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Lee Benson
Norman Carroll stands near the scale-model of the original Orderville settlement displayed in the town museum.

ORDERVILLE, Kane County — Here in the heart of rural Utah, along the connective ribbon of Highway 89, the small farming community is more or less indistinguishable from all the others. Same fields of alfalfa. Same cows crazing. Same reduced-speed-limit sign at the edge of town.

To get beyond ordinary to extraordinary requires a detour to the past.

Few towns in America — few towns in the world — started out with loftier aspirations.

Its original goal was to become the next city of Enoch.

And why not? Remember what happened there?

The year was 1875. Utah's fledgling economy was staggering, largely because the world's economy was staggering. The Panic of 1873, caused by falling silver prices, had triggered hard times. In response, Brigham Young, the leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, counseled members throughout Utah's Mormon communities to count on each other instead of the world. Share your resources, pool your talents, he urged, live selflessly and thrive.

Within months, more than 200 cooperative collectives were organized from one end of the territory to the other.

But there was no blueprint, no paint-by-the-numbers manual, and absolutely no commandment — you didn't have to do this — so in short order most of the experiments disappeared into chaos.

Nobody wanted to share everything.

Except in one place.

This place.

They were refugees from a Mormon congregation in nearby Mount Carmel. The members there had given communal living a stab, until it disintegrated into disputes over how much and how often.

Finally, in the early spring about 100 fed-up and like-minded individuals packed their belongings and moved two miles north to what was known as the Long Valley.

They named their new community Orderville, and got busy replicating the United Order of Enoch.

Nothing was owned by anyone. Everything was owned by everyone.

They built and lived in houses that were just alike. They dressed in clothes that were just alike. And at dinnertime, they all ate the same food at the same huge communal table. Because supper was often soup, Orderville's nickname became Soup Town.

Sitting at a table at the Soup Town Cafe, Norman Carroll, 81, is living proof that the experiment that launched Orderville lives on. Not exactly, or even very close. But enough that his eyes shine when he speaks of his great-great-grandfather Charles Carroll.

He never knew Charles in the flesh, but when Norman was growing up he heard plenty of stories about him from his grandfather Frederick.

Frederick was 8 years old when has father brought him and the rest of the family to Orderville. They'd been living in the Heber Valley in northern Utah when Charles heard about people attempting to live the United Order of Enoch in southern Utah.

Charles was envious. An early convert to Mormonism in New York, all-for-one-and-one-for-all was how he yearned to live. In May of 1877, about two years into the "experiment," he wrote a letter to Howard O. Spencer, the bishop in Orderville, asking if he could bring his family, his two yoke of oxen, four cows, 75 head of sheep and $1,000 worth of stock in the Park City Silver King mine and throw it into the community pile.

The bishop said by all means.

Charles was not a polygamist, even if he looked like one. He'd fathered four children with his first wife, and after she died and he remarried, he had 14 more with his second wife.

Carroll family lore is that the arrival of Charles and his brood — and all his substantial assets — revived the Orderville experiment.

"He rescued the place," says Norman. "They were in financial trouble and he bailed them out."

But apparently it never was easy. By 1882 the Edmunds Act was passed in Congress, outlawing polygamy and boding ill for its practitioners, of which Orderville had its fair share.

With some residents on the run from the law, and the same number of fields still to be plowed, debates arose over who should plow them. In 1883 a flood wiped out the communal dining hall. There was no attempt to rebuild it. By 1884 the United Order of Enoch was on its way out. It continued on to much lesser degrees all the way to 1904, when the original charter was allowed to officially expire.

Everything that went into the pot went back out, measure for measure.

"They'd kept a good record and everything you'd contributed you got back," says Norman, recounting a history of a century ago is if it were yesterday.

The Carrolls got some land, some sheep and the town store called the Orderville Co-op.

They still have the land, which has expanded over the years to include some 17,000 acres, but they sold the store when Norman was a boy.

The old cooperative building still exists. It's located on State Street in the middle of town, adjoining the Soup Town Cafe.

These days it serves as Orderville's town museum, complete with a scale-model replica of the old communal settlement and original copies of the bylaws for the United Order of Enoch.

Norman says the spirit of the town is the same now as the spirit that got things started.

"People here care about each other; they're all pitchin' in all the time," he says. "I don't know where a person could choose to live that would be any better."

And if he could go back to the good old communal days, would he?

"You know, sometimes I think I'd like to try it," he says, "just for a little while, just to see if it would work."

Somewhere his great-great-granddad has to be pleased.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. Email: [email protected]