Editor’s Note: Today’s installment of the Festival Flashback series focuses on the Highland. Many cities have canceled or postponed their annual celebrations this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Others, such as the Highland Fling, are holding a limited slate of events.
Highland has a rich history, though most people aren’t aware of it as the city is tucked up against the mountains by American Fork Canyon.
Highland is like many other small towns and cities in Utah County, it has thrived over the decades on its families, faith, hard work and play.
Typically this week would bring on several events making up the city’s Highland Fling celebration, but COVID-19 has curtailed most of it. The one thing it has not postponed is the popular 2020 Strongman Competition and Highland Games.
With a portion of Scottish heritage, it is fitting that residents come and see some of Utah’s strongest men and women test their strength with events like log pressing, heavy carries, tire flipping, and the “Highland Stones” Challenge.
“It’s a true honor for Highland City to host the Utah State Scottish Hammer Championship and Highland Games brought to you by Utah Heavy Athletics,” the city website says. “The Highland Games will feature nine events rooted in Scottish tradition: Braemar Stone Put, Open Stone Put, Heavy Weight for Distance, Light Weight for Distance, Heavy Hammer (Championship event), Light Hammer (Championship event), Caber, Sheaf, and Weight Over Bar.”
Kilts are required for competition as this is a high-profile sanctioned games, the city instructions say.
The Strongman is from 5-9 p.m. Friday at Heritage Park, 10400 N. Alpine Highway. The event is free for spectators.
That is not all this year’s socially distanced celebration has to offer. From horseshoe competitions to the backyard garden tours, there is something for every age.
Of special interest will be the Drive & Drop Reverse Parade, sponsored by Central Bank. Motorists will drive by the parade instead of the other way around. While participating they also will make a donation of food to help other families in the area.
The parade starts at 9 a.m. Saturday at Mountain Ridge Junior High School. Drop off food donations for Tabitha’s Way food pantry. As motorists leave the loop, head east to see the parade entries and sponsors. The treats and swag typically tossed during the regular parades will be handed to individuals through their vehicle windows as they slowly drive along 10400 North toward Alpine Highway.
At 10 p.m. Saturday the Grand Fireworks Show will be launched from Mountain Ridge Junior High. Tune into 99.7 FM beginning at 9:30 p.m. The music will be synchronized to the fireworks show.
For more information on this year’s events, visit http://highlandcity.org.
The theme of this year’s Fling is “Our Story Unfolds.”
The story of Highland began long before it became an incorporated city on July 13, 1977. In fact, you have to go back at least a century before that.
Highland resident Charles T. Greenland II compiled a history of the city for the Highland Historical Society. He tells of the earliest beginnings of the city.
“Situated at the mouth of beautiful American Fork Canyon on the high bench above American Fork is the lovely little community of Highland,” Greenland said. “Many families have lived in this community and many people have moved from this little settlement but still love to call it home. It is known for its brisk north winds and high snowdrifts in the winter and the cool canyon breeze in the summer evenings.”
Greenland notes that in earlier writings Highland was referred to as “the upper bench,” “the upper lands,” “the bench,” “the highland bench,” “the Lehi bench” or just “highland.” The “lowlands” or “bottom lands” were the areas of American Fork and Lehi closer to the Utah Lake.
“The name ‘Highland’ was a natural outgrowth of the general area as it was perceived by the original settlers and predates those who later made their homes in Highland,” Greenland said. “There doesn’t seem to be an official recognition of ‘Highland’ until the 1900 census when it is referred to as the ‘Highland Precinct,’ although it was given a voting district in 1893.”
It has been stated in a number of different histories that Highland probably was named by Scottish immigrants Alexander Adamson, George Cunningham and Peter Smith, who said it reminded them of their “Beloved Scottish Highlands.”
The place that was designated as “Highland” was originally 4,840 acres. The first homesteaders were industrious and entrepreneurial in mining, farming and other vocations.
Residents filed for patents beginning in 1869 and 28 of them were perfected by 1889, with only nine more perfected in the next 15 years, so most of the settlers took more than the five years required to perfect their patents, according to Greenland.
Many of the early homesteaders didn’t really live on their property but spent the minimum required time there to qualify for the homestead. (Perhaps camping on the property one night every six months or so.)
“According to Homestead affidavits, the first homes were built by James Pullen in June, 1870, then Hannah Briggs-April, 1871. John Pool, who has always been credited with building the first home, built his and moved into it in May, 1873. His home was located at about 5860 W. 10620 North and there is, close by, a small cemetery containing the graves of five of his children,” according to Greenland. “By the turn of the century there were probably 25 homes in Highland.”
Most settlements of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at that time were closely confined villages, carefully supervised as to structure, site and residents, with small building lots of close proximity within the town limits and farms and pastures located outside the town, sometimes miles away from the owners’ homes, a pattern of occupancy as old as agriculture. But Highland was a freelance settlement, not a result of a “central mind.” No one was “called” to settle Highland — they just did, according to Greenland.
The census shows that Highland farmsteads averaged 131 acres whereas in other nearby towns (Lehi, American Fork, Alpine) about 60% of the lots were 10 acres or less.
“It has been suggested that some of those who moved to Highland were actually trying to hide from Brigham Young so he wouldn’t send them on a mission to some God-forsaken place they didn’t want to go,” Greenland said.
The 1880 census showed Highland with a population of 88 souls, most of whom were members of the LDS Church. It is impossible to write about Highland without writing about the church.
In 1888, a schoolhouse was built on the southeast corner of what is now 6000 West and 10400 North, on property owned by John Hegan. Much of that school building remains today — incorporated into the church building that stands there, according to Greenland.
Greenland reports that in late 1872, severe winter weather forced mining operations in American Fork Canyon to shut down for the season.
“That winter a diphtheria epidemic swept the town, killing a number of people including 11 children. The dead were buried in a small cemetery nearby, which became known as Graveyard Flat,” Greenland said.
By 1874-1876 the American Fork Canyon mines began to peter out. The higher-grade ore bodies were being exhausted. Prospecting further up the canyon led to the discovery of other good veins, but the country was rugged and development slow.
Despite two or more decades of activity, the mining industry has almost no mention in any of the histories of Highland, according to Greenland.
Highland continued on as a farming community through six decades of the 20th century. In recent decades it has attracted wealthier families that are seeking the quiet and rural beauty Highland offers.
There are many reasons historic, natural and modern, that residents of Highland want to celebrate their heritage and city. While not in Scotland, Greenland would agree that his hometown offers high roads and low roads and bonnie “braes.”