Monday, August 18, 2014

The Utah flashfloods of 1923 and More History ...

                           The sign inside Willard Basin.

CLOUDBURST Death Toll Mounts, Mangled bodies found in debris; Scouts victims” was an Aug. 14, 1923 headline in the Ogden Standard-Examiner.
Ninety-one years ago this month, floods struck Willard, Farmington and Centerville, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage and eight people were killed.
There were two fatalities below Willard Canyon and six in or around Farmington Canyon.
Crops in the wide area were ruined and the main highway was blocked by up to six feet of mud in Willard and Farmington.

                      Looking downward into lower Farmington Canyon.       Photo by Taylor Arave.
Flood crests in Farmington Canyon were observed to be 75-100 feet high and 200 feet across. Patrons at Lagoon had to be rescued from trees, or roofs, where they had fled from the rising waters.
Willard lost all electrical power and communications and most of Farmington too.
A.L. Glasmann, editor of the Standard rushed to Willard after hearing of the disaster and worked throughout the night helping people.
“The district is a picture of desolation,” Glasmann stated.
The Standard also set up a relief fund and helped raised thousands of dollars for flood victims.
Much of the devastation resulted from overgrazing in the Wasatch Mountains. In the 1930s, government programs created reservoirs, terraces and flood basins above Willard and from Farmington to Centerville in the mountains to help prevent future such disasters.
By the way:
-Maelstrom  in the Lake,” was an April 16, 1903 headline in the Standard. Back then as the Lucin Cutoff was being built, fanciful stories of a bottomless sinkhole and whirlpool in the Great Salt Lake abounded.

  The Great Salt Lake at the north end of Fremont Island, where the Lucin Cutoff spans the water.

J.H. White, stockman and part-owner of Antelope Island called such stories “fairy tales” and laughed at them. Some such tall tales were told by Southern Pacific officials, who bet a solid road bed could not constructed for trains over such a sink hole. However, less that 18 months later, by September of 1904, trains started using the shortcut.  
-“Is Salt Lake destined to disappear?” was a Sept. 9, 1899 headline in the Standard. Claims of crop irrigation depleting the water from the streams that used to recharge the lake was cited as the cause, that would leave the inland sea at the sun’s mercy.

                Salt Flats at the east side of Fremont Island, when the lake is low.

Proof that the lake was vanishing was the fact that its length had decreased by 10 miles, from 80 to 70 miles in the past decade.
Yet, 115 years later, the Great Salt Lake is still there.
-“Would make part of Great Salt Lake fresh reservoir” was a Jan. 11, 1925 Standard headline. A possible dam was suggested on the east side of the lake from Saltair to Promontory Point. Inflowing river water would then make the briny waters fresh over time.
Almost four decades later, Willard Bay came along to the north of that original idea of creating fresh water on the lake’s eastern edge.
-More history:  Zion National Park was headed for a record tourist season 87 years ago. An Aug. 28, 1927 headline in the Standard stated, “Zion Park and Bryce Canyon are overrun with tourists.”
Californians in particular were visiting Utah’s two National Parks in record-setting numbers.
Deer hunting the Kaibab Forest, north of the Grand Canyon was also a big controversy in that era, with locals believing they had the right to five deer a year from that area.

(-Originally published on Aug. 15, 2014 in the Ogden Standard-Examiner.)

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:  

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