'This is the place': Historic monuments of Salt Lake Valley's 'Pioneer View'

By Ray Boren

Deseret News

Published: Monday, July 23 2012 11:00 p.m. MDT

Renowned Utah-born artist Mahonri M. Young stands at the foot of what is perhaps his best-known work, Salt Lake City's This Is the Place Monument, after its completion in 1947. Young, a grandson of pioneer leader Brigham Young, was commissioned to design the epic granite memorial and to create its bronze statuary, honoring the Mormon pioneers of 1847, as well as the Indians, mountaineers, explorers and trekkers who preceded them.

Utah State Historical Society

In the modern parking lot at This Is the Place Heritage Park, visitors can still glimpse, to the northeast amid the scrub-oak greenery, the tip of a monument raised almost a century ago in tribute to the first Mormon pioneers of 1847.

No, not the titanic granite-and-bronze This Is the Place Monument, dedicated in the pioneer-centennial year of 1947, but a smaller, snow-white obelisk, placed there in 1921. It is tucked away on an upper service road, still accessible to those who want to seek it out.

"This Is the Place," lettering says on one side of the obelisk, below a stylized bison, or buffalo, skull. "Brigham Young. July 24, 1847."

"When I take people on tours of the park I like to tell them about this marker — because almost no one knows about it," says Ellis Ivory, executive director of This Is the Place Heritage Park and chairman of the park foundation's board.

And even then, he acknowledges, the obelisk was not the first remembrance on this venerated spot.

Most notably, a cross was the site's first formal marker, says Tresha Kramer, the park's director of public and customer relations and marketing.

"Pioneer View" was an early name applied to this high vista above the narrow mouth of Emigration Canyon. For it is here that many of the earliest pioneers — Mormon and non-Mormon alike — got their first panoramic views of the vast Salt Lake Valley.

Today, of course, it is more widely and simply known as "This Is the Place."

It was here, LDS Church President Wilford Woodruff observed in 1880, that Brigham Young, the then-ailing leader of the arriving Mormon pioneers, said upon surveying the mountain-enclosed valley in 1847 from Woodruff's own carriage:

"It is enough. This is the right place, drive on."

Efforts to honor the high valley viewpoint, and Brigham Young's ringing phrase, began in earnest early in the 20th century.

A location study was conducted in 1915 by a committee that included LDS leaders George Albert Smith and B.H. Roberts, notes James L. Kimball in "The Encyclopedia of Mormonism."

A basic wooden slab was placed on the spot in July 1915. The cross, taller than a man, was erected in 1916.

When researching for a new souvenir book, "The Story of This Is The Place Heritage Park," Kramer and helpful associates succeeded in tracking down, in the University of Utah's Special Collections, a donated photograph of that wood cross, apparently copied from an old newspaper.

Scrutiny of the old photograph reveals that "This Is the Place" is incised on the wooden crossbar. "Brigham Young" is spelled out vertically down the main trunk below.

Kramer says she was elated at the discovery — and pleased that it showed a cross, a symbol to her of cultural diversity, which has been a theme of the site for generations.

"This is the place for everyone" is a motto of today's This Is the Place Heritage Park, which encompasses the monuments, a pioneer village and many other sculptures and memorials.

Pioneer View's general location seems to have been well known during and after the great Mormon migration of 1847-1869. (The "pioneering" phase is deemed to have come to a close with the completion in Utah of the Transcontinental Railroad.) The site was verified in the early 20th century by aging pioneers like W.W. Riter.

"The reason I say that 'this is the place' is because no other place could be the place," Riter, an octogenarian at the time, said during dedication ceremonies for the obelisk on July 25, 1921, a project of the LDS Church's Young Men's Mutual Improvement Association. His full speech was published in the Improvement Era, an LDS magazine, in September 1921.

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