Frontier Towns, Part 7: Panguitch, Utah
In city planning, as well as park and recreation circles, one of the most successful trends of the past decade or two has been the creation of pocket parks. These small oases help provide much-needed greenspace and a gathering place within the built environment.
As an urban planner, whenever traveling, I enjoy observing successful planning efforts in other communities. Recently, on a trip to the American Southwest, my wife and I came across a charming small city in south-central Utah that has created perhaps the single best pocket park of all. This town is Panguitch, Utah – and the history behind this pocket park is a wonderful historic excerpt from the development of the American frontier.
We learned about this park in a rather unique fashion – by inquiring why there were quilts hanging from buildings and displayed on street corners throughout the town. It turns out, that if it we’re not for quilts, it is unlikely that Panguitch would exist at all!
Panguitch, Utah was founded in 1863 as Fairview. During a particularly brutal winter of 1864-65 food supplies were dwindling to dangerously low levels when town leaders decided to take extraordinary measures to save the community from potential starvation.
The town sent out two rescue parties to seek food supplies from other “nearby” rural communities in Utah. Well, in the mid-19th century, this meant one party attempting to travel 110 miles north to Gunnison, while the other would have to trek 40 miles west over the mountains to Parowan. The group traveling north were quickly impeded by harsh weather conditions and turned back. Meanwhile, the seven rescuers who trekked west over the mountains eventually had to given up their oxen team and wagon to travel through deep drifts of snow on foot.
As they were struggling and reaching the end of hope for survival, let alone success, the men stopped to pray for guidance. In doing so, they knelt on the quilts and blankets provided for warmth. As they did this, the group notice they we’re not sinking into the snow while kneeling. There was born out of necessity, the idea of using the quilts and blankets as a way to travel across the snowfields without exhausting themselves. Essentially, the quilts became snowshoes. The rescue party was able to secure enough food and provisions to supply the town for the balance of winter and deliver it safely back home.
Since 1998, this heroic event is celebrated and remembered in Panguitch, Utah with an annual Quilt Walk Festival the second week of June – hence the reason for the quilts being on display. And more recently, a masterful pocket park was completed and dedicated to the rescue party who successfully made this trek. This lovely little park in downtown Panguitch is known as Quilt Walk Park (see photo above) on the south side of Center Street (U.S. 89) adjacent to the local Zions Bank branch (see the map location at top of this post).
Photographs of this pocket park are provided throughout the post. As the photos indicate, the sculptor (Stanley Q. Johnson) did a masterful job, as did those folks who were responsible for designing this special place. Examples include benches with details on the life-history of each of the seven rescuers party members, quilt patterns incorporated in the sidewalk, and the placement of the sculpture on a white stone to represent snow.
Hats off to the citizens and leaders of Panguitch! Not only does this park depict an interesting chapter in Old West history, but also it exemplifies the best in both city and park planning.