Early Settlers Worked to Bring Water to Their Land
Absence of water was an obstacle to the early growth and development of the level, elevated ground north of Provo known as Provo Bench.
Landowners found the area’s rocky soil suitable for growing fruit trees. However, watering the trees required hauling water in barrels from the nearby Provo River. At the request of Brigham Young, the second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the river was studied by Jesse Fox, surveyor general of the Utah Territory. He found the river full and free of claims and reported that the water was available for the taking upon the settlers’ terms. Believing canals would make cultivation and colonization of the bench feasible, landowners forned the Provo Bench irrigation Company and began construction on the Provo Bench Canal in 1862.
The canal started at the mouth of Provo Canyon, ran southwest along the east edge of the bench, and ended just above 400 South in Orem. With mules and homemade tools, workers excavated a furrow from the river toward the bench. As water filled the furrow and soaked the ground, workers widened and deepened the canal and directed it further toward the bench.
Building the canal was an arduous task and every settler pitched in. Some men worked in payment of their road-ditch tax, which required every male over eighteen to work on public roads or ditches. Completed in the mid-1860s, the canal was 2 feel deep and 6 feet wide and carried water to 2,000 acres of parched land. Soon afterward, the canal was enlarged to irrigate 4,000 acres, increasing the value of the land from $1.25 to $2.00 per acre. Construction of other ditches began, and eventually a network of canals and ditches watered the Provo Bench.
Water, good soil, and hard work transformed the bench from a desolate sagebrush and rock prairie to a thriving community renowned for its fruit production. The City of Orem was incorporated on the bench in 1919.
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