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Grafton

Washington County, UT

by

Gary B. Speck

 

 

 

GRAFTON is one of those little class C ghost towns that everyone has to visit at one time or another - or multiple times.  My first visit was in 1990, and each time I go, it seems there is something new to discover.  It is located on the south side of the Virgin River, 3.7 miles west of Rockville, which is 35 miles east of St. George.  However, the turnoff in Rockville is not well marked.  Turn south (towards the river) off State Highway (SH) 9 onto Bridge Road, cross the bridge over the Virgin River and follow the paved right fork heading west past a few scattered homes.  About a mile beyond, the pavement ends, the road becoming a well-graded road.  At mile 1.7 is another intersection.  Keep right.  At mile 3.3 a side road to the left leads to the cemetery.  Keep going straight and at mile 3.7 the town is reached.

 


Grafton dates to 1859 when the Mormon Church was in process of colonizing Southern Utah, which they dubbed Dixie.  Five Mormon families settled along the fertile Virgin River bottoms and began to set out their farms. Unfortunately, the Virgin River is a bit tempestuous, and the little community sat too close to the river.  In 1862 the Virgin River flooded and Grafton’s original site washed downstream.

 

The townsite was too good to abandon, so they resettled a little further from the river on higher ground.  Within a couple years, several hundred acres were under cultivation with fruit orchards, corn & wheat, cotton and sheep.  Mulberry trees were also planted for silkworm raising.  In 1868, Grafton peaked with some 28 families.  The 1860s were an unsettled period in the American West, and many times settlers and the Native Americans had little “problems.”  Grafton was not immune, and during the mid-decade, a number of attacks occurred, killing several settlers.  Disease and accidents also claimed a number of the folks and their kids.

 

In 1866, Grafton was abandoned for a short time, and resettled in 1868 by some 28 families.  This was Grafton’s peak period, and for the next 30 years the bustling little town continued to persist, even though the population declined from 200 to about 120 in 1900.  But all good things end, and the population decreased rapidly.  By 1907 Grafton was a ghost town.  

 

Grafton is one of the best little ghost towns in the country, and the handful of buildings have been restored and the site is now a National Historic District.  Remaining buildings include:

 

  • Adobe-brick school house.  Built 1886 of locally manufactured adobe bricks, it was set on a lava-rock foundation, which was quarried from nearby.  The building also was used as a church, meeting house and community center.  Dances were held on Friday nights.  The last class was in 1919, 12 years after Grafton ghosted.
  • Two-story, adobe Alonzo Russell home.  Russell built it in 1862 and lived here until 1910.  Why he built his wife’s house across from his, I have not determined.  Grafton’s last resident lived in Russell’s old home until 1945.
  • Across the plaza from them is the Louisa Marie Russell home.  This solid log building with an adobe brick chimney was built by Alonzo Russell for his wife in 1879. 
  • In July 1990, just to the west of the Louisa Russell home, was the remains of a burnt building, and across the entrance road to the west was a crumbling log building.  Both are long gone, the sites now barren and unmarked.
  • Surrounded by greenery on the west side of the entry road, just to the south is the John & Ellen Wood home, a solid brick house built in 1877.  A couple of picturesque out buildings also remain. 
  • Cemetery:  The cemetery is located southeast of town as noted above.  Graves here date from 1862-1924, and share the problems the settlers had with disease, Indian depredations and accidents.

 

The site has been used for filming of several movies, including the bicycle scene from the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Remember them bicycling along the main street while the song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” played?

 

The vertical, bright redrock cliffs to the north, deep green trees and unusually blue sky and oft-times boiling thunderheads, make this beautiful, compact little ghost town one of the most photogenic in the country.  Its buildings have graced the covers of several ghost town books.  DON’T FORGET YOUR CAMERA!

 

TOWN SITE:

·        N½ Sec 3, T42S, R11W, Salt Lake Baseline & Meridian

·        Latitude: 37.1672050 / 37° 10’ 02” N

·        Longitude: -113.0799425 / 113° 04’ 48” W

 

CEMETERY:

·        Ctr  Sec 3, T42S, R11W, SLM

·        Latitude: 37.1630385 / 37° 09’ 47” N

·        Longitude: -113.0807758 / 113° 04’ 51” W

 

This is one of the towns featured in my newest book, GHOST TOWNS: Yesterday & TodayTM.

 

This was our Ghost Town of the Month for Oct 2009.

 

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FIRST POSTED:  October 02, 2009

LAST UPDATED: August 06, 2010

 

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