The area of Deseret started huge, got smaller as it became Utah

By Ray Boren

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, April 18 2011 7:00 p.m. MDT

The settlers were proud of young Deseret and saw great things ahead for their state.

On July 24, 1849, notes the "Journal History" in the LDS Church History Library, they gathered for a midsummer festival under a bowery they had built on what is now Temple Square. The settlers toasted the Great Salt Lake, the Saints in their valley, the Constitution of the United States, "our God, our country, our right" — and the newly named state of Deseret: "Like the evening and the morning star, may the end and beginning of day be known by her."

Added pioneer Parley P. Pratt: "Deseret, youngest sister of the Republic — may she be a solace, strength and comfort to the Old Lady in her declining years."

The provisional state of Deseret dissolved in 1851, following passage by Congress of the Organic Act in 1850. Legislation admitted California to the union as a gigantic new state. California absorbed the village of Los Angeles and the harbor of San Diego, which had seemed so promising to the people of fledgling Deseret as ports and way stations for immigration and goods. The territories of New Mexico and a still-large Utah (then including Nevada) were created as well.

Utah's residents sought statehood for another half-century — seven times, according to the Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History — persistently promoting the name of their beloved Deseret most of those times, even during the Civil War. The province, however, lost additional chunks over time: to Nevada, which became a state in 1864; and to Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming territories. Finally, after years of struggle, in 1896, the state of Utah was born.

"Deseret" persisted, however. The very name "had come to symbolize for Mormons independence from outside control and influence, and thus carried within it political, social and economic agendas," observes "The Historical Atlas of Mormonism."

In expanse, today's Utah is a mere shadow of its provisional predecessor, covering 82,143.65 square miles, according to the U.S. Census. That's nothing to sneeze at, encompassing as it does major cities, productive valleys, mountain ranges and red-rock national-park majesty. It remains the 11th largest of the United States.

But Utah is just a little under 17 percent of the size of the wide-ranging kingdom proposed by the pioneering colonizers: The state of Deseret.

'Deseret' and the beehive as icons

Although the State of Deseret did not become a reality, the name and its symbol — the beehive — remain iconic monikers and markers for businesses, establishments, buildings and locations throughout Utah. A few samples:

University of Deseret. Better known today as the University of Utah, the University of Deseret was chartered on Feb. 28, 1850. Classes began in a private residence, but the school closed in 1852 due to lack of funds. It operated sporadically in buildings like downtown Salt Lake City's Council House and had its first real home on the site of today's West High School. In 1892 it became the University of Utah, was granted a slice of land from Fort Douglas on the city's east side, and in 1900 the first buildings began to rise near 1350 East and 200 South, on what is now called Presidents' Circle. Many of those historic turn-of-the-20th-century school buildings are still there, as the U. continues to build and expand.

Deseret News. The newspaper began publication on June 15, 1850, as a key information source in the young western Mormon colony. Its most recent namesake building rises at 30 E. 100 South, but the editorial offices recently moved to the Triad Center at 55 N. 300 West, in quarters it shares with one of its offspring, KSL-TV. The News was first located on the site of today's Joseph Smith Memorial Building (Hotel Utah); moved kitty-corner to the southwest corner of South Temple and Main streets for many years; and long occupied a site on downtown's Richards Street, now part of the new City Creek Center. In the late 1960s, the Deseret News moved to a set of buildings on 100 South and Regent Street, where the newer structure also was completed in 1997.

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