"There is a great work for the Saints to do. Progress, and improve upon, and make beautiful everything around you. Cultivate the earth and cultivate your minds. Build cities, adorn your habitations, make gardens, orchards, and vineyards, and render the earth so pleasant that when you look upon your labors you may do so with pleasure, and that angels may delight to come and visit your beautiful locations." (President Brigham Young, 1865.) examples, but even more widespread were stake tabernacles, with a spire and ornamentation that dominated the skyline of the local region."
Construction of much of the western Mormon landscape, which developed after the pioneers settled the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, peaked between 1900 and the 1920s, and has somewhat survived to this day. But Peterson notes that the historic landscape is disappearing.
"The traditional hay and stock barn is disappearing from the landscape of the West as agribusiness and urbanization spreads over the family farmland of a bygone era," he said.
Peterson explained that LDS settlements contained a number of common elements and were patterned in varying degree after Joseph Smith's Plat of the City of Zion. (See story on this page.)
According to Peterson, the Prophet sent the city plan with elaborate instructions to the branch of the Church at Independence, Mo., in 1833. While the plan was never implemented, it served at least as a general model for subsequent Mormon settlements across the West.
A scribe for Joseph Smith noted some major points on the margins of the plat, explaining that each city block was to be 10 acres each, with houses set back 25 feet from the street, "leaving a small yard in front to be planted in a grove according to the taste of the builder, the rest of the lot for gardens, etc." All of the homes were to be of brick and stone.
The city also was to include three central 15-acre blocks on which would rest Church buildings, schools, storehouses, government buildings and other facilities central to public functions. One block was to be left open, perhaps for recreational space.
The Prophet's instructions also specified an optimum city size (15,000-20,000) and a limitation on growth, a departure from the expansionist attitudes prevalent during the early and mid-1800s.
This concept of a nuclear settlement for economy, safety, social development and cooperation proved practical for western communities established under Brigham Young, Peterson pointed out, though topography sometimes interfered with implementation of precise grid and growth plans.
While western settlements were nucleated, they were seldom compact, added Peterson. Large blocks and wide streets spread residences apart, and the in-town family farmstead with its out-buildings became commonplace. Many city residents regularly traveled outside of town to farm outlying fields.
Peterson marvels at what early Mormon settlers accomplished. "Here we had a group of mostly New Englanders, followed by a group of Britons and Scandinavians, with a smattering of other Europeans, making the trek across middle America, and all of the sudden being plunked down in what at the time was considered by most people the great American desert.
"In order for those people to survive and thrive, it required critical organization skills that Brigham Young and other Church leaders provided. There was some central direction and a strong attempt to assimilate some of these cultures into this new religion. I think they looked for patterns in things they had seen. And they also drew from the cultures from which they came. That is very evident."
Peterson said the landscapes that were left are "alive" and vibrant _ a testimony of the faith and dedication of pioneer ancestors.
"I feel a strong tie to my ancestors and to the past through those landscapes that they passed through, lived on and influenced," mused Peterson. "Even more interesting to me is the unique way the Mormon settlers meshed spiritual and temporal values. It was not uncommon for Brigham Young, in his periodic visits to the settlements, to go out and preach from the pulpit, or to walk down the street talking to someone on one hand about a point of doctrine, and on the other about minding the irrigation ditches and husbanding their resources.
"Some of these buildings that are rooted in our past and our ancestors _ and are rooted in the philosophy they espoused and the values they held _ have value to us as teachers and reminders. They are something we can look at daily and remind ourselves of eternal values. I think we can learn from that landscape and from those people basic, solid eternal values _ a more eternal view of life, a more eternal view of what is important."