Grafton, UT


“Research shows that willpower is more important than IQ. That’s why the point isn’t to become smarter, but to become more self-disciplined.”Adam Kirk Smith

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Brigham Young and his group of Emigrant pioneers settled in the valley of the Great Salt Lake in 1847. Soon after, the Mormon President determined that church members would populate the region. He hoped it would become the “state” of Deseret and a place they could practice their religion without persecution.

After experimenting with cotton production at Santa Clara in 1854, Young began to send numerous families and single men, who were advised to immediately marry, south. He called this a part of the Cotton Mission. Soon, a number of cotton farming communities sprouted up along the upper Virgin River. These included Virgin in 1857, Wheeler/Grafton in 1859, Adventure in 1860, Duncan’s Retreat and Northup in 1861, and Shunesburg, Rockville and Springdale in 1862.

A Shining Example Of The Capabilities Of Hard Work And Sheer Willpower

In 1859, five families from Virgin established the small settlement of Wheeler. However, a weeklong flood of the Virgin River soon destroyed it in January of 1862. Moving about a mile upstream, they built another settlement and called it New Grafton, after Grafton, Massachusetts. Two years later, the small settlement was home to some 28 families and supported about 168 people. The town boasted a number of log houses, a post office, a church, and a combination school and community hall. Each family farmed about one acre of land in narrow strips along the sides of the Virgin River. They also dug irrigation canals, and planted cotton, orchards, and private gardens.

However, life in the fertile valley was not easy. Though the Virgin River was their very life, it was untamable and often betrayed them. It often left their dams, ditches and crops destroyed during periods of intense flooding. At other times, it would also leave their crops susceptible to erosion from previous flooding. Eventually, though they were able to grow cotton, most of their small parcels of land were given over to simple food production to sustain themselves.

The Grafton Schoolhouse – A Monument To Persistence And Dreams

Though the work was hard, the families also enjoyed social activities. These encompassed swimming, horseback riding, picnics, and holiday parties in addition to Sunday worship services and other religious activities. In 1886, Grafton residents built a 2-story adobe schoolhouse. They also utilized it as a church and a community center where social activities and meetings were held. The preserved structure continues to stand today, and is one of the most photographed ghost town buildings in the American West.

By the turn of the century, the nearby towns of Duncan’s Retreat and Shunesburg had been completely abandoned. Yet, Grafton still maintained a few residents, most of whom had by then given up farming and turned to ranching due to the unpredictable river. However, when the Hurricane Canal was built in 1906 that delivered the river waters to a wide bench 20 miles downstream, many Grafton families packed up and moved to Hurricane.

Some Would Argue It Was Just Never Meant To Be

More families left when Grafton was hit by another devastating flood in 1909. The last classes were taught in the school building during the 1918-19 school year. At this time the enrollment had dwindled to nine students. The following year students were transferred to the school at Rockville. By 1920, the population had been reduced to just three families and the local Mormon Church was discontinued the following year. The last residents of the town, Frank Russell and his wife, Ellen, moved away in 1944. Electricity, plumbing and other modern utilities were never introduced into town homes.

Today, the Grafton Heritage Partnership Project, a non-profit organization that unites government and private landowner interests in preserving Grafton as an historic site, also preserves this historic community. Its restored structures are situated in a beautiful valley, surrounded by the awe-inspiring mountains and formations of Zion National Park. Unsurprisingly, the site has been utilized in three movies, including the popular 1969 film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman.

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