Except for the continuing predominance of Republicans, Clell Eugene Croxford thinks Utah has come a long way since both he and the state were born on Jan. 4, 1896.
"You bet," Croxford says. "It's a great state."Named in honor of President Grover Clell Cleveland - who signed the proclamation admitting Utah to the Union - Croxford has watched the state grow from a remote Western crossroad inhabited by 247,324 settlers to a commercial/industrial hub with a population of 1,727,784 million.
"I go way back," said the frail but mentally spry Croxford. "I used to haul ore out of the canyons when I was 12. Things were sure different back then."
He and his wife of 74 years, Pearl, rode to dances in a horse-drawn buggy. He recalled one winter day when they were caught on the road in a snowstorm and covered themselves with a blanket, trusting the horse to take them home unguided.
Pearl died in October at the age of 93. "I'm the only one left of our old bunch," Croxford said sadly.
"He's kind of lonesome without her," remarked his daughter, Eva Johnson.
Croxford was born and raised in a pioneer farmhouse near 800 East on 4500 South. As a young man, he helped build roads that commuters now take for granted, and he was a longtime employee of the U.S. Forest Service.
He now lives in a remodeled adobe house in the area of historical Union Fort in Midvale, where he enjoys visits from his two children, 10 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.
His daughter never tires of her father's stories of life during the early years of statehood. "When I think of the things he did - such as driving teams of horses down the canyon when he was only a boy - and try to imagine my own grandchildren at that age doing those things, I'm just amazed."
Croxford said, "Those were the pioneer days."
The day he was born was the biggest day, the first day, in the state's history.
"UTAH A STATE" said the banner headline in the Deseret Evening News. "The Proclamation Issued by President Cleveland. ONE OF THE AMERICAN UNION. Official Message That Arouses Joyous Enthusiasm in the Hearts of the People."
The newspaper story said, "At 9:13 this morning the usual early morning serenity of East Temple street was decidedly disturbed owing to the fact that Superintendent Brown of the Western Union Telegraph company was observed to rush frantically out of the office armed with an old reliable shotgun, the contents of which belched forth in two resounding reports. A small boy in the near vicinity dived for an adjacent doorway, his juvenile brain probably having grasped the idea that a holdup or bank robbery was in progress."
People who had been greeting each other with "a Happy New Year to you," were now saying, "Happy New State to you," the Deseret News reported.
Two days later, Heber M. Wells, whom most Utahns now associate with a state office building, became the first governor. Inauguration Day was celebrated with a parade comprised of military bands, firemen in black helmets and civic groups of every stripe followed by thousands of citizens on foot, horseback and in carriages.
A ceremony was held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, which was adorned with a huge flag - 132 feet by 78 feet - bearing the 45th star. The statehood proclamation was read by Joseph L. Rawlins, a territorial delegate who helped gain congressional approval of the enabling legislation.
The new Legislature immediately convened at what is now the City-County Building, Republicans and Democrats immediately clashed over whether to hold its first regular session later that evening. In a scene that would become all too familiar to future generations, the stalemated body adjourned in frustration.
"I've been a Democrat all my life," Croxford said, conceding that the party has seen better days.
Generally, however, Croxford believes Utah is better now than ever, and, "Yes sir," he answered, he is looking forward to celebrating the state's centennial along with his birthday five years from now.