Ghost Town: Grafton, Utah
Ghost town from 1847 West of the United States in Mexican Territory.
Trip to a Ghost Town
We happened upon Grafton by accident while checking the map of Zion National Park given to us by the Park Ranger as we paid the fee to enter the park. Grafton is not well know like the other Western Ghost towns of Bodie in Mono County, Northern California or Calico in Barstow, California. Being a history lover and having been to other ghost towns, we were intrigued by Grafton. Since Grafton was on the way as we returned home to Southern California a short detour to Grafton seemed ideal.
Grafton was part of numerous villages settled by pioneers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known as Mormons to us non-Mormons. It was around 1847 when a group of LDS arrived in Utah, then known as Mexican Territory. The pioneers found the land in Southern Utah to the perfect place to grow cotton and provided other resources that would insure self-sufficiency of the settlers for years to come.
Cotton was such a major crop of the Utah area that part of St. George, Utah is known as "Dixie" as in the cotton growing regions of the South. The only difference is the Mormons farmed the land and did not enslave people to help process the cotton.
Grafton is located in Rockville, Utah near the Virgin River which is the southern part of the state. It was the Virgin River that fed the much needed water to the crops but it was also the Virgin River that would frequently overflow and wipe out the crops. It was a constant conflict of needing water for the crops but getting too much that it destroyed the crops. Life was not easy in the early West.
Grafton is an easy three hour ride from Las Vegas, Nevada. If you are heading to Zion National Park, we recommend a stop at Grafton if it is early in the day and if you have an SUV or truck. Getting into the area of where the cemetery and main buildings or homes in the town is dirt road so a truck or SUV helps. You probably can drive the dirt road in a standard passenger car as long as it is not one of those cars low to the ground. There are major dips in the dirt road and lots of huge rocks. If you like mountain bike riding and can truck your bike to where the asphalt turns to dirt, you can easily access the town via mountain bike.
We were in our rented SUV and having just spent a week at Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort, we decided to stop at Grafton as we head south back to our home in California. As we drove down State Route 9 outside of Springdale, Utah we totally missed the turn off to Grafton. We did not have any exact address and it did not matter as we were fairly certain the coordinates would not show up in our GPS. We had to make a U-Turn on State Route 9 and back track. Here are directions, but stay alert so you don't miss the turn off:
In Rockville on UT9 turn south onto Bridge Road, take a right at the intersection and then follow the signs to the Grafton ghost town. The cemetery is about a hundred yards away from the buildings.
As you drive down the road, you will pass a couple of other properties with custom built homes and some beautiful horse farms. One homeowner with a sense of humor, posted a sign saying "Please drive slow, your dust is being breathed in by a hippie homeowner with allergies". This made us think the surrounding property owners are not too happy having a historical landmark near their homes. Perhaps some visitors have not obeyed the unwritten rule of leave no footprints behind and have respect for other's property?
We drove slowly so as not to stir up any dust and because we feared a rock may kick up and dent our oil pan. This is certainly not the place you want to break down. It is remote and it was July when we were there. Southern Utah is desert. Being stranded in the heat in a ghost town is not as romantic as it sounds. It is more like living a real life horror movie like the "Hills have Eyes" or something along those lines.
The first part of the town we came to was the cemetery. We love old cemeteries. Cemeteries give a glimpse into life and how much of a struggle people who came before us went through. One thing we know for sure, is the most treatable illnesses now were a death sentence back then. Influenza killed many. Another thing is old cemeteries have no sense of political correctness and why should they, PC was not invented yet.
Tombstones typically list the cause of death in old cemeteries, things like "Here lies John Smith, lived by the gun killed by the Law" Grafton's cemetery followed the like other old cemeteries we have visited.
There was the Russell family who lost their daughter when she fell off a swing. Her tombstone stated "Here lies Loretta dead from a fall from a swing and died". There you have it. Blunt and to the point. She was only 13 years old.
