The first missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints went to Hawaii in 1850. As native converts joined the Church, many desired to gather in Utah with converts from other parts of the world, in order to perform Church ordinances in the temples located there. Until about 1870, Hawaiians were prohibited by their government from leaving the Islands permanently. As the laws were relaxed they came to Utah a few at a time with returning missionaries until by 1889 about seventy-five were living in Salt Lake City.
Cultural and social problems arose causing the Church officials to decide to locate all the Polynesians in one place by themselves. Under the direction of the First Presidency of the Mormon Church a committee of three former Hawaiian missioanries and three natives selected the ranch of John Irch in Skull Valley, Tooele County, Utah as the site for a Polynesian colony. A Church-controlled corporation was established to purchase and hold the colony's properties. The Polynesians were hired to work on the ranch.
A townsite was laid out, lots were sold and homes were bult for the colonists. The colony was named Iosepa, in honor of the sixth president of the Church, Joseph F. Smith, who had served as a missionary among the Hawaiians and was solicitous of their welfare.
For the first decade, the company operated at a loss due to the financial difficulties of the 1890's. Gradually financial conditions improved, the company began to feed more livestock, a store was opened and then Iosepa began to realize a profit.
At first Iosepa was isolated from other Utah communities. The only way in or out of the colony was by foot or horses. Its post office was in Grantsville, about thirty miles to the northeast. In 1906 the Western Pacific Railroad Company built a line through Utah passing through Timpie, fifteen miles north of Iosepa. A Stagecoach line was established between Timpie and the colony and mail services were extended to the settlement. About the same time, a long distance telephone line gave the colonists a means of rapid communciation with the outside world. By about 1910 the Hawaiians were enjoying as many of the amenities of modern life as any other Utah community its size.
Ecclesiastically Iosepa held a unique position in the Church. As a mission branch, all its reports went directly to the First Preidency. Religious leadership was vested in a returned Hawaiian missionary. Hawaiian members usually served as officers in the auxillary organizations.
Leprosy and various illnesses caused some concern in the colony, but by 1900 the lepers had died. As doctors became more attainable and as the Hawaiians became more acclimated, problems of sickness decereased.
In 1915 the Church announced that a temple was to be built at Laie, Hawaii. Upon hearing this some of the Hawaiians announced that they were returning to the Islands. Soon the movement to return was under way and all were swept with it. By 1917 all had returned to the Islands but one family which remained in Salt Lake City. That fall the Deseret Livestock Company purchased the Iosepa property and Utah's Polynesian colony ceased to exist.
Some have asserted that leprosy, other sickness, financial failure or failure of the Polynesians to become acclimated to the area caused the failure and closing of the colony. Each one of these problems was overcome years before the colony's end. The colony was a success. It had been established for a purpose; when its purpose was fulfilled it ceased to exist.
College and Department
Family, Home, and Social Sciences; History
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Atkin, Dennis H., "A History of Iosepa, the Utah Polynesian Colony" (1959). Theses and Dissertations. 4489.
Hawaiians, Utah, Iosepa Colony, Utah History, Mormons