In November 1862, the first Mormon settlers pitched their tents and wagons near the big spring-fed pond in the middle of this canyon. The water looked so pure and clean and the pond was full of fish and crawdads.
Albert Petty with his family plus five other families settled in and were joined by about 15 more families by the end of 1863. Some accounts of the settling of Springdale indicate the town was settled in 1863, because that is when Isaac Behunin, the first settler in what is now known as Zion Canyon, built a cabin in a canyon near what would become the location of Zion Lodge. He wouldn’t have considered it Springdale, which was a day’s ride downstream.
By 1864 the settlers had realized the marshy area around the big pond was the breeding ground for mosquitoes that carried the ague – malaria. After being nursed back to health by their neighbors from Rockville, Grafton and Shunesburg, most of the families moved away. In 1866, everyone moved away because the indigenous residents of the area were becoming, let’s say, unwelcoming. The historical accounts call this ‘Indian trouble.’
It took over twelve years for Springdale to grow back to its original size, but those who came back earliest began work on a road and a ditch. They drained the swampy lands and built a ‘canyon fence’ somewhere near what is now the Dickman property. Everyone’s livestock was allowed to run the length of the canyon.
The flooding of the river and the washes beset them regularly. There weren’t many trees to contain the banks. The construction of an irrigation canal was first priority; the construction of the roads in and out of town the second. They knew the most important things they must accomplish were getting water to their crops and getting in touch with the rest of the world for trade, supplies and news. As they soon learned, neither of those things would be easy.
The cloudbursts were devastating to the canals. The mountains that looked so beautiful were also formidable barriers. Springdale was originally within the boundaries of Kane County. Imagine trying to get to Kanab to do business without the tunnel. It took several days for a horse and wagon to make the trip to the county seat, once the road was built over ‘Rockville Mountain.’
In the early 1900’s tourists started arriving in the canyon, including the artist Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, whose paintings of Zion introduced the world to Zion’s amazing colors and peaks. In 1909, the canyon was declared Mukuntuweap National Monument. In 1915 or 1916 (accounts vary), the first automobile arrived in Springdale. In 1916 a road was built from LaVerkin to Springdale by convicts from the State Prison. In 1917 Wylie’s Camp (location of Zion Lodge) opened for overnight guests. In 1919 Mukuntuweap National Monument became Zion National Park, Utah’s first National Park. In 1925, Zion Lodge and cabins were built by Union Pacific Railroad’s Utah Parks Company. Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon, part of the Utah Parks Company’s holdings, were ‘so close, but so far away’ and by 1927 engineers and surveyors had established the route for the Zion-Mt. Carmel highway and tunnel. The doors to the world started to swing open. The 1.1 mile-long tunnel was finished in 1930.
Springdale was barely ready for the world to come calling. There was no electricity until 1927. A culinary pipeline wasn’t started until 1923, and it was a 1 ½” pipeline less than a mile long and built by the water users themselves in exchange for hook-ups. About ½ mile of that pipe was bought used from the oil fields in Virgin. In 1930 there were only two restaurants (West Temple Coffee Shop, later known as Canyon Inn, and Allred’s Café) and three places to stay (Allred’s Camp, Ivy Gifford’s Camp and Graff’s cabins). The single telephone was at the home of Thornton Hepworth. The phone line, serviced by The Southern Utah Telephone Company, was personally installed ‘over the ledges of Zion’ by John Winder so he could communicate with his ranch on East Zion. Though the first gas pump was installed in 1926, the first real service station was built in 1937, twenty-one years after the first car arrived.
It took a while for Springdale to bloom. The Town wasn’t incorporated until 1959. It didn’t have much money. Most tourists went to stay in the Park at Utah Parks Company’s Zion Lodge and Zion Inn. Most of the tourists arrived and left in Utah Parks buses without a stop in Springdale. A few businesses made names for themselves: Grandma’s Kitchen (which became Bumbleberry), Zion Rest Motel (which became Flanigan’s), Allred’s Camp and Café’ (which became Pioneer Lodge), Canyon Inn (which moved and became Driftwood), Hardy’s Market and Post Office (which became Zion Park Market, which became Springdale Candy Company.)
In 1986 the Town qualified for a new Utah tax called Resort Sales Tax. It was estimated the tax would bring in at least $50,000 a year. Unknown to the wise council members who passed that ordinance, the Town’s fortunes had begun to change. In 2011, revenue from the Resort tax exceeded $700,000, roughly 6.5 times the town’s entire 1986 budget.
The Town purchased water rights from the Irrigation Company in 1988 when the Irrigation decree was readjudicated. For the first time in decades, there was adequate culinary water, which significantly impacted the growth of the town. At the same time, the pressurized irrigation system was installed and the canals and ditches that had sustained the town for so many years went dry. An unforeseen consequence: dozens of cottonwood trees, which had been thirstily drinking nearly a third of the water the ditches delivered, began to die. The expected consequence: After decades of water moratoriums, water connections became available for homes and businesses. Having some money and some water allowed Springdale to begin to grow. There were some awful years of contention and struggle while it decided what it wanted to be (and didn’t want to be) when it grew up.
