It's a typical sleepy Utah town. There are hardware stores with bicycles in the windows, diners offering homemade pie, rundown gas pumps and dusty old churches.
On the surface, there is not much to distinguish Parowan from the scores of other small communities scattered from one end of rural Utah to the next. But Parowan town officials see much more than obscurity in Parowan's future.They see a community bustling with year-round tourism centered on the town's rich pioneer heritage. And if all the pieces fit together, town fathers say, Parowan will eventually end up looking a bit like Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, a bit like historical Nauvoo, Ill., and somewhat like Pioneer Trails State Park in Salt Lake City.
"No other community south of Provo has the history we've got," says Nancy M. Dalton, economic development director for Parowan City. "The entire history of the settlement of southern Utah traces its roots right here to Parowan."
Iron County residents are rallying around what is certain to become a multiyear, multimillion-dollar project to restore historical buildings, acquire historic properties and build a pioneer museum that will rival any in the state.
"We're going first class," Dalton said. "It will be state-of-the-art living history. And it is going to happen. Maybe not this year; maybe not next year. But it's going to happen."
It will actually begin this year when landscaping gets under way at a museum site, and construction begins on a monument marking the 1850 visit by Parley P. Pratt. Restoration of targeted buildings will be ongoing over the next five to 10 years, while completion of the museum is at least five years away.
City officials insist the renovation of historical Parowan is more than a pipe dream. Rather it is a long-term project that has garnered the interest and support of historians, architects, educators and political figures from across the state who share a concern about Utah's rapidly vanishing history.
Most importantly, the project has the support of Parowan residents, who have already begun holding fund-raisers and pledge drives that last year raised $8,000. That money will be used to build a monument honoring Pratt's initial visit to the valley.
"People in town are starting to catch the vision," Dalton says, partly because many still live in historic homes, and they see it as a way of preserving the history so often taken for granted in these parts.
"Most of them are of pioneer stock, and they see it as a way of preserving their own past," she added.
Dalton recognizes it will take more than bake sales to raise enough money. Rather it will take corporate donors, historical preservation grants and a few minor miracles to get everything done as city planners envision.
The project is the brainchild of Parowan Mayor Dennis Stowell, who sees not only historical preservation coming from it, but a better local economy as Parowan becomes a year-round attraction. Parowan, situated on I-15 only about 15 miles from Cedar City, has heavy traffic during the winter months as skiers travel to and from Brian Head Ski Resort.
A heritage park would be a way to detour thousands of spring, summer and fall travelers off the interstate who would otherwise pass Parowan by.
Most agree the heritage park concept will take time. Planners are insisting upon historical accuracy, and that requires considerable research "so that what is replicated is as authentic as possible."
And much of the renovation will be the responsibility of individual landowners. Businessmen in the historic district of Parowan are being encouraged to renovate their store fronts to match historic photographs of store fronts. At least 14 buildings in the downtown area need new fronts, while other buildings, like three historic churches and the town theater, have already been restored.
"We're not talking extensive face lifts," Dalton says. "We're talking cleaning up the brick, fixing the door frames to match historic types, those kinds of things. Our first objective is to get an architectural design of how each building could look and an overall concept design of the downtown area."
But will the businessmen do it of their own volition? The best incentive, Dalton says, is for the city to renovate its buildings first. "The store owners are all excited about the potential."
The move toward a "historical" downtown concept came after several downtown businesses closed their doors in 1987. Architect Allan Roberts visited the town in 1988 to assist town officials in the preparation of a downtown redevelopment plan.
That plan has grown from an initial concept of a handful of renovated downtown buildings to the actual construction of a heritage park, walkways linking various historical sites, a historical "industrial" park where pioneer occupations would be replicated, and a pioneer museum.
"The primary goal is to develop our own identity and to capitalize on those resources which compliment Parowan's own unique identity as the Mother Town of southern Utah," Dalton said.