Orem turns 100 on Sunday, its history spanning everything between the inventions of the Model T Ford to space travel. Locally, the city has contributed to agricultural beginnings to the era of computer technology and more.
In a new book “The City of Orem, A Centennial Benchmark,” commissioned by the city, author Charlene Winters recounts the lives, stories and historical contributions that made Orem the city it is today.
At just over 100,000 people in population, Orem is a far cry from the few early families in the late 1800s who settled what was then known as the Provo Bench.
In Winters’ introduction to the book, Gov. Gary Herbert identifies why he believes Orem holds to its moniker “Family City U.S.A.”
“To me, Orem is home. It is the place I was raised, and the city where I raised my children. What a place to raise a family!” Herbert said. “The City of Orem has been called the top city in the nation for working parents, the second-best city in the nation for taking your children trick-or-treating, and one of the top 30 safest cities to raise a child.”
Herbert adds,” With an impressive library (housing the largest children’s collection in the state), world class parks and an exceptional arts scene, it is no wonder the City of Orem is so family friendly.”
Winters adds the latest rankings from Money Magazine in her list of what makes Orem great.
“When Money Magazine released its latest rankings of best places to live in the United States (2018), Orem ranked in the top 13,” Winters said. “The magazine called it ‘the quintessential family town,’ which is a perfect description for a community that has been dubbed ‘Family City USA.’”
Native Americans lived in various locations in Utah Valley over the centuries, but it wasn’t until the 18th century that records show European colonizers entered the valley.
While the original colonies were still abuzz following the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Catholic priests Frs. Escalante and Dominguez were preparing to enter Utah Valley on Sept. 23, 1776.
Their wanderings in the valley included the land on which Orem now sits.
Fur trader Etienne Provost — the namesake of Provo — entered the valley in 1824. However, it wasn’t until 1849 when President Brigham Young of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent church members to the valley to settle that the Provo Bench was built up, irrigation brought water to the land and agriculture began to flourish.
Under the direction of Walter C. Orem, the Salt Lake and Utah Railroad opened its 49 miles of electric train on July 24, 1913.
By the end of World War I, the railroad was transporting people and produce to the larger markets in Salt Lake City.
It was Walter C. Orem who put the area on the map. On May 5, 1919, the city was officially established and named after him. While he never lived locally, he followed the city’s progress until his death in 1951.
Orem has flourished as residents came together, new families moved in and developers put faith in a small town that was on the cusp of a population and retail explosion.
One of the first focal points of the community other than a church or orchard was the SCERA Center for the Arts.
The SCERA was built in 1933 as a community and church gathering place to bring cultural arts to the area. It was staffed by volunteers as a way to get past the hard days of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Movies and a soda fountain became a part of the SCERA in 1941.
Geneva Steel Mill ramped up production by the end of World War II providing hundreds of jobs. Steel mill employees and Brigham Young University personnel migrated away from Provo to build a new suburbia in Orem.
Transportation links to the area with the completion of Interstate 15 in the 1960s and University Parkway opened Orem up to more development and business.
By 1973 the University Mall, owned by the Woodbury Corp., had put Orem on the map with a large shopping center and more than 100 new retail spaces. Over the next 40 years, Orem became the retail center of Utah County.
When Utah Valley Technical College moved from Provo to Orem in 1977, it was the beginning of an academic leap of faith for the area. The “tech” soon became Utah Valley Community College, then Utah Valley State College and finally, in 2008, became Utah Valley University, now the fastest growing university in the state with about 40,000 students.
“The quality of this beautiful garden spot has always been the strength of our citizens and families,” said Steven Downs, city spokesman. “We are a city of trees, parks, schools, churches, retail outlets, businesses, a university, world-class arts, wonderful recreation ... and a home for great individuals for families with an unlimited bright future.”
To celebrate this history and the history yet to be made, the city is hosting a large public birthday party Saturday at The Orchard at University Place.
The party begins at 5 p.m. with a welcome from Mayor Richard Brunst, singing happy birthday to the city and free cupcakes.
The evening will be filled with free games and prizes, live performances, visits from superheroes and Star Wars characters, and will be topped off with a fireworks show at 9 p.m.