Now Springdale is considered one of the premier gateway partner-cities in the US National Parks system, as well as one of the prettiest towns in America, according for Forbes Travel. The Town’s partnership with Zion National Park is world-famous. Because of that partnership, there is a free public transportation system in Springdale during the tourist season. Springdale boasts about 20 restaurants, 2 candy stores, 2 service stations plus a mechanic’s garage, 25 lodging businesses, including one RV campground, 6 bed and breakfasts, 2 vacation rental homes and two new (unfinished) motels.
The retail and gallery shops in Springdale number in the thirties and are varied and interesting. There is an elementary school, a lovely church, a post office, a bank, a spa, a movie theater, a stage theater, several professional companies, several non-profit organizations, a farmer’s market, a liquor outlet and several guiding companies. Many, many millions of people have visited Zion since 1909; many of them also spent time in Springdale, and many of them return year after year to what they consider ‘home away from home.’
The infrastructure that supports Springdale is impressive–four water tanks, many miles of culinary and irrigation pipelines, a sewer system that services Zion, Springdale and Rockville, two city parks, a lovely community center and a town hall. Sidewalks and a walking/biking path go from one end of town to the other. The McMahons at Zion Clinic have taken care of Springdale’s medical needs for over 20 years. A public library has been important to Springdale for most of its 150 years, and the current library is a gem in the Washington County Library’s ring.
Springdale Elementary school is an important part of our lives and community. The LDS church remains the spiritual center for a significant percentage of the townspeople. Zion Canyon Arts and Humanities Council is one of the longest-lived arts council in Utah; they have been a cultural godsend for over 35 years.
Though Springdale’s population has always been less than 600, the build-out scenarios indicate the population could be 2-3 times that within the next 20-40 years. It is hard to envision. But imagine how stunned those six original families would be to see their neighborhood now: Zion Park Inn, Switchback Grille and Trading Co., Canyon Springs Road, Hampton Inn, two shuttle stops and a highway carrying nearly 3 million tourists a year have replaced the malarial swamp and the gristmill.
The last 150 years have brought commerce and prosperity to Springdale as well as many beautiful homes and lodging places. Still, it is a charming and welcoming village. Best of all are the many new good friends and neighbors who have come home to Springdale to stay. The 2010 census numbered us at 529 residents. Let us continue to strive to keep Springdale a place we all want to ‘come home to’ for at least another 150 years.
Some Major Events and Dates Pertaining to the History of Springdale and Vicinity
(I wish I knew who compiled the list I excerpted most of this from. The original stops in 1942. I have covered more recent dates and filled in some blanks.)
1862 First settlers come to Springdale. Tradition has Albert Petty as the first resident.
1866 Blackhawk War forced move to Rockville. Petty refused to budge.
1870 Brigham Young visited Springdale and Zion and declared ‘This is not Zion’.
1872 John Wesley Powell visited Zion Canyon, coming through Parunaweap and Shunesburg.
1874 Springdale and Rockville joined the United Order, which folded within a year.
1885 The first church building was erected. It served as church, school, town hall and recreation hall.
1897 John Winder built the East Rim Trail with support of Springdale residents. Town got its first Post Office with O.D. Gifford as postmaster.
1901 The first load of wood came down the cable works.
1909 President Taft designated the canyon ‘Mukuntuweap National Monument’.
1915 First automobile, driven by Elmer Stout, comes to Springdale.
1919 Zion declared Utah’s first National Park.
1923 President Harding visits Zion. Union Pacific takes over Wylie’s camp. Culinary water lines are installed in Springdale.
1924 Fox Movie Company made first full-length movie in Zion: ‘Deadwood Coach’ starring Tom Mix.
1930 Springdale Elementary School is built.
1933 The CCCs arrive in Zion. Newell and Norm Crawford climb West Temple.
1934 The road is paved through town and CCCs build the rock ditches. A new church is built.
1935 Utah Parks Co. opens Zion Inn Cafeteria and camp center. (Now the Nature Center.)
1942 The CCCs go home. Clin Twitchell stays and marries Elva Crawford.
1950 Zion Canyon Lions Club is chartered. In the next thirty years, their projects include installation of 13 fire hydrants, placing mercury vapor street lights along Main Street, wood benches along city streets, buying and placing television transmitters, cleaning up the city dump and laying 2700 feet of sidewalk.
1959 Springdale Town is incorporated. Austin Excell is the first town president
1968 Springdale Pipeline Company transfers water rights, water lines and easements to Springdale Town. Zion Canyon Lions Club initiates transfer of land to Town of Springdale. Gale Gifford donates cemetery land to Springdale Town.
1969 Springdale bonds to make water system improvements.
1972 Springdale adopts a Zoning Code and appoints one of the first Planning Commissions in Utah.
1977 Rio Virgin Arts Council, (later Zion Canyon Arts and Humanities Council,) is founded.
1980 Construction begins on the Springdale Sewer System
1981 Construction begins on Town Office building.
1986 Town adopts ordinance authorizing Resort Sales Tax.
1988 Town and Irrigation Company begin construction of pressurized irrigation system. Town purchases water rights that would have been lost to re-adjudication.
Fay Cope, Springdale Town Clerk
Originally published in the Town of Springdale News January – February 2013
Reprinted by permission of Fay Cope