ST. GEORGE — This Saturday the city celebrates its 162nd birthday with free root beer floats and other free goodies.

This file photo shows a boy enjoying a root beer float during St. George Heritage Day, St. George, Utah, January 2015 | Photo courtesy of the city of St. George, St. George News

Members of the St. George City Council and city staff will be at the Social Hall by the Opera House, located at 212 N. Main Street, this Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. with ice cream scoops and root beer in hand to share with the public as they commemorate St. George Heritage Day.

I invite the whole community to gather and celebrate our city’s history and heritage,” Mayor Michele Randall said in a press release. “The festivities that are going on throughout the day are perfect for people of any age, and it could be a great opportunity to visit the rec center or art museum for the first time, or take a free ride on the carousel or train at Thunder Junction.”

As with previous Heritage Days, the city is offering other freebies connected to various city attractions and services:

Free admission to the Sand Hollow Aquatic Center (1144 N. 2400 W.).
Free admission to the St. George Art Museum (47 E. 200 N.).
Free rides all day on SunTran buses.
The train at Thunder Junction (1851 S. Dixie Drive) and the St. George Carousel (100 W. Tabernacle) will be free to ride all day.

St. George Heritage Day is a tradition originally established by former St. George Mayor Dan McArthur as a way to celebrate the city’s history and culture.

In this file photo, people gather to celebrate St. George City’s birthday. A celebration will take place on Saturday and offer root beer floats and free admission to many city facilities, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of the city of St. George, St. George News

The city of St. George was incorporated on Jan. 17, 1862. At the time, as noted by a song from a play called, “So This is Dixie,” which was performed at the Tuacahn Center for the Arts amphitheater many years ago, the city was a place that people “came to perspire,” due to the heat. With the city having grown to just over 100,000 residents from the original 309 Latter-day Saint families sent to colonize the area over 160 years ago, the song goes on to refer to St. George as the place where “people came to retire.”

The city – and surrounding area – is much more than a retirement destination, as it has also become a renowned tourist and outdoor recreation destination and hosts major sporting events like the St. George Marathon and Ironman 70.3 triathlon.

According to author Lyman Smith, who was interviewed by St. George News in early 2020, the early LDS families were handpicked for their specific skills and trades. This was done as a way to help build and establish a lasting community. They also had to be self-reliant and able to weather the adversities that came with settling in the desert along the Virgin River.

“The 309 families that came in late 1861 were really the founders of St. George where it sits now,” Lyman said. “They were all called to come during the October general conference in Salt Lake City by church leaders, and by the end of November, the families started showing up in the St. George valley.”

In this file photo, people gather for a photo along St. George’s Main Street, date not specified | Photo courtesy City of St. George, St. George News

St. George has gone on to become Utah’s fifth-largest city and one of the nation’s fastest-growing metropolitan areas.

Many of the early settlers came from European countries, having been converts to the LDS faith due to missionary efforts overseas. Others, however, came from the Southern states and took part in the area’s short-lived cotton and silk industry. This played a part in the area becoming known as Utah’s Dixie.

As to how the city got its name, the Washington County Historical Society website states:

George A. Smith, a first cousin of Brigham Young, affectionately earned the name of “The Potato Saint” when he urged the early pioneers to eat raw, unpeeled potatoes to cure a troublesome bout with scurvy. Since potatoes contain a high amount of vitamin C beneath the skin, the early settlers were cured; thus, the name St. George.”

Those wanting to learn more about St. George’s history can visit the Washington County Historical Society’s website or stop into the McQuarrie Memorial Museum in St. George.

Parts of this article contain elements of a 2020 article by St. George News contributor David Louis.

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