There was the entire young Berry family "killed by Indians". You wonder how did they get to Southern Utah? Did they make a year long trip, struggle with illnesses, lack of food and water only to make to Utah and be killed?
It appears that 1866 was an especially hard year for Grafton's town folk. Based on the burials at the cemetery, it appears almost all the residents of Grafton were touched by death of a loved one. Many were children. Buried in the Grafton Cemetery are:
January 18, 1866 John William York 10 years Diphtheria
January 25, 1866 Asa Uriah York 3 years Diphtheria
January 25, 1866 James Jasper York 5 years Diphtheria
February 9, 1866 Frances Ann Field 7 years Diphtheria (Daughter)
February 9, 1866 Sarah Ann Brook Field 37 years Diphtheria (Mother)
February 1866 Sarah Ellen Field 5 years Diphtheria (Daughter)
February 15, 1866 Loretta A. Russell 14 years Accident-Swing Broke
February 15,1866 Elizabeth H. Woodbury 13 years Accident-Swing Broke
April 2, 1866 Robert M. Berry 24 years Killed by Indians (Brother of Joseph)
April 2, 1866 Isabella Hales Berry 20 years Killed by Indians (Robert's Wife)
April 2, 1866 Joseph S. Berry 22 years Killed by Indians (Brother of Robert)
August 4, 1866 George Judson Andrus 1 year Scarlet Fever
September 1, 1866 Medora Andrus 6 months Scarlet Fever
1866 Else Marie Bybee 45 years Unknown
Robert Madison Berry, 24, his wife Mary Isabella Hales Berry, 20, and brother Joseph Smith Berry, 22, were killed by Navajo raiders.
We spent some time in the small cemetery at Grafton contemplating what life must have been like. The cemetery is a small area, very stark, no grass or trees. A simple burial place with mounds of dirt piled on the deceased. The dirt looks fresh as if those who passed where just buried a week ago not over a hundred years.
Some of the headstones have been refurbished or entire new ones put in place. Maybe descendants have traced their roots and visited deciding to honor their ancestry by upgrading to new headstones? We prefer the old ones, the hand carved stone ones but to each his own.
We get back into our modern-day covered wagon and drive on to the next spot. Sadly there are not as many restored buildings as we thought there would be. We are not sure if some of the ghost town was sold off to private citizens or if the land is owned by the original landowner's family. We were able to enter and tour the Wood's home, which "tour" is really not accurate. The "home" is a log shack-very modest. With a window and a fireplace. There is small structure in the back yard of the main shack and it appears it may have been used for horses, cows or chickens-some sort of livestock.
There is the old school house which we were able to look through the windows and see a reproduction photograph of the children who attended this one room school.
We moved on to a small house identified as the "Russell" home where a swing hangs from a tree in the front yard. The Russell family lost one of their daughters, 14 year old Loretta when she and her best friend Elizabeth Woodbury fell when the swing broke apparently causing fatal head injuries. The two friends are buried together in the town's cemetery. As for the swing still hanging from the tree, we wonder is it some sort of macabre joke?
Grafton Historical site is not manned by any State park rangers. We could not find any hours of operation. There is no charge to enter the site but there is a small donation box which we gladly stuffed with a few dollars.
Grafton seems to be in various stages of being restored. There are only a few buildings available to see. A barn and another home were fenced off, apparently undergoing refurbishing.
We did not see any ghosts and as much as "ghost town" sounds like the place is dead, we found history very much alive in this once living town. Don't be fooled though, Grafton has not been sitting alone all these years, in fact Hollywood discovered Grafton years ago.
Grafton has been the stage or backdrop for many Hollywood movies going back to 1929 when Old Arizona (the first talking movie was filmed at Grafton). Paul Newman rode a bicycle down the Main Street of Grafton with Katherine Ross on the handlebars as Robert Redford slept inside the Ballard Home in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, possibly the most famous movie filmed at Grafton. We vote Grafton a must see if you are anywhere in the Southern Utah area.