Bicknell was originally called Thurber, or “Thurber Town”, for A.K. Thurber, who in 1879 built the first house in the area. In 1897 the town moved to a new location due to sandy soil and poor water conditions.
In 1914 Thomas W. Bicknell, a wealthy eastern author, historian, and Education Commissioner for Rhode Island, offered a thousand-volume library to any Utah town that would rename itself after him. The town of Grayson also wanted the library prize, so in a compromise in 1916, Grayson took the name of Blanding, Mr. Bicknell’s wife’s maiden name, as a tribute to her parents. The two towns split the library, each receiving 500 books.
The first settlers on Carcass Creek were experienced Wayne County ranchers who arrived in 1880. In 1881, more cattlemen settled along Fish Creek. A small number of residents scattered through the area over the next few years. These early settlers referred to their settlement as Carcass Creek. In 1887, the Mormon residents were organized into a congregation called the Carcass Creek Branch, although meetings were held only irregularly due to the distances among homes.
In the early 1890s the growing town was granted a post office, and the name was changed to Grover in honor of U.S. President Grover Cleveland. The Grover Irrigation Company organized in 1893 to build and manage structures for drawing and distributing water from Fish Creek Lake. The first school classes were held in the winter of 1892–1893, and the first log school/church/community building was built about 1900.
In 1935, a new school building was built in Grover. A stuccoed log one-room school, the Grover School was built with funds and labor provided mainly by the Works Progress Administration. Unlike other area schools, it had a fence and lawn. Due to Grover’s small size, the school board quickly decided the school was an unnecessary expense; within three years the older children were sent to school in Bicknell, and in 1941 the Grover School was closed. The building has remained largely intact, and in 1986 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Just east of Capitol Reef National Park near the small Moki Ruins of the Fremont Indians. This structure is in an area under the overhang of the cliff. It was used as a granary by the Fremont Indians to keep their food safe. This is a great little place to pull off the highway, see a piece of ancient local history, stretch your legs, hike around a bit.
In the early 1880s, several settlements in Wayne County were started by Mormon farmers under the leadership of Hyrum Burgess. By 1883 some Burgess family members had moved to the Blue Valley area, constructing a dam and irrigation canal by 1884
The land along the Fremont River was fertile, and the growing season longer than in western Wayne County. The valley’s farming potential soon brought other settlers. The settlement was known as Blue Valley for its blue-gray soil, colored by Bentonite clay and Mancos Shale. The town was built on both banks of the river, but most people lived on the south side. A footbridge connected the two halves. A school building was erected in 1888, but a proper townsite was not laid out until June 1895. At that time residents renamed their settlement Giles, in honor of the late Bishop Henry Giles, who had been one of Blue Valley’s most prominent residents. The crops in Giles grew well, and by 1900 the population had increased to 200. A new meetinghouse went up in 1901, said to be the largest in the county. There was a sawmill in the nearby Henry Mountains, and the town included a grocery store, blacksmith shop, and boarding house.
The early 1900s brought frequent devastating floods of the Fremont River. The flooding in 1909–1910 was so severe that local church authorities gave up on trying to maintain a permanent dam. Unable to irrigate their crops, the residents began to leave. By 1919 Giles was a ghost town.
Two rock buildings still stand at the site, and numerous foundations and old corrals show where the town once was.
Torrey is a small agricultural community on U-24 between Bicknell and Capitol Reef National Park, It was named in honor of Colonel Torrey, who fought in the Spanish American War. Torrey has had several earlier names such as Poverty Flat, Youngstown, Central, Popular, and Bortita.(*)
In the spring of 1882 Ebenezer Hanks, Ebenezer McDougall, Joseph Sylvester, Charles Gould, and Samuel Gould moved with their families from Washington County to the junction of the Fremont and Muddy rivers in what is now eastern Wayne County. This early settlement in what was known as Graves Valley–a name applied to the area by John Wesley Powell survey expedition member Walter Graves, who had mapped the region–developed into the community of Hanksville.
In the summer of 1882 the General Land Office let contracts for the surveying of townships along the Fremont River from Capitol Reef eastward to Hanksville. These surveys were completed by the spring of 1883, allowing the earliest settlers to file and establish orderly land claims.
The small community developed quickly; postal service from Green River was established in 1883 with a delivery three times a week. The mail was carried by pony express and the rider would make the 110-mile round trip in two days. The community’s name was changed to Hanksville in 1885, and by 1890 twenty families had moved to the valley and maintained permanent residences there.
Telephone service began in 1913 under a cooperative plan connecting Hanksville to Fruita and other communities in the county. This service was updated in 1960. Hanksville did not receive electricity until 1960; before 1960 many residents operated individual generators run on butane or diesel fuel.
The early settlers depended on culinary and irrigation water from the Fremont River. Culinary water improved in 1933 when a well was drilled that was financed by the Drought Relief Commission; a second well as completed in 1939 by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
A Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) airport was constructed five miles north of Hanksville in 1945. This station still functions as an emergency landing strip and provides current weather data to the busy Los Angeles to Denver route utilized by commercial, private, and military air traffic.
In 1959 a schoolhouse was completed to replace the two-room unit that had housed eight grades since the early organization of the community. At present high school students ride the bus to Bicknell.
Hanksville has always been a hub for mining activity in the area. In 1889 J. C. Summer and Jack Butler developed the Bromide mine in the Henry Mountains. The Turner mine was discovered shortly thereafter; and mine operators treated their ore at Crescent Creek. Today the economy of the area depends heavily upon mining, agriculture, and tourists heading south to Lake Powell. The 1990 census recorded a population of 129 in Hanksville.
Caineville was on the left bank of the Fremont River, sixty-five miles southeast of Loa. In 1882, the Mormon Church sent Elijah Cutler Behunin to open this area for settlement. He was the first man to take a wagon through Capitol Wash (now known as Capitol Reef Gorge) in the Capitol Reef National park. The town he established was named to honor Iohn T. Caine, Utah territory’s representative to Congress. Periodic flooding caused the people to abandon their homes in Caineville and much arable land was lost. Erosion and abandonment eventually reverted this area to open range and ranch land. Today, much of this area is again under cultivation because of improved irrigation techniques. Presently there are no substantial settlements along this stretch of the river, and Caineville could best be called a ghost town.
See my post for the DUP Historic Marker in Cainville here.
This is a photo taken in 1922 in front of that original church that burned in 1937 and was replaced by the cool one you pass in Caineville. This town was once a thriving community and the county seat before the floods drove the pioneers out.
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