuel Creek residents, especially during winter months. Many did not attend North Canyon meetings at all, joining instead with neighbors at Deuel Creek for informal group meetings in larger cabins. In 1849 Sanford Porter was called as presiding elder at Deuel Creek and was authorized to convene local meetings.22

By 1850 the area surrounding Deuel Creek had been surveyed, and a town was laid out in a grid pattern of twenty blocks—although there were only a comparative few scattered homes within those blocks. Most farming took place to the west on land that stretched to the shores of the Great Salt Lake. The settlements northern boundary was Parrish Lane; its southern boundary became known as Porter Lane, where the several Porter families clustered around one another west of Main Street. Two years later, in 1852, the LDS branch at Deuel Creek became the Centerville Ward—the name deriving from the fact that the settlement was halfway between Bountiful and Farmington—and Sanford Porter became its first bishop, with Ozias Kilboum and Simon Dalton as his counselors. Soon, the community itself was universally known as Centerville, although it was initially spelled in the British way as “Centreville”.

In 1853, because of potential problems with Indians, President Young directed that each settlement within the Utah Territory build a wall around a nine-block square to act as a large fort. Centerville residents began constructing an earthen wall in 1853, replacing it with a stone wall in 1854. Neither wall was completed, perhaps because relationships with the indigenous Shoshone people were generally positive. Indeed, a band of Shoshone Indians, part of Chief Bear Hunter’s tribe based along Idaho’s Bear River, was welcomed to Centerville each fall to harvest cattails, wild rice, roots, and birds along the lakeside.24

Centerville’s first informal school classrooms were cramped spaces in neighborhood cabins. An adobe schoolhouse—doubling as a ward meetinghouse—was constructed in 1852 on land donated by Nathan Porter at the comer of Parrish Lane and Main Street A standard territorial community building, it was a single large room with double doors on one end and a passage door in the back. There were windows along either side, and a potbelly stove at the center of the room to counteract the winter chill. The students sat on long, rough benches on which one could easily get “slivered,” and the front bench was known as the “recitation bench.” John Gleason was hired as the school’s first teacher; parents paid a small monthly fee—in cash or kind—for each enrolled child. John Adams later reported that classes began “promptly at 9:00” when the teacher “tapped a bell on his desk.” Each dass, in turn, went “to the front bench [where] their recitation [was] conducted.” Students were examined in “the subjects of reading, arithmetic, geography, grammar, writing, history, and music.”25 Aaron Cherry was selected as the first postmaster of Centerville, delivering mail to twenty-four families.26 Joanna Brown and Margaret Duncan joined Fanny Parrish as Centerville’s trusted midwives.27 In addition to managing the town’s only retail store, Joel Parrish was also the de facto physician and dentist, pulling infected teeth, setting and casting broken bones, and sewing up wounds. He was also the town’s first water-master, drawing up irrigation schedules and settling water disputes.28

While adequate water supplies were a constant worry, Centerville was known for its quality vegetables, orchard fruit, and melons—and was a primary agricultural supplier to Salt Lake City residents. Virtually every Centerville family had a milk cow, a pen of chickens, and a pig or two. They planted gardens and orchards and preserved food for winter. Many families also kept a pen of calves or lambs to sell. Various home industries were initiated—and there were soon weavers, wheelwrights, cobblers, harness-makers, chair-makers, blacksmiths, and cabinetmakers.29

In the spring of 1855, Sanford Porter was called as one of the seven presidents of the Farmington Seventies Quorum and was released as bishop of the Centerville Ward.30 William Reed Smith, just twenty-eight years old, was called as the new bishop, a position he would hold for the next twenty-two years.31

During the summer of 1856 Smith committed himself and his ward members to Brigham Young’s Reformation movement. In September, a three-day stake conference was held in Kaysville, and Bishop Smith, Thomas Grover, and President Jedediah Grant taught the message of Reformation: regular personal and familial prayer, consistent meeting attendance. Word of Wisdom adherence, and plural marriage conformance. Following initial conference sessions, attendees were interviewed by their respective bishops. After Bishop Smith interviewed each of his ward members, 231 were re-baptized in the Weinel Millpond.32

It was not long before the Saints had a telling opportunity to display their recommitment to the gospel they loved. On October 4, Elder Franklin D. Richards and twelve returning missionaries from Great Britain arrived in Salt Lake with disturbing news. Reporting directly to Brigham Young, they explained that, in early September, they had passed the Willie and Martin handcart companies and the Hodgetts and Hunt wagon companies on the plains of Nebraska. These Saints, Franklin said, would now be on the snow-swept plains of eastern Wyoming where, short of immediate rescue assistance, they faced almost certain death from exposure or starvation. The following day, during the morning session of General Conference, Brigham Young delivered an impassioned directive for help. Settlers throughout northern Utah responded promptly and unselfishly to Brigham Young’s call.33

