WASHINGTON COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY (Washington County, Utah)
First settled in 1859-1962, Grafton inspires visitors today with its
historic homes, its green pastures and orchards, as well as its stunning
scenic beauty on the banks of the Virgin River, at the base of the Grafton
Mesa and with views of Mount Kinesava. Set in the midst of world-famous
Zion National Park, the remains of the once-bustling Grafton now stand as a
ghost town in honor of the hard work that so characterized the early
settlers. Grafton's overwhelming beauty was not lost on Hollywood scenes in
at least three movies, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,
starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman, were filmed at the site in 1969.
LOCATIONFrom Hwy. 9 in Rockville, Utah, turn south on Bridge Road (200 East). Bare right after crossing the Virgin River. Turn right again at the stop sign. The last 2.6 miles are unpaved but should be okay for cars in dry weather. Grafton's cemetery is on the left at a turn 0.3 mile before the town site.
1900 map of Grafton.
Map of Grafton
HISTORYNathan C. Tenney and others from Virgin settled in Grafton in 1859. The fertile Virgin River valley provided opportunity for the early settlers to grow cotton. The town reached a population of 120 in 1900.
The Grafton Ward was organized in 1877 and quickly outgrew the little log school house of 1862. The chapel was begun in 1886 and dedicated on July 8, 1888. The ward was demoted to a branch of the Rockville Ward in 1907. It was decommissioned altogether in 1921 and the chapel has not been used since that time.
Although the land was fertile, Indian raids and continuous flooding discouraged many. The town thrived for some time, but people began to move to safer places after 1900 and by 1921 Grafton had become a ghost town.
The town and its meeting house were featured in the 1930 film "The Arizona Kid" and more recently in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid".
Two efforts to preserve Grafton faltered while the town's buildings suffered serious deterioration and vandalism. Lu Wayne Wood, who was born in Grafton in 1911, initiated a new effort to stabilize the town's church/school in 1995. The adobe building was in imminent danger of collapse. From this focus on a single building, the project expanded to include the entire town site. The need for action was urgent as pressure was growing from developers who wanted to purchase the land surrounding Grafton and construct condominiums.
The Grand Canyon Trust joined the partnership to support the preservation of the fragile Virgin River riparian environment. The Trust took on significant fundraising for the project as well as scientific analysis of the site. David Hatfield, mayor of the nearby town of Rockville, accepted the chairmanship of the partnership. His patient leadership helped the ideologically diverse members of the partnership reach successful compromises.
The Grafton Heritage Partnership's achievements are many. It has sensitively renovated the historic church/school and secured commitments from the private landowners in the townsite to keep their land in agricultural use. It also raised $1,350,000 to purchase the 220-acre Stout Ranch that surrounds the townsite to prevent Grafton from being ringed by development.
The Grafton Heritage Partnership has continued working on the restoration and interpretation of the town site.
Commentary by Mary Phoenix:
The church and the cemetery are almost all that is left of Grafton, once considered the most promising of settlements in southern Utah. It seemed to have everything in its favor, good soil, water easily available and a breathtakingly beautiful location.
It is interesting to note that many of its early inhabitants did not see this beauty. Fresh from the rolling green hills of England, they could see nothing of beauty about them. Miles Romney, church architect sent by Brigham Young to oversee the St. George Temple construction, was sent to Grafton until the temple work was to begin. He wrote in his diary: "When I studied Milton's Paradise Lost in school I never intended to spend the last part of my life in it."
To those who loved the location it seemed a paradise with constantly changing scenery on all four sides. The raging Virgin prevented the town from ever reaching its full potential. Every year this untameable force washed a little more of its fertile soil away and every year people had to leave to make a living elsewhere until there was no one left.
The church was dedicated in July of 1888. Wanda Truman, one of the last people left who spent their early life in Grafton, says that it is impossible for one not a native to understand what the church meant to the people. They were educated there, they attended church services in it, they held weekly dances and socials there and they were buried from there.
Everyone worked on its construction. Even the adobes were made right on the site. It is a symbol to these people of the Golden Rule as they lived it, where everyone did love their neighbors as themselves. Just looking at this old building can make us feel as these people did.
WCHS-00370 Adobe meeting house in Grafton
WCHS-00555 Jon Bowcutt sketch of the Grafton Church
Other photos on the web:
Log house or barn at Grafton
The adobe meeting hall and house at Grafton
Photo of the adobe meeting hall at Grafton
Photo of some grave plots at the Grafton Cemetery
Photo of the Robert M. Berry headstone at the Grafton Cemetery
A collection of Grafton ghost town photos
REFERENCESHistoric Grafton Pamphlet
Grafton Heritage Partnership Project
Grafton historical features
Wikipedia article about Grafton
A history of Grafton
Grafton 'Rides' Again: Utah's most famous ghost time gets a new lease on life
Historical Buildings of Washington County (Volume 1), pp. 32-33.
Washington County Chapter, Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, " Under Dixie Sun".
1950 with 1978 Supplement.
James T. Jones, " Old Grafton, History of Grafton, Utah (1861-1921)"
Lyman & Karen Platt
Grafton, Ghost Town on the Rio Virgin
200 page book originally published in 1998 and later reprinted by the the Grafton Heritage Partnership
Dr. Lyman D. Platt, "Grafton: Ghost Town on the Rio Virgin".
St. George: St. George Magazine, 1998. 200 p.
Victor Hall, "Life in Grafton"
This article is based on accounts by Grace Atkin Woodbury and Bertha Wood Hall.
Utah Heritage Award presented to the Grafton Heritage Partnership on October 19, 2000.