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Farmer’s Union Building

The Farmer’s Union is significant for housing the Farmer’s Union Mercantile Institution, the first commercial enterprise in Layton, Utah. The building was the first prominent business structure erected in Layton and served as the community’s primary meeting hall, social center and recreational facility. The building played an important role in Layton’s successful attempt to become independent of nearby Kaysville, Utah. The Farmer’s Union is also important for its close association with the lives of leading business, civic and religious figures of early Layton, including Ephraim P. Ellison, Christopher Layton and George Washington Adams.

12 S Main Street in Layton, Utah – Added to the National Historic Register (#78002656) November 30, 1978.

Layton, Utah was founded in 1850 by William Kay, Edwards Phillips, John Green and Elias Adams, converts to the Mormon Church. Located along creeks in a popular trapping and grazing area, the small settlement grew slowly and was for many years considered part of a larger nearby community named Kaysville. As the settlement assumed an identity as an independent community it attempted to separate itself from Kaysville and become an incorporated town. Kaysville leaders were unwilling to approve the incorporation, however, on the premise that a severe loss of tax revenue would result. Determined to demonstrate that the unnamed settlement justified independent status, area leaders, lead by Ephraim P. Ellison, attempted to establish a bona fide business district and challenge the right of Kaysville to impose taxes on it. A small one-story frame building belonging to Christopher Layton was moved from Kaysville to the site of the present Farmer’s Union and the commercial district had its beginning. The relocated building housed the Farmer’s Union, an organization established in 1882 as the Kaysville Farmer’s Union. As E.P. Ellison, who was superintendent of the store and Christopher Layton, the building’s owner, were both part of the faction opposed to paying taxes to Kaysville, the name Kaysville was dropped from the store’s name. The new town was named Layton and pushed for incorporation. As a final measure to insure the independence of Layton as a town entity, Ellison, Layton and others combined their capital and in 1890 had constructed an impressive two-story, Victorian-styled store of brick and stone with metal trim. This building which was expanded in size in the late 1890’s and again in 1930, housed the growing Farmer’s Union institution. The building, besides functioning as a store, was the headquarters of the group responsible for the movement to organize a new town. In addition, the store played an important role in the 1891 Utah Supreme Court case of Ellison versus Lindford in which Chief Justice Charles S. Zane ruled that property of E. P. Ellison which had been confiscated and sold for tax purposes in 1889 had been done illegally in that the “little place called ‘Layton’ in a country road leading to the city (of Kaysville) proper” was too far from Kaysville to receive any benefit from taxes levied. On the same day as the court decision, Feb. 4, 1891, Layton became an incorporated city.

The Farmer’s Union continued to play a significant role in the burgeoning community of Layton. Its major tenant, the Farmer’s Union of Layton, was incorporated in 1909 and functioned as a general store, bank, and post office. The upper floor was used as a public hall and community center. For many years, regular weekly dances with a live orchestra were held there. Church events, basketball games, political meetings, club parties and promotional events by traveling salesmen were among the varied uses of the second story hall. As the building expanded to the north and other meeting places became available in town, the second floor was converted to residential apartments which are still extant. The Farmer’s Union business was dissolved in 1956. After which the building was used by various retail establishments. At present, the building is vacant and awaits restoration by its owner, the First National Bank of Layton.

The Farmer’s Union is significant for its close association with the lives of many of Layton’s early town leaders. Ephraim P. Ellison, its manager, president, and biggest stockholder, maintained his office in the building. He was the chief organizer and president of the Davis and Weber Counties Canal Co. which made possible the agricultural development of that area. Ellison was the major figure in the Layton Milling Co, First National Bank of Layton, Layton Sugar Co., Ellison Ranching Co., and Ellison Milling and Elevator Co. He also served as president, director or manager of the following: Clearfield State Bank, Pingree National Bank, Deseret National Bank, Knight Sugar Co., Beneficial Life Insurance Co., Amalgamated Sugar Co., Western Ore and Purchasing Co., Utah Ore Sampling Co., Weber River Water Users Association, Ogden Sugar Factory, Knight Woolen Mills and several others. Ellison was involved with mining magnate Jesse Knight in many enterprises, was a financial counselor to the Mormon Church and served his church in numerous leadership capacities.

