by Nancy Stark
About seven miles northwest of Kamas, Utah, on the east bank of the Weber River, the village of Peoa was founded in 1857 by William W. Phelps, a fur trader and scribe to Joseph Smith.
“I surveyed between 20 and 30 lots from 10 to 22 acres each of tolerable fair appearance for grain and meadow land,” he reported in the May 20, 1857, edition of the Deseret News. “Logs were cut and hauled for several houses, grain sown, and potatoes planted.” Mr. Phelps drove stakes into the ground and actually named the place PEOHA after the word was found on a log. In Native American language it meant “love or to marry”. However, it is unclear if it also was the name of an Indian Chief or trapper. The “H” was later dropped, and it became PEOA. Peoa is unincorporated, relying on Summit County government.
Peoa was a fertile, thickly vegetated area full of wildlife and fresh water springs with the Weber River providing abundant water for future farming and livestock. Indian tribes populated the area. The Ute Indians, called Timpanahoges, and their Chief Wahka were friendly and kind; however, the Snake Indians from Idaho were known by the Utes as raiders.
In 1860, the first settlers were sent by Brigham Young from Salt Lake City to colonize the Kamas Valley and the Peoa area. Fort Creek was built in 1861, although there was little need for protection from the Ute Indians. But in 1866, as food sources were being depleted by the new settlers, the Black Hawk War erupted and the Sage Bottom Fort was then built by the settlers of Peoa and Kamas, one mile south of Peoa in a bend of the Weber River.
Sage Bottom Fort was square in shape with a log church built in the center. Homes were built so close together only a single person could walk between their walls. The homes, constructed of rough logs, were held together with wooden pegs and chinks, or clay was placed between the logs. Floors were bare ground. The roofs of split logs were covered with clay or gravel, and were not watertight! Settlers used to say, “When it rains 1 hour outside, it rains 3 hours inside!”
South of the arena is called Woodenshoe, for Scandinavian settlers who wore wooden shoes, and is the location of the former Fort Sage Bottom near SR32 and Woodenshoe Lane.
Peoa is known as a unique agricultural community which used to have beaver and fox ranches right on the main street, SR32. A cemetery, dairy and beef cattle ranches can also be found along with meadow larks singing their song….”Peoa is a Pretty Little Place.”
The Historic Buildings and Homes of Peoa
Every building has a story…Fort Sage Bottom housed not only settlers and cattle, but at first a log church in the center, replaced later by a sandstone structure made from slabs taken from ledges near the cemetery in 1903.
The sandstone formed foundations for many of Peoa’s structures, homes, and even window casings. The stone was laid vertically, not horizontally as is typical in block or brick construction. A home built by Ola Pearson and his wife Sissa Bengston, often referred to as the “Rock House”, was the first built south of the cemetery.
Every building has a story…a home to the north in Peoa had two front doors, leading a Utah artist to title it “Peoa Polygamy House” in his paintings. Old timers say they never knew such families lived there.
The house is one of the Valley’s best preserved pioneer home examples from the 1880-1890 era. Amongst its many uses were as a post office and for a short time…a saloon!
Abraham Marchant had Peoa’s first store in his home. Oscar Wilkins also had a store in his home. Later came the Peoa Co-op, and then Marchant’s Cash Store that serviced the community for 57 years until 1981.
The Historic People of Peoa
The first 30 settlers who accompanied William Phelps in 1857 left that fall to avoid the harsh winter weather and apparently did not return until May 1860 when Brigham Young sent nearly 20 families to settle in Peoa: the Lee, Miles, Rideout, Truman, Boyce, Barnam, Green, Neel, Shippin, Marchant, Walker, Pearson, Spencer, Milliner, Maxwell, and Gibbons families.
John and Ellen Russell Maxwell came in 1864. John, often referred to as “Uncle John”, along with Orin Lee, formed a medical team for Peoa using herbs, homemade remedies, and homeopathic treatments.
The Lees lived in the cellar of their home, using the first floor as a dance hall!. Later on it was popular to travel to Rockport and Wanship for all night dancing! An amusement hall was later owned by Clarence Walker.
Oscar Lyons’ Post Office had Peoa’s first telephone installed in 1896.
The Truman and Maxwell families popularized horse racing in the Valley. Orin Lee and Benjamin A. Miles owned the first saw mill in Weber Canyon in 1865.
In 1875, many women of these families formed the Relief Society caring for the sick, poor, and needy. Some also formed the Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association (YWMIA) in 1876. In 1877, young men formed their version, the YMMIA.
Six generations of the Marchant family have owned farmland in Peoa on or near Woodenshoe Lane. Currently, the Summit Land Conservancy nonprofit is hoping to manage 106 acres of this farmland called the Marchant Meadows. To quote the Conservancy: “This land has been loved…”