Estimated read time: 6-7 minutes
Not many universities have as rich of a history in a place of stunning natural beauty as Southern Utah University. As the University celebrates 125 years, follow in the footsteps of the founders and experience the beginning of the University on a historic scenic tour through Cedar City and southern Utah.
The founding of Southern Utah University
In 1897, the Utah Legislature called for the establishment of a teacher training school to provide for the region's emerging pioneer settlement communities. The residents of Cedar City faced the daunting task of constructing the state-required building, and in order to complete the building on time, the project began during a record-cold and snowy winter.
With no time to lose, Cedar City residents organized winter lumbering expeditions and began pouring labor and resources into the project. Negotiating harsh storms while hauling timber from a sawmill located near present-day Brian Head using only wooden wagons, the first building was dedicated in 1898, meeting the state's mandated deadline. Now known as Old Main, the University's first building stands as an inspirational legacy of fortitude, determination, and community triumph.
Historic Tour of Southern Utah University's founding
This summer, travel through Cedar City and southern Utah on a scenic tour visiting historical sites dedicated to the founding, as well as locations along the Old Sorrel Trail, which tells the story of the expedition. Take your time visiting each location in Cedar City, or make it a full-day trip by adding additional locations in the region. If you drive the full loop, total driving time is about 1.5 hours.
Southern Utah University's campus
Start the day in Cedar City on Southern Utah University's beautiful campus. Here you'll find two monuments dedicated to the University's founding and Old Main, the first building constructed by the founders. We recommend parking in the open parking lot on the corner of 300 West and University Boulevard and walking the campus.
Located on the Upper Quad of SUU's campus, Old Main is central to the University's founding and campus life today. The building originally housed the entire school, a large chapel for religious programs and assemblies, a library and reading room, a natural history museum, biological and physical laboratories, classrooms, and offices. Today Old Main is home to administrative offices.
A monument located to the left of the east doors is one of eight along the 1898 route which tells the story of the remarkable expedition.
The Founder Monument is located just to the north of the west entrance to the America First Event Center at SUU. The scene depicted by artist Jerry Anderson is of the old sorrel horse, seen as the savior of that first lumber expedition, forging the way through snowdrifts and embankments to bring lumber back to Cedar City. Created in 1986, the piece exemplifies the extent of the commitment of southern Utah's early pioneers to the cause of education.
The Founders' Wagon
One of the University's oldest remaining artifacts, this modestly-constructed wagon is the actual vehicle used to haul lumber for the construction of Old Main. Located in the hallway connecting the Sharwan Smith Student Center and the America First Event Center, the wagon was built from wood cut between 1894 and 1895 and was restored by Blaine Allan in 1998.
Frontier Homestead State Park
After exploring SUU's campus, make your way to the Frontier Homestead State Park located on Cedar City's Main Street. Here you'll find another artifact from SUU's founding, the Jensen Sawmill.
Heber C. Jensen Sawmill
At the time of the founding, the Heber C. Jensen Sawmill was located east of Brian Head and Cedar Breaks National Monument. When the expedition began, there was a considerable amount of cut lumber at the mill, however, that winter and into the next year, the men worked the mill to cut the additional lumber needed for the school.
Historic locations in southern Utah
To travel along the route of SUU's founders, take Highway 14 and drive up Cedar Canyon. About 30 minutes up the canyon you'll take a left onto Highway 148 toward Cedar Breaks National Monument from there you'll travel through the park toward Brian Head, then onto Parowan, and back to Interstate 15. Again, the loop is about 1.5 hours of driving time, not including stops along the way.
While this is not the exact path the founders took, it does show off some of the most beautiful wilderness in the state, and how difficult the task must have been to move the lumber.
The first group of men who braved the mountain drifts proved genuine heroes. They waded through snow that often was shoulder deep, pushing and tramping their way up the mountains, sleeping in the holes scraped out of the snow and covered with mattresses of hay. From the Jensen Sawmill, they made their way over Lightning Hill, and then out across the plains known as "The Mammoth" and on past Cedar Breaks National Monument.
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Stopping at any of the lookout points in Cedar Breaks National Monument gives you a great chance to see the layout of the land and where the expedition traveled. When standing looking to the west, you'll be able to see Cedar Canyon and just to the left, Sugar Loaf mountain. The expedition wandered up Cedar Canyon, veered north, and wound around Cedar Breaks to head east to Jensen Sawmill.
Bryant's Hotel and Lightning Hill Marker
When you are ready to leave Cedar Breaks, travel north to Brian Head, Utah. Just before Brian Head, pull over at the town sign on the right side of the highway. Here you'll find a marker for Bryant's Hotel. Cornelius Bladen, Randle W. Lunt, D.D. Sherratt and Richard Bryant spent a very cold night huddled around a fire near this spot after they were forced to stop their work because of a fierce snowstorm. This was Bryant's first experience with winter lumbering, so his companions named the spot Bryant's Hotel in his honor.
While these aren't the only markers along the Old Sorrel Trail, they are the easiest to travel to and give visitors a perspective on the land traveled by the founders. To head back to Cedar City or Interstate 15, travel Highway 143 through Brian Head and into Parowan. Here you can choose whether you travel south back to Cedar City, or north toward Salt Lake City.
Learn more about the founding
Produced on-location at or near where the actual events occurred, "Back Up the Mountain" details the amazing story of determined men and women who founded SUU. Starring Jasen Wade as Neil Bladen, the man determined to get the lumber from the mountain, and Dan Frezza, as Francis Webster, the leader who guided the community. Many cast members and extras are proud descendants of the university's founders.
Watch "Back Up the Mountain" and the behind-the-scenes story at suu.edu/backupthemountain.
This year marks 125 years of fortitude, determination, and community triumph at Southern Utah University. Founded in 1897, the University is celebrating its rich history and preparing for a bright future with a yearlong celebration. Learn more at suu.edu/125.