The Jacob Hamblin Home: Remembering a Faithful Frontier Family in Santa Clara, Utah

    Samuel R. Palfreyman
    30 April 2019

    Located five miles northwest of St. George, Utah, the Jacob Hamblin Home stands as a monument to a family’s commitment to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Hamblin family moved to this and other frontier settlements at great personal sacrifice. They lived on the frontier to be closer to the American Indians that they were called to serve. Although members of the Hamblin family occupied this home for only seven years (from 1863 to 1870), the historic structure serves as a material witness to the family’s lifelong discipleship.

    A Teenager Records Her Grandmother’s Pioneer Memories

    Portrait of Sarah Priscilla Leavitt Hamblin (1841-1927).

    In 1925, 16-year-old Myrl Tenney sat down with her grandmother Sarah Priscilla Leavitt Hamblin. Myrl asked her grandmother about life as a pioneer in southern Utah. As part of the conversation, Priscilla shared the following memory: “With regrets, we left the big rock house in Santa Clara; this had been our first real home. This was where I had accepted my greatest responsibilities. Death, sickness, childbirth, fear and loneliness, and many other things had happened to us here. It had seemed that we were finally realizing something from our hard labors. At last, we had our home, garden and orchard. But duty called, and gladly we answered.”1

    That “big rock house” is known today as the Jacob Hamblin Home. Before its 1862 construction, Priscilla had lived with her husband, Jacob, for five years in other places. Why then did Priscilla call this place her family’s “first real home”? And what duty persuaded her family to leave the hard-won comforts of their beloved homestead?

    Establishing Fort Clara and Joining Jacob Hamblin’s Family

    Sketch of Fort Clara as it might have appeared between 1856–61.

    Born in Nauvoo, Priscilla Leavitt migrated to the Salt Lake Valley when she was nine years old. The Leavitt family accompanied Jacob Hamblin’s family on a mission to settle the southern frontier and labor among American Indians in 1855. The settlers constructed Fort Clara, a 100-foot-square, 12-foot-high fort. Made mostly of mud brick, the fort included several “crude cabins” built within the inner walls, surrounding a central courtyard.2

    When Jacob went to visit regional Indian tribes, Priscilla helped his wife Rachel Judd care for their 11 children.3 Eventually, with Rachel’s permission, Jacob asked Priscilla to be his plural wife. The two were married in Salt Lake City on September 11, 1857.4

    Priscilla told Myrl that “from the beginning, Rachel welcomed me into the home, and made me a part of the family.”5 Nevertheless, it is little wonder that Priscilla did not consider the fort a “real home.” It was crowded, and she had very little privacy or independence in this communal structure.

    The Big Washout Flood and a New Home for the Hamblin Family

    Four years into this new living arrangement, a flash flood destroyed the entire Santa Clara settlement. In a matter of days, the settlers lost most of their material possessions, including their fort-home, schoolhouse, and cultivated fields.

    Undeterred by these devastating losses, the Hamblin family labored to recover. They constructed a new home uphill from the creek bed, made of durable stone. The location and building material suggest the family’s hope to establish an enduring home.

    Ground floor (left) and second floor (right) of the Jacob Hamblin Home. Note the rear storage rooms added to both floors in 1866.

    The ground floor of the Hamblin home had a central reception hall for entertaining visitors. On either side of the hall were bedrooms, one for Rachel and one for Priscilla. The great room, located on the second floor, served as a workspace during the day, a gathering space during the evening, and a sleeping space for the Hamblin children at night. Rachel took charge of the family’s knitting, sewing, and weaving. Priscilla managed most cooking duties. Speaking of how she and the family endured difficult times, Priscilla stated that “work was the thing that saved us all—the eternal, never-ending work to keep us in food, clothing, and shelter.”6

    Life and Death in the Hamblin Home

    Photograph of the restored great room of the Jacob Hamblin Home.

    Of the family’s time in Santa Clara, Priscilla recalled, “We had much to make us happy, yet much to make us sad.”7 Joyous events in the Hamblin home included the births of three of Priscilla’s children: Lucy, Jacob Jr., and Ella Ann. Regarding her children, Priscilla said her “real life’s happiness was wrapped up in them.”8

    On the other hand, the most tragic occasions involved the loss of life. In the time between the flood and the completion of the new home, three of the Hamblin children died. Rachel’s infant daughter, Arminda, died of an illness. The family’s eldest son, Duane, died in an accident while working on an irrigation canal. Jacob’s adopted son Albert died of pneumonia. Then, on February 18, 1865, Rachel passed away from an illness. Recalling her grief at Rachel’s death, Priscilla felt that “the place would never be the same again without this one of God’s angels.”9

    Despite these tragedies, daily toils continued for Priscilla and the eight Hamblin children still living in the home. Nine months after Rachel’s passing, and with Priscilla’s permission, Jacob married Louisa Bonelli. When Louisa gave birth to her first child three years later, Priscilla served as her midwife.

    Leaving the Jacob Hamblin Home in Santa Clara: An Act of Discipleship

    In the late 1860s, Jacob received a call to labor among the Hopi Indian villages near Kanab, 62 miles east of Santa Clara. Although initially reluctant, Priscilla and her family left their well-established home, orchards, friends, and extended family and moved into a fort-home in Kanab. This was not the final frontier home where the Hamblins would live. In obedience to Church assignments, Priscilla moved her family to Milligan’s Fort near Springerville, Arizona, in 1878. Six years later, she moved them to Pleasanton, New Mexico.

    Today the restored Jacob Hamblin Home provides a snapshot of an itinerant frontier family who helped build the kingdom of God wherever they were called to do so. Here and elsewhere, when they were asked to move to the “ragged edge”10 of civilization anew, they demonstrated their discipleship by leaving their hard-earned comforts behind to serve their God and their neighbors.