Bishop William Smith instructed Centerville Relief Society sisters to gather clothing, blankets, dried fruits and meat, flour, and other supplies. Priesthood quorums readied mule- and horse-pulled wagons loaded with the goods gathered by Relief Society sisters. Rugged horsemen—including Joel Parrish, Judson Stoddard, and Thomas Ricks— were assigned to accompany and guide the wagons. Each of these men received a blessing from President Young; each was told “not to return without those handcart settlers.” Supply wagons and horsemen left the next morning for a rendezvous in Emigration Canyon with teams from Salt Lake and Utah Counties; they would then head northeast into Wyoming. Smith organized the men remaining in Centerville into groups responsible for harvesting the crops of rescuers and cutting wood for their families.34

The rescue effort had immediate meaning for at least one family in town. Nathan Porter had been away nearly five years. His wife Rebecca had received word that preaching was not allowed on Gibraltar and that Nathan’s mission assignment was changed to the British Isles. She had also received word that he would be released from his mission to accompany one of the groups of Saints emigrating from Britain that year. She and extended family members believed he must be with one of the groups now on the eastern Wyoming plains. Finally, as rescuers began reporting back to Brigham Young, she received word that Nathan was a captain in the Hodgetts Company.33

With this news, a fresh urgency gripped the ward. One of their own might well be facing the starvation and exposure detailed in the reports of returning rescuers. Bishop Smith’s ward members pledged additional support, and more loaded wagons left Centerville headed northeast Finally, on December 15, in one of the last returning wagons, Nathan Porter arrived back in Centerville, emaciated and frostbitten. His recovery required most of the winter, but by late March 1857 he had regained enough strength to plant some early spring wheat.34

Four months later, word came that government troops were marching toward Utah. Rumors about the nature, actions, and intentions of what came to be known as Johnston’s Army multiplied during the fall and winter of 1857-58, and on the first day of spring in 1858, Brigham Young directed that all Saints in northern Utah move south. Centerville residents, many of whom were still struggling to survive in their new community, were heartbroken by the prospect of abandoning what little they had.37

But during the weeks that followed, they obediently irrigated their farms and gardens one last time and loaded up their wagons. Chickens and pigs were turned loose and allowed to forage for food. Milk cows—key to survival—were tied behind wagons. Cattle, sheep and horses were gathered and then guarded in a community herd northwest of Farmington. Straw or dried grass was piled along the sides of homes and bams, and a handful of men stayed behind to light fires if so directed. The remainder of Centerville Ward lined up their wagons along the main road, and Bishop Smith led the column out of town. Tears Sowed freely as Saints took a final backward glance.33

The Centerville Ward stopped at the mouth of the Spanish Fork River, where there was plenty of grass for animals and clean water for the Saints.39 After several weeks of anxious waiting, on June 26 came word that the army had passed through Salt Lake in an orderly column, and on June 30 the encamped Saints were told they could return to their homes. By August all returning residents had traveled the 65 miles back to Centerville and had offered prayers of fervent gratitude on discovering that their homes and property had been preserved, that their food supplies were safe, and that their untended fields would still yield a harvest. An unforeseen blessing was that the movement of the militia and wagons along the Weber River had created a new roadway through Centerville and into Ogden, a roadway that would become invaluable to local travel and industry.40

In the fall of 1859 Bishop William Smith was elected to fill the vacant seat of Charles Rich in the territorial Legislative Council Three years later he was elected to the Utah House of Representatives; in the spring of 1865 he was called on a mission to Great Britain. The ward was directed by his counselors until his return. He was released as bishop in 1877 when he was named the first president of the Davis Stake.41

In 1860 the Pony Express was organized in St Joseph, Missouri, and Centerville’s William Streeper and Thomas Dodson were among the eighty hardy riders selected to carry the mail. By 1861 the Wells Fargo overland stage connected Salt Lake to Ogden through Centerville, and later that same year, the Pony Express was replaced by a transcontinental telegraph line. And in 1870 travel on the Utah Central Railroad replaced local stagecoach travel.42

For several generations, and through the early twentieth century, Centerville was small in population—averaging about a thousand residents—but large in spirit. From the beginning, its people have been known for their warmth and generosity to friends and strangers alike. Many descendants of the first settlers still call Centerville home, and the community is proud of its rich legacy of pioneer homes and history. From unyielding pioneer faith and sacrifice have sprung leaders in education, commerce, science, politics, the arts, and religion—noble men and women who have blessed and influenced the lives of countless thousands across the world. 


