Brian Head History

Brian Head's Story

The Early Days

The area known as Brian Head was first discovered by the Fremont Tribe and later settled in the mid 1800's.  Brian Head was originally known as Monument Peak and Bear Flats but no one knows for sure how exactly Brian Head got it's name.  One theory is that the name derived from the three time Democratic presidential candidate of the late 1800's and early 1900's William Jennings Bryan.  Another is that the name came from a Parowan family with the surname of Bryan; while another says a man named Bryan built a monument up on the rock (Brian Head Peak); and yet another story claims explorer John Wesley Powell saw the peak above all the others and named it after an official in the Geographical Survey office by the name of Bryan which is an idea supported by author Rufus Wood Leigh in his 1860's book, "Five Hundred Utah Place Names".  However Brian Head got it's name, one thing is for sure the "y" dropped off in favor of "i".

Brian Head was incorporated into the Dixie National Park around 1906 and in the late 19th century and early 20th century, the area was known as "Little Ireland" named after the Adams family who was of Irish heritage and who used the area for dairying and as a summer grazing range for sheep and horses.  It was also the site for logging along with a cheese factory.  In the 1920's, it boasted a hotel, restaurant and dance hall operated by Minnie Adams Burton, known as Minnies Mansion.  The spot was popular for its huge breakfasts, fireworks and dancing.  in 1924 the state re-purchased selected parcels of land from the original folks who had previously been allowed to develop them as homesteads.  In the late 1930's, brothers Thomas and Joseph Holyoak along with  Will Lyman and P. A. Clark purchased the land.

Brian Head Resort Begins

In the early 1960's, two individuals; Burt Nicols and Homer Vasels who had interest in mountain property, separately but simultaneously considered the development of the area as a ski resort.  In April 1962, Nicols left his California employment with Hugh Fullerton and searched Williams, Arizona; Flagstaff, Arizona;  Mount Charleston Nevada and Brian Head.  Brian Head seemed like the best site with the greatest potential, Nicols decided on Brian Head because it was close to Interstate 15 and at the time, Bonanza Airlines and Union Pacific Railroad served Cedar City.  After some time, Nicols met Vasels and decided to team up, with Nicols spearheading the general promotion of the area while Vasels developed an investment package and touted for investors for the Brian Head Corporation which was founded in May 1964.

Burt Nicols - Early 1970's
Burt Nicols - Early 1970's
Aerial view of Brian Head - overlooking the meadows
Aerial view of Brian Head - overlooking the meadows

In January 1965 with considerable support of the locals, Milt Jolley, D.W. Corry and Pat Fenton along with others, purchased 640 acres of land from the Holyoak's and Mitchell's and with a a loan from the Small Business Administration secured and the help of the Southwest Development Corporation, construction of the first facilities, a 700-vertical-foot chairlift, a 300-vertical-foot T-bar lift and a warming house began in September 1964.   The first two permanent buildings were a clinic owned by Dr. David Wilkerson of Cedar City and Georg and Stephanie Hartlmaier's home and rental shop.  The first season, two mobile homes were leased to be warming houses, restrooms and an eating area.  In January of 1965, the resort made its debut and set up a four-week ski training program to familiarize Iron County youth with skiing lessons every Saturday morning for $6 a month.

In 1966, Dr. Ray Cloward became President, Chairman of the Board and General Manager of the Brian Head Corporation in which he was successful in paying off the debts and saved the remainder of the S.B.A. loan.  He was only at Brian Head for thee years, but under his stewardship and guidance, the Brian Head Inn was improved, a water system was developed along with the telephone and power being brought into town.  Subdivision land sales also took place and the first condominiums were built.  Nicols next step was to coerced Georg Hartlmaier from Germany who would give his expertise and knowledge to promote Brian Head as a ski resort.  Georg originally came to Brian Head in 1964 as the resort's first mountain manager and ski school director.  He planned the runs, selected the equipment and helped build the resort's first ski lift. The Hartlmaiers were the  first permanent residents nearly ten years before it was incorporated as a town.  During the 1969-1970 season, the resort  significantly expanded when a new 1,190-vertical-foot lift was installed running east up on the mountain that could handle 900 skiers every hour, today we know this lift as "Giant Steps or Chair #2".

In 1970, Nicols offered to buy the operational sites of Brian Head, the inn, ski sloped, lefts and the Forest Service permit required by law to operate the ski lifts.  September 1971 saw a new company, Brian Head Enterprises, formed by Nicols and Dr. Charles Gunnoe.  Their view was to make the initial purchase, but legal problems arose with the Brian Head Corporation filing a law suit against them.  There were several attempts to resolve the issue, but without a resolution, no expansion of the could be made of the area.  Then in 1977 a complex agreement ended the litigation between the two companies and Brian Head Resort was off and running.

A Town is Born

On March 12, 1975 Brian Head Town became incorporated with  Rex Emenegger, Jeff Thayer, Craig Morrill, Don Van Sickle, Don Coffer serving on the board and in November of 1975, Brian Head Town held its first election in which Rex Emenegger was elected Mayor and Don Van Sickle, Craig Morrill, Edwen Barnett and Steve Lutz served as Council Members.  Some of the town's first licensed businesses were Brian Head Enterprise (Resort); Ty's Arco (now Apple Annies Country Store); CK's General Store (now Town Hall); Ferdinands' Restaurant (formally Mi Pueblo Mexican Restaurant) and Jonella's Dance Hall (we're still not sure where that was located).

The town struggled as new towns typically do, but with its isolated area and environment Brian Head was able to work with Iron County and Parowan City for landfill services, water rights agreements.  The post office also had its struggles in which the town was informed the post office would have to operate on $1,100 because of hauling the mail up the mountain.  It was suggested to limit the service to five days a week or possible use the school bus as transportation of the mail from Parowan to Brian Head.   Things have certainly changed for Brian Head since the early days and now the town hosts three municipal buildings; Town Hall which was remodeled in 2004; a Public Safety Building which replaced the old town hall and fire station in 2009 and the Public Works maintenance shop which is actually located on Forest Service property along with constructing a skier bridge, town park and pavilion and the newest addition of Bristlecone Pond where guests and residents can enjoy our cool mountain air while fishing, kayaking or just enjoying the scenery.