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Grafton - Virgin River Ghost Town

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


For the next 50 years, the Mormons established some 500 villages in an effort to claim the territory and secure resources for self-sufficiency. Young saw farming opportunities in the southern part of what would later become Utah, which he referred to at the time as "Dixie.”  Reasoning that the warmer land, if irrigated, could produce cotton, the Mormons experimented at Santa Clara in 1854 with success.



Grafton, Utah

Grafton, Utah, Kathy Weiser, April, 2008.

This image available for photo prints & commercial downloads HERE!




Young, then began to send numerous families and single men, who were advised to immediately marry, south as part of what was called the Cotton Mission. Soon, a number of  cotton farming communities sprouted up along the upper Virgin River, including Virgin in 1857, Wheeler/Grafton in 1859, Adventure in 1860, Duncans Retreat and Northup in 1861, and Shunesburg, Rockville and Springdale in 1862.

In 1859, five families from Virgin established the small settlement of Wheeler; however, it was soon destroyed by a week-long flood of the Virgin River in January, 1862. Moving about a mile upstream, they built another settlement which they named New Grafton, after Grafton, Massachusetts.

Two years, later the small settlement was called 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, 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, leaving their dams, ditches and crops destroyed during periods of intense flooding, and at other times, leaving their crops susceptible to erosion from previous flooding. And, though they were able to grow cotton, most of their small parcels of land were given over to simple food production to sustain themselves

Though the work was hard, the families also enjoyed social activities, including  swimming, horseback riding, picnics, and holiday parties in addition to Sunday worship services and other religious activities. In addition to the unpredictable river, residents also experienced difficulties with the Indians during the Black Hawk War (1865-68.)  In 1866, the Indian attacks became so problematic, that the people of Grafton were evacuated to nearby Rockville. Though they returned daily to work their farms, the settlement, they did not return permanently until 1868.  

After another devastating flood of the Virgin River in 1868, many of the residents gave up and left the community. When church officials visited many of the towns along the river the following year, in order to boost morale and reinforce the religion, they arrived to find many of their flock had deserted.


Grafton, Utah School

The adobe brick Grafton School, built in 1886, is one of  the most photographed ghost town buildings in the  American West, Kathy Weiser, April, 2008.

This image available for photo prints & commercial downloads HERE!


In 1886, Grafton residents built a 2-story adobe school house, which they also utilized as a church, and a community center where social activities and meetings were held. The preserved structure continues to stand today.

By the turn of the century, the nearby towns of Duncan's Retreat and Shunesburg had been completely abandoned, but 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.


More families left when Grafton was hit by a another devastating flood in 1909. The last classes were taught in the school building during the 1918-19 school year, at which time the enrollment had dwindled to nine students. The following year students were transferred to the school at Rockville.



Continued Next Page

Grafton, Ut - Woods Home

John Wood and his wife, Ellen, lived here with their three children. Wood was a farmer, raised cattle, and worked in a blacksmith shop. Ellen died in 1898, John continued to live in this home 1909, at which time he moved to Hurricane. He died two years later at the age of 92. Kathy Weiser, April, 2008.

This image available for photo prints & commercial downloads HERE!


Barn in Grafton, Utah

John Wood 1877 Barn and fence rail, Kathy Weiser,  April, 2008.

This image available for photo prints & commercial downloads HERE!


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