Babylon Mills is a place located just below the Sky Mountain Golf Course in Hurricane, Utah, and has a very storied past. It was situated near the Virgin River to make use of water generated energy. It lies in ruins today, with the mill totally gone. In its day it was known as the Stormont Mill. It was built to see if the people could increase the minting capacity of the ore taken from Silver Reef.
Babylon was a town associated with the Stormont Mill along the Virgin River, six miles southeast of Silver Reef and twelve miles northeast of St. George. It was established in 1877 by a group of mill workers and their families. Its name came from the Babylon of Biblical times, and was probably chosen to distinguish themselves from their Mormon neighbors. About twenty families, totaling between forty and fifty people, lived in town. There were no businesses; the town’s residents rode to Leeds and Silver Reef for their essentials.
Not much else is known about the town’s history, probably because it wasn’t a particularly important place. Newspapers of the day occasionally wrote about the town, though; in an article published by The Salt Lake Tribune on August 3, 1879, it was reported that “A miner’s cabin at Babylon was destroyed by fire on Sunday last.” An article published in The Silver Reef Miner told the sad tale of a Babylon man who committed suicide.
The town of Babylon relied completely on the Stormont Mill, just as the town of Silver Reef relied completely on the mining industry. When the Stormont Mining Company announced that they were closing their mill in 1887, this spelled the beginning of the end for Babylon. No records of the town exist past 1887, but it’s possible that the town was still occupied in the 1890s because the Stormont Mill was being worked by lessees at that time.
For nearly a century, the town of Babylon lay abandoned, Then in the 1980’s, John Vought an official in the U.S. State Department, met and married Geraldine Ruth George who was the first female diplomat from southern Utah. They had three children, all sons.
John & Geraldine Vought had planned to return southern Utah and build a retirement home in the Leeds area
where Geraldine had grown up. Unfortunately, Geraldine died before they were able to do so. However,
John proceeded with the plan.
Vought bought the old Stormont Mill property and engaged St. George architect, Mary Ann Kozlowski.
John put $250,000 into the building of what he called the “Babylon House”. However, after the home caught fire
and burned down to the foundations, he abandoned the project.
Today only the ruins remain along the north side of the Virgin River. Today, only a few relics remain of the old town of Babylon. An empty home and a pile of rubble where a house once stood, sit near the road to Babylon, which starts just north of Leeds. At the Virgin River, the foundations of the Babylon House, as well as the walls of the Stormont Mill’s office, can be seen. These remnants barely begin to tell the tale of the hard-working small town of Babylon.
We gathered at the Zion’s Bank parking lot, then headed east to Pipe Springs. Our group consisted of about 25 to 30 individuals, and we wanted to learn more about the history of this almost “fantasy” castle. It’s name is the Winsor Castle, but is known locally as Pipe Springs. The fort is built protecting the small spring that flows there. It runs right through the fort.
We found all kinds of old pioneer artifacts at the park, and marveled at the skill of these hardened Pioneer ancestors of ours. They used a great deal of ingenuity to build all that they built there. It was particuarly important to the Mormons in St. George as they were building the temple. The Winsor Castle pioneers had lots of milk, and made an amazing amount of cheese that was used to help feed the workers at the temple site. It was also a beef farm, and provide much needed meat for the Southern Utah communities.
The description of the fort is listed below:
Located near the Utah/Arizona border, adventurous visitors will find one of the best kept secrets of the National Parks system: Pipe Spring National Monument. The monument is a historic pioneer fort located 20 minutes west of Kanab, Utah. The fort was created in the 1870’s for security from the Native Americans, but rarely was used for its original purpose. The fort, surrounding grounds and added interpretive displays are now open to visitors every day of the year. This desolate, remote desert area is home to many plants and animals, largely dependent on the spring water that provides much-needed moisture for life and growth.
One thousand years ago, Native Americans from the Kaibab Paiute tribe hunted and gathered food on this plateau. Other tribes in the area, the Utes and Navajo also roamed these lands. All enjoyed and benefited from the life that the spring brought to the desert.
Establishment of the Fort
In the mid 19th century, Jacob Hamlin, leader of a group of Mormon missionaries came across the spring and named it. He immediately saw the spring’s great potential as an oasis in the middle of the desert and took his knowledge of the area back home with him. Mormon pioneers living in St. George, Utah, brought cattle to the spring sometime during the 1860s. They established a large cattle ranch and began interacting with the local Kaibab Paiute tribe. Though the relationship between the ranchers and the Paiute was friendly, there were some problems with other tribes in the area. During the winter of 1866, members of a local Navajo tribe stole the cattle at the ranch. Dr. James Whitmore, the rancher, and his herder, Robert McIntyre began tracking the cattle and were subsequently attacked and killed by the thieves.
Following those attacks, the ranching venture was abandoned for four years until a peace treaty was signed in 1870. Brigham Young, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, deemed that a fort be built for protection. Though equipped with guns and high walls, the fort was never needed for safety, as both the Paiutes and Mormons were able to live in harmony. The fort was built right on top of the spring and was quickly given the nickname of Winsor Castle, after Anson Perry Winsor who was brought in to run the fort and ranching operation. More improvements, such as outbuildings, fences and ponds were completed quickly.
