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In Millard, Fillmore’s still da man

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FILLMORE, MILLARD COUNTY — He was an interim president of the United States, taking over in the summer of 1850 only because Zachary Taylor, the president, suddenly died.

Just as suddenly, Vice President Millard Fillmore was our country's 13th president.

His term in office lasted barely two years. When the 1852 election came around he didn't even seek the Whig Party's nomination, yielding to a man named Winfield Scott, who carried a grand total of four states in the general election won by Franklin Pierce, a Democrat.

With that, Fillmore settled into history with a legacy as "The Forgotten President."

But not here.

Here, Millard Fillmore — or to be more exact, Fillmore, Millard — is a household name.


The city was named Fillmore and the surrounding county was named Millard not long after Millard Fillmore moved into the White House — and for a reason no politician would have a hard time understanding.

Brigham Young wanted to stay on the president's good side.

In 1850, the Mormon pioneers, led by their president, Brigham Young, had barely settled into what was known as the Utah Territory.

It was right after President Fillmore selected President Young as the first governor of the new territory that Young started naming things after the great man.

It should be pointed out that at the time there wasn't a living creature settled in the city of Fillmore or, for that matter, the county of Millard.

But Gov. Young nonetheless had great plans for the place, situated smack in the middle of the massive Utah territory.

He decided that the new city of Fillmore should be capital of the territory, complete with a grand territorial statehouse. Truman Angell, architect of the Salt Lake Temple, was commissioned to draw up plans for the statehouse and construction began by early 1851.

By the fall of 1855 the south wing of the building was complete and the entire territorial legislature, 33 men in all, traveled from Salt Lake City for the month session.

None could have guessed at the time that this would be the only full legislative session ever held in Fillmore, or that within three years Salt Lake City would again be the territorial capital.

All sorts of complications got in the way, not the least of which was Fillmore exiting the presidency. President Pierce, Fillmore's successor, was no friend to the Mormons, and Pierce's successor, President James Buchanan, was even less receptive, replacing Brigham Young as governor and sending Johnston's Army to keep a so-called peace.


So Fillmore, Utah's, day in the sun, like its namesake, was short-lived.

The south wing of the statehouse remains. Today it is the centerpiece of the aptly named Territorial Statehouse State Park, which attracts upward of 40,000 visitors a year.

Next door is the town library, the "President Millard Fillmore Library." It isn't exactly President Fillmore's presidential library, but it does have a book about him.

As far as anyone knows, Millard Fillmore never actually set foot in Fillmore, Millard.

The president died in 1874 in New York, his home state.

As for Fillmore, Millard, it never did die. Today Fillmore city is home to 2,379 residents, most of them farmers and ranchers, and surrounding Millard County is home to 12,420 residents, most of them farmers and ranchers.

They all got the day off today, on Presidents Day, to remember our country's great leaders. And one in particular.

Around here, they know that without Millard Fillmore, they would be nothing.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.