St. George, the
county seat of Washington County,
is the largest of all the towns founded during the LDS Church's Cotton Mission of 1861. Located in the southwest section
of Utah at an elevation of 2,880 feet above sea level, St. George has
an average annual temperature of 59.9 with summer temperatures
well into the 100s and the average maximum winter temperature around
55. The average annual rainfall is 8.30 inches, and the normal
growing season is 196 days. All these factors made the area a suitable
location for the early settlement.
American inhabitants of the St. George area included the Virgin
River Anasazi, who left evidence of their
presence in the rock art and archaeological sites that remain. The first
recorded Euro-Americans to visit the area were the Dominguez-Escalante
Party in 1776; they were followed by fur trappers, including Jedediah
Smith, and still later by government survey parties.
By 1854 the LDS Church had established an Indian mission at Santa
Clara, two miles north of the St. George Valley. In 1857 and 1858
experimental farms were set up to the east and west of where St. George
was to be built. While touring the experimental desert farms in May
1861, Brigham Young predicted the settling
of the area. Five months later, in October 1861, 309 families were called
by church authorities to the what was called the Cotton Mission. Most
of those sent had abilities that were deemed essential to establishing
a successful community.