Situated in the Capitol Reef National Park
is the old Mormon settlement of Fruita. Amazingly, this community,
surrounded by thousands of square miles of desert and situated along
the prone-to-flooding Fremont River, thrived in the late 1800s and
Settlement came late to south-central
as much of the region had not even been charted by credible explorers
until 1872. However, in the last half of the century, the Mormons
began to establish farming and grazing communities in the high plateau
lands west of what is now the Capitol Reef National Park. As they
looked to form more communities, they moved eastward along the Fremont
In 1880, the Mormons established a small
Community at the junction of the Fremont River and Sulphur Creek, with
the first landholder being a man named Niels Johnson. Soon, a few more
families followed and the small settlement became known as "Junction.”
The industrious families,
utilizing the river for irrigation, began to plant a number of crops,
including sorghum and alfalfa, but would become most famous for its many
fruit orchards. Though it never comprised more than 300 acres, Fruita
would become an important settlement due to its relatively long growing
season and abundant water. The residents planted apple, peach, pear,
cherry, and plum trees, as well as walnut and almond orchards. Later they
added grape orchards.
And, lucky for them, they
were less subject to the frequent flooding of the Fremont River as were
other small settlements further downriver, such as Aldrich, Caineville,
and Blue Valley.
Surviving on their crops
and vegetables until the fruit trees matured, the residents also made
syrup and molasses from the sorghum. Living in a barter society, the
community prospered by trading their crops and products for items they
weren’t able to produce.
In 1884, the townspeople
built a passage through Capitol Gorge that extended to Caineville and
Hanksville. This 37 mile primitive and difficult roadway, called the "Blue
Dugway," amazingly continued to serve as the primary roadway until after
World War II.
In 1896, the residents
built a one-room schoolhouse that also served as a community center, where
they held dances and socials. A couple of stores and a small lodge were
Though a Mormon settlement, its early life
also included a frontier mentality. While it never sported a
saloon or a
Wild West atmosphere like so many early towns in the west, it did tend to
live on the fringe of the Mormon culture – sometimes harboring fugitives,
never having a church, tolerating drinking, and even sporting a few moon
shiners within its midst.
By the turn of the century, the small
community, which by then numbered about ten families, and its abundant
fruit became familiarly known as "the Eden of Wayne County." A few years
later, in 1902, the settlement’s name was changed from "Junction” to "Fruita."
The town was never incorporated.
Fruit growers usually
picked the fruit prior to maturation and hauled it by the wagon load
to bigger towns like Price and Richfield. As roads began to be
developed through the area, some Fruita men worked with the state road
crews, but annual fruit sales remained the major source of revenue.
When the great
depression hit the rest of the nation, Fruita, with its remoteness,
remained unscathed, as its economy had long been based on barter
rather than cash.
Manual farming techniques continued until
well into the 20th century, as the first tractor wasn’t
purchased until after World War II. The families continued their quiet
existence in the lush valley of the Fremont River until 1937, when the
Capitol Reef National Monument was established.