Two Societies Live in Harmony
There were many changes for the Paiute tribe when the Mormons settled and built Winsor Castle. The most obvious impact was the water source, now located inside the fort. Though this created some dependency, the relationship had mutual benefits. The Mormons benefited from the knowledge and friendship of the Paiute, and the Paiute gained some security. For some time, the tribe had been victim to slave raids from other tribes. With the presence of the fort, these attacks ceased and everyone was safe and secure. The Kaibab Paiute tribe continues to live at Pipe Spring. In 1907 the Kaibab Paiute Indian Reservation was founded. The property surrounds the monument, and the Paiute operate a campground and picnic area nearby.
On May 23rd, members of the Hurricane Valley Chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers, along with many members of the Cotton Mission Chapter, and the Dixie Flicks, a photography group met in the Zion’s Bank Parking lot and headed to the Hurricane Mesa.
It was a trek we had been on several years before, but there was so much interest, we ddecided to do it again. Our host and presenter was none other than Chris Woodbury, a member of our chapter. He works on the Mesa every day, and so was the perfect one to give the tour.
As we arrived at the site, we were met by the site of old rockets that had been used in the past, with the sign announcing that we had arrived at the right place.
After showing us around the workshop, we were treated to a short video giving a preview of what they were doing on the Mesa, and how it was helping with the military as they came to know the limits our American Aviators are faced with. The stats were very interesting, and to know that just making one mistake could involve the death of the pilot. (like wearing the wrong kind of glasses) Everything had to be so exact and particular. Chris’ presentation was fascinating and very informative.
After our visit in the workshop, we were taken out to the track. It is a level track that is a mile long. It has a trough in the center that holds water towards the end of the track, and it is the water that slows the sled down and brings it to a stop. The “dummy pilot” is ejected and parachutes to the ground where the crew picks it up and takes it back to the workshop to examine the recorded data to determine if there is anything else that needs to be done to make the ejection of the pilot safer.
At the end of the track, the view is spectacular. On the East you can see the stunning cliffs of Zion, and the quiet community of Virgin, Utah. On the West you can see Toquerville, as well as Hurricane and LaVerkin. On the North you can see the gorgeous cliffs of Kolob Mountain.
It is hard to believe that this facility has been among us for the most part of 65 to 70 years. It was a trek that was well enjoyed. Our Thanks to Chris Woodbury for allowing us to come up, and for explaining about the work that goes on up there.
The Hurricane Canal was built on the south side of the canyon of the Virgin River and parallels the LaVerkin Canal on the north side. Its construction was a remarkable achievement and a monument to the character and integrity of the men who built it.
John M. Macfarlane, who considered the cost prohibitive, investigated the possibilities of bringing the water upon the Hurricane Bench during the early 1860’s. In 1874 John W. Young, son of Brigham Young, explored the area with the same end in view. He reported that the canal would have to be taken out above Rockville in order to get the water over the Hurricane Cliffs, and because of the distance and the general rough character of the intervening country, he pronounced the scheme impracticable.
But other thought about it, especially those who saw the river washing away their small farms and those who had no land upon which to locate their children as they grew to maturity. Among those who were giving it serious thought were James Jepson of Virgin, John Steele of Toquerville, and Levi Harmon who was teaching school at Toquerville. At James Jepson’s suggestion he and John Steele explored the spot where the canal now leaves the Virgin, and they both decided, after sighting with a spirit level, that a canal could be built that would carry the water to the bench. A committee was delegated to explore the canyon and report on the feasibility of the project. They did so, and their report was favorable. On August 25th the stockholders heard the report of Isaac C. Macfarlane’s survey. They decided to begin work as soon as possible on the canal.
As there was no road into the canyon all supplies, including an anvil upon which to sharpen tools, were carried down the north side into the bottom of the canyon. Then they carried it up the other side on the backs of the men who did the work of building the dam and canal. Camping was in the open the first winter, but a crude road was built later which permitted the taking of wagons into the canyon floor.
The dam was built by a group of men who called themselves the Isom Company. The site was admirable as bottom and sides were of solid rock. On the north side was a perpendicular cliff of solid limestone; on the south was a shelf of rock nine feet above the river’s bed, which at this point was about forty feet wide. The plan was to raise the water to the level of the shelf and use it for a spillway. Many arrangements using large timber and rocks were tried and failed to hold. The last tried using big timber, then a layer of cedars with a layer of rock on top bound together with heavy galvanized wire worked. The dam has since withstood the assaults of both floods and high water.
Work lagged at times. In 1898 an appeal was made to the Church for aid in the form of a loan, but the Church was not at the time able to help.
In 1902 they decided to make a second appeal to the Church authorities. James Jepson was sent to ask that the Church aid them by taking $5,000.00 in stock. It was estimated the $20,000,00 more was needed to complete the project. Jepson proposed that the workers be paid twenty-five cents in cash for every dollar’s worth of work and seventy-five cents in stock. In this way the work would be finished when the five thousand dollars was spent.
The appeal was successful, and with this shot in the arm, the work was pushed rapidly to a successful conclusion. On August 6th, 1904, the water was first led to the Hurricane Bench. The Church did not lose on this project and sold its holdings in the company shortly after the water was placed on the bench for $6,600.00 a profit of $1,600.00 on its investment.
Today the fine fields and orchards, the public buildings, and private dwellings at Hurricane testify to the vision of those who initiated this project. It is a monument to the integrity and resourcefulness of the men and women of Dixie who have never seemed to know when they were beaten.