The story of Hurricane is the story of water. The story of water is the story of the Virgin River and the dams and canals built on that river. Just how important is that river? Well, if it wasn’t for that river, there’d be no Hurricane, nor LaVerkin, Virgin, Rockville or Springdale. Perhaps there’d be no Washington or St. George. Maybe only Toquerville. Toquerville is the oldest community in Washington County; what we call the Mother Community of the county.
Three things brought about the establishment of Hurricane. First,the “up-river” towns of Virgin, Mountain Dell, Dalton, Millville, Grafton, Rockville, Northrup, Pocketville, Duncan’s Retreat, Shunesburg, Wheeler, Adventure and Springdale were regularly being flooded out. These were all towns between Virgin and Springdale, but the rampages of the violent Virgin River continually caused some towns to be destroyed and new towns to be built. Residents built farms, sometimes no larger than three acres, on tiny plots of soil that clung close to the river banks. The farmers planted and labored, but often when the fields were ready to harvest, the Virgin would send it’s angry flood waters to devour the crops.
Second, the constant flow of new pioneers to the area, and the enlarging of pioneer families made it necessary to find increasing amounts of new farm land. This created a farm land shortage. My grandfather, Allen Joseph Stout lived in Rockville and had 17 children. My father, Marion Stout had 16 children, I being his last child. These early settlers had to find new lands or they would starve or have to move out of the area.
Third, cattlemen from Toquerville pastured their cattle on the rich lands of Hurricane Bench. They noted that the chaparral, and other native vegetation grew larger here than at other places, and realized that the land was fertile. They knew