  1. History of the B. H. Roberts Family (Salt Lake City: Eborn, 2009). Thomas Grover was a trusted friend of Brigham Young. And on his first meeting with Joseph Smith,Thomas had loaned the Prophet money, later refusing Joseph’s proffered repayment. Subsequently, Thomas had twice helped effect Joseph’s release from prison.
  2. Committee for the Centerville Centennial Celebration, Our American Home Town: Centerville, Utah (Bountiful: Carr, 2015), 8. Hereafter cited as”CCCC.”
  3. Royce H. Allen and Gary Wilden, South Davis County: Images of America (Charleston: Arcadia, 2014), 7.
  4. Allen and Wilden 8.
  5. Allen and Wilden 9; Randy C. Bartholomew, History of William Reed Smith (Centerville, Utah: NP, 1983), 153; this text derives from an unpublished manuscript, Linda R. Watkins, “My Ancestors: American Loyalists of the Revolutionary War,”Centerville Historical Files, Whitaker Museum, Centerville, Utah.
  6. Allen and Wilden 9.
  7. Randy Bartholomew 153;”Samuel Parrish,” Geni, online (the other three Parrish daughters—each of them also married—were Sarah Parrish Ellsworth [1820-1845], Mary Parrish Pollock [1822-1843], and Lydia Parrish Codde [1823-1846]; they are buried in Montrose, Iowa). See also “Charles Rich Company 1847  (Mormon Pioneers Overland Travel, Ids. org, online;”Samuel Parrish (1798-1893),” Find-A-Grave, online.
  8. Randy Bartholomew 153,154; “Charles Rich Company 1847,” online.
  9. CCCC10.
  10. Mabel Randall,”Pioneer History of Utah,” CentervilleNewsette, ed.Vestil Harrison, Centerville, Utah, 1945, pp. 3,12 (ref. 9).
  11. CCCC 39. In 1854, Barnard replaced his original cabin with an attractive rock home, one of the first in the area. This home— expanded by subsequent occupants—is still standing and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Barnard- Garn-Barber House.
  12. CCCC 39; “Joel Ricks,”MartinAndersen.org, online.
  13. Wanda Ricks Wyler, Thomas E. Ricks, Colonizer and Founder, 2d ed. (Provo: M.C. Printing, 1989).
  14. David F. Smith,”My Native Village: A Brief History of Centerville, Utah,” unpublished ms., 1943, Centerville City Offices, Centerville, Utah, p. 10.
  15. Smith, pp. 10,11. Smith’s trading post eventually became an incorporated mercantile that Smith owned with other investors.
  16. Randy Bartholomew 154.
  17. Ebenezer Griffin Cherry (1814-1888),”Where We Came From: Our Davidson and Farrier Family Histories,”Family- Recorder, online.
  18. Mary Ellen Smoot and Marilyn Sherriff, The City In-Between: Centerville, Utah (Bountiful, Utah: Carr, 1973), 31.
  19. Smoot and Sherriff 31; Royce H. Allen and Gary Wilden, South Davis County: Images of America (Charleston: Arcadia, 2014), 7. A dispute between Grover and his brother-in-law William Deuel resulted in Grover’s decision to move his family to nearby Farmington.
  20. Edna Martin Porter, “Rebecca Ann Cherry Porter, Pioneer Wife of Nathan Tanner Porter,”NathanTannerPorter.homestead.com, online.
  21. Nathan Tanner Porter, “Nathan Tanner Porter and Rebecca Ann Cherry are Married and Start Their Home,”in Autobiography of Nathan Tanner Porter (manuscript journal ca. 1875), NathanTannerPorter.homestead.com, online.
  22. Rulon E. Porter, History and Genealogy of the Porter Family by 1913 (Joseph City, Arizona: 1914?), 20; Smoot and Sherriff 83.
  23. David F. Smith, p. 11; Smoot and Sherriff 83.
  24. David F. Smith, pp. 11,12. Following the Bear River Massacre in January 1863, Shoshone tribal members no longer made the autumn journey to Centerville.
  25. CCCC 129,130.
  26. Royce H. Allen, Tales, Trails, and Sites of the Centerville Mountains (Bountiful, Utah: Carr, 2010), 14.
  27. CCCC 10,11. Charles and Margaret Duncan moved into Centerville in 1857, receiving eleven acres of land from Samuel Parrish, who gifted land grants to several settlers unable to afford land purchases. Charles was a Scottish stone mason who constructed many of the stone homes still standing in Centerville (CCCC 16).
  28. CCCC 104; Stephen E. Grover and Dean R. Grover, Thomas Grover: His Ancestors and Descendants (Phoenix: W. A. Krueger, 1966), 24.
  29. CCCC 11,12.
  30. Andrew Jensen, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1936), 675.The 40th Quorum of Seventies was organized May 4,1855, in Farmington, Utah, with Lot Smith, Hyrum Judd, Daniel Rawson, John S. Gleason, James Harrison, Sanford Porter, and Ezra Clark as its seven presidents.
  31. Jensen 675; Rulon E. Porter 22-23.
  32. Howard Searle,”The Mormon Reformation of 1856-57,” MA thesis, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, June 1956,9-13; Randy Bartholomew 157-60.
  33. Rebecca Bartholomew and Leonard J. Arrington, Rescue of the 1856 Handcart Companies (Provo: BYU, 1981), 5-11.
  34. Randy Bartholomew 160-61.
  35. Jolene S. Alphin, “Nathan Tanner Porter,” in Tell My Story, Too (Salt Lake City: Dingman, 2012), 357-60.
  36. Alphin 360.
  37. Randy Bartholomew 163.
  38. Ibid.; Sherman L. Fleek,”The Church and the Utah War, 1857-58,” in Nineteenth-Century Saints at War, ed. Robert C. Freeman (Provo, 2006), 81-9.
  39. Randy Bartholomew 163.
  40. Randy Bartholomew 163,164.
  41. Randy Bartholomew 163-65.
  42. Randy Bartholomew 124; CCCC 178-9.
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