Christopher Layton, another prominent figure in the development of Layton and the Farmer’s Union had served in the Mormon Battalion and helped colonize Cardon Valley before settling near Kays Creek in 1858. A shrewd businessman, Layton became a successful ranger, farmer and miller and sat on the first territorial legislature. In 1862 he became the first Mormon bishop in Kaysville. A popular colonizer, Layton was sent by his church leaders to establish settlements in remote parts of Utah and Arizona. Cities were named after him in both states. Layton was a director of Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution (Z.C.M.I.) and like Ellison, directed and owned stock in many corporations. A polygamist with ten wives, one of his interesting enterprises was a steamship line which he operated on the Great Salt Lake.

George Washington Adams, Elias Adams, Jr., John Ellison, Thomas W. Hodson, Joseph Samuel Adams, William N. Nalder, Richard Felling and Alexander Dawson were other important citizens who were closely associated with the Farmer’s Union.

The Farmer’s Union was built in three sections, the first being erected in 1890, the second shortly thereafter, and the third in 1930. As originally built, the Farmer’s Union was a two-story store located slightly south of the southwest corner of Gentile Street and the old State Road, Layton’s primary downtown intersection. The building had a pent corner which faced the center of the intersection. It featured decorative stone, brick and woodwork and a scrolled pediment with the inscription: “Farmer’s Union, Established A.D. 1882.” The pent corner and pediment were removed when the 1930 addition was built. Also removed at that time were other Victorian ornamental elements belonging to the earlier two sections of the building. These included a coffered metal parapet wall, cornice, pinnacles with spiraled balls, and a paneled wooden bulwark. The original leaded glass transom windows and ornamental cornice grill have been concealed but are apparently intact.

Excellent documentation exists to substantiate the original appearance of the Farmer’s Union, including the architect’s original working drawings and early photographs. Structurally, the building has a brick superstructure with walls four bricks wide. The foundation walls are stone. The floors consists of standard wooden joists supported at midspan by a built-up girder over wooden posts. The roof is made of wooden trusses which are anchored into the masonry side
walls by metal rods and plates. The simple load-bearing, post-and-beam structural system was also employed in the two subsequent additions. As the building grew, care was exercised to match floor and ceiling heights. The plans of architects Anderson and Young for the final addition in 1929 called for the retention and duplication of all original decorative elements. A revised set of plans in 1930, however, eliminated the historical ornamentation, whether for reasons of economy due to the Depression, or “streamlining” to be in step with modern architectural trends, is not recorded.

In its present appearance, the Farmer’s Union, is a white painted brick building, two stories in height and is roughly square in plan. The building has two “front” elevations, the east and north, both of which have new fenestration along
the bottom floor but are fairly intact, except for the loss of the cornice, along the second floor. The east elevation features pairs of one-over-one windows within segmentally arched bays. Original wooden columns with Corinthian capitals adorn the center mullions of the older windows. They also feature foliated scrollwork in the arch panel. The window bays are set in planes which appear to be recessed because of pilasters which separate the bays. The north elevation is similar to the east with the exception that the windows are smaller and are contained within square bays. The “interior of the Farmer’s Union retains much of historic appearance. A small balcony has been added on the first floor level to increase floor space.

William Allen, the only architect practicing in the county at the time, designed the Farmer’s Union and its first addition. Alien, who became an architect in the 1870’s after taking a correspondence course, was responsible for designing most of the county’s landmarks until well after 1900. His better known works include: the Davis County Courthouse, Barnes Bank, West Layton Ward Church, Presbyterian Church, and Governor Henry Blood’s residence.