History forgotten: Utah’s ghost towns give a look into the past

Local News

Courtesy of Visit Utah

(ABC4) – Ghost towns, or places once lived in by humans that have since been abandoned, have long been an interesting reminder of the way things used to be. Lately, with the ability to upload a cool picture to Instagram or any other social media platform, visiting a ghost town and getting a sweet photo has become a popular pastime for many adventurers.

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“A ghost town is a place with a story, and with it, history that may have been forgotten,” Visit Utah public relations manager Anna Loughridge tells ABC4. “Utah has a lot of ghost towns because of our towns that were originally settled by Mormon pioneers, all the way up to our mining towns.”

Here’s a look at some of the most interesting ghost towns in Utah and their history:

Note: Ghost town visitors should take extreme caution around unsafe or old building structures and should not enter any abandoned mine shafts.

Frisco (Beaver County)

Courtesy of Visit Utah

An ironic paradox, Frisco may be the most well-known of any of the forgotten towns on this list. The dome-shaped charcoal mines are frequently visited by fans of ghost towns and have even earned Frisco a place on the National Register of Historic Places. If the name Frisco sounds derivative, it’s because it is. The town was named by miners who worked at the San Francisco Mine and earned a reputation with historians as one of the rowdiest places in the Great Basin, with a selection of 23 saloons. Some of those structures remain standing to this day. Once home to 6,000 people in the late 1800s, Frisco was dealt a bad hand when the Horn Silver Mine caved in in February 1885. By 1920, the town was completely abandoned.

Grafton (Washington County)

The abandoned town of Grafton can make a claim as one of the most viewed ghost towns in the Old West, thanks to the film industry. The 1969 classic, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, was filmed in the southern Utah ghost town. Prior to its life on the big screens with two of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Grafton died out as a town thanks to frequent flooding from the nearby Virgin River. Once the seat of Kane County, the last residents left the town in 1944. A film producer purchased the land in 1946 and 23 years later, Grafton had its starring role as the background in the Academy Award-winning movie.

Joy – (Juab County)

Courtesy of Utah State Historical Society

Joy is likely not the feeling visitors encounter when visiting this former mining town in the Great Basin. Interestingly, the ghost town was not named for any feelings of euphoria or happiness but was given the moniker after its founder, Henry Joy. After abandoning his efforts to strike it rich with copper mines in Utah, Joy went on to become President of the Packard Motor Car Company in Detroit. A few scattered mining structures and gravesites are reminders of Joy’s time in Utah’s Drum Mountain area before he went on to lead what was at one point, one of the biggest automobile manufacturers in the country.

Sego – (Grand County)

Courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey

Born as a mining hub in Eastern Utah, the lifespan of Sego is highlighted both by lack of water, and then in a twist of fate, floods that washed the town away. First known as Ballard, then as Neslen, Sego was a center of activity for coal mining, shipping most of its supply to Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. However, the erratic water supply proved to be one of the biggest downfalls of the now abandoned railroad town. When the water table dropped in the summer, operating the coal washer was impossible, then when floods impacted the area intermittently, damage to the bridges and trestles brought the rail system to a grinding halt. Eventually, the costs outweighed the income brought in by the coal, and Sego was left behind in 1955. A flood that struck in the early 1980s eliminated most of the remaining trestles and left the rest of the ghost town quite unsafe.

Standardville – (Carbon County)

Wirth Watching- The Ghost Town of Spring Canyon_13840968-159532

Established in 1912, this Carbon County-located mining town was considered to be so planned that it was dubbed the “standard” for future endeavors, thus the name. Standardville was a comfortable place for mining families to live at the peak of its run, with community amenities such as a barbershop, a recreation hall, and tennis courts. The town was impacted by a large explosion in the mine in 1930, which killed 20 of its 29 workers at the time. What finally gave Standardville its finishing blow was the decrease in the demand for coal after WWII. The mine shut down in 1950 and a couple of families held on to live in the area until the 1970s. Now, Standardville is nothing more than a memory and a few dilapidated buildings.

The towns above, a few of the most noteworthy and Instagrammable ghost towns, are not a complete list of such places in Utah. There are dozens of abandoned settlements throughout the Beehive State that offer a look into the past.

Which ones did we miss? Comment on the Facebook post below:

The Historical Guide to Utah Ghost Towns by Stephen Carr was used in the research for this story.

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