Mantua’s Danish Heritage

In a valley with fresh water and mountains that reminded them of home, Danish immigrants in Utah moved forward in establishing a new life. Within their new life, they incorporated their old culture in a way that affected its surrounding communities and still affects the little town of Mantua today.

In the spring of 1863, twelve Danish families were sent by Church Leader Lorenzo Snow to settle the little valley of Mantua. Although more than one “Little Denmark” dotted the state of Utah in the late 1800s and early 1900s, “Little Copenhagen” was the only enclave where almost the entirety of the population was born in Denmark. Now known as the City of Mantua, renamed after the Ohio city that was the birthplace of Lorenzo Snow, the small city still retains its rich Danish history.

Surrounded by mountains, Mantua is about 1 mile wide and 2.25 miles long. Its cool temperatures and access to fresh water springs created the ideal place to grow flax or hemp for cloth, rope, and thread. Spinning was a trade practiced by many Danes, as many of the immigrants came from agricultural or artisan backgrounds, they knew well how to farm flax and spin thread and weave fabric. For this purpose the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints selected a group of Danes to settle the area. Some of the first Danish immigrants to Utah were sent to Mantua and helped settle Box Elder and Cache counties.

The Danes preserved their agricultural talents not just through the production of flax seed. A large fish hatchery, multiple dairies, and wheat fields covered the small valley of Mantua. Other Danish cultural aspects, such as their droll humor as well as news, stories, and fables from home, were preserved throughout the state through the publication of a Danish newspaper, “Bikuben” (or Beehive) from 1876 through 1935. Additionally, Mantua preserved Danish architectural aspects of their culture through their brightly colored doors and buildings and thatched roofed homes. In more than one way, Danish immigrants chose to transplant their culture in their new American home.

Utah today has the second largest population of people who come from a Danish background with numbers reaching over 145,000. Other than Great Britain, the Danes brought the most immigrants to Utah between the 1850 and 1950 with over 18,000 people. Many Danes were attracted to Mormon missionaries in Denmark during the social and religious upheavals in the mid to late 1800s. Emigration from Denmark peaked in 1900 with 9,132 people leaving their native land for Utah. From then on, more Danes died than immigrated to Utah, although the number of people with Danish ties continued to rise.

After the first couple of generations, Mantua’s Danish population assimilated with the rest of the state’s inhabitants. They quickly learned English and sent their children to English-speaking schools, moved away from agricultural jobs, and welcomed others into their community. Through this assimilation, Mantua’s nickname, “Little Copenhagen,” became a historic reference to the background of the city’s original settlers.