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5 unforgettable ghost town adventures

By Grant Olsen

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Oct. 19 2012 8:49 a.m. MDT

This beautiful stone church is one of the highlights of Grafton, a ghost town near Zion National Park.

Grant Olsen

In a recent article, I showcased photos from some of my favorite Utah ghost towns. Many readers requested more information on how to find these towns, so I’ve compiled this list of five ghost towns that will allow you to see some of our state’s most stunning relics from the past.

It is important to note that most of these destinations are either partially or entirely on private property. Visitors should always respect the law when exploring ghost towns.

GRAFTON: This is one of the most accessible ghost towns in the state. It’s so beautiful and well preserved that it’s been used as a setting for multiple films, including “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

The history: This area was settled in 1859, but the town was nearly destroyed during the great flood of 1862. The resilient residents moved a mile upstream on the Virgin River and built a new town they named Grafton, after Grafton, Mass.

In 1866, Utah was in the midst of the Black Hawk War and Grafton was one of the many remote settlements that were abandoned for fear of Indian attacks. People began returning in 1868, but flooding from the notoriously volatile Virgin River again became a major threat to the town’s safety. By the early 1900s, most of the residents had moved away and only a few families remained.

What remains: The Grafton Heritage Partnership has done a remarkable job of restoring and protecting the town’s remaining structures. The old stone church is Grafton’s crown jewel, and you’ll also find multiple homes and barns to visit. Also make sure to visit the historic cemetery.

How to get there: Grafton is located just west of the town of Rockville on State Route 9. Take Bridge Road over the river and then follow it westward as it parallels the river to the town site.

WIDTSOE: Though much of the town has been destroyed, Widtsoe boasts one of the most picturesque relics in Utah—its solitary schoolhouse.

The history: Like many early Utah settlements, Widtsoe went through a long series of name changes. In 1902 it was named Adair, in honor of an early settler. This was changed to Houston shortly thereafter, and then changed to Winder in 1910. Seven years later, the post office decided that there were too many “Winders” in the region and changed the name to Widtsoe, in honor of John A. Widtsoe, who was a developer of the dry farming techniques used in the area.

The town thrived as new farming techniques allowed success in the rough conditions. Soon Widtsoe had hotels, stores, a post office, and the aforementioned schoolhouse. But extended drought conditions thwarted even the most resilient farmers and the population began to decline. By the mid-1930s, the town was abandoned.

What remains: In addition to the gorgeous schoolhouse, Widtsoe has a handful of other surviving homes and sheds.

How to get there: Widtsoe is on the east side of State Route 22, about 24 miles south of Antimony.

OSIRIS: Located next to a beautiful stream in Black Canyon, the Osiris creamery is a magnificent sight to behold.

The history: Settled in 1910, this town along the east fork of the Sevier River was originally called Henderson in honor of a Panguitch man who donated the land. But then the Holt family from nearby Widtsoe came in and constructed a massive creamery and summer home. For reasons unknown, they named the site Osiris, after the Egyptian god of the afterlife.

In an attempt to make the operation more lucrative, the creamery was later converted into a grain mill. However, harsh weather conditions and poor farming doomed the settlement and it was abandoned in the 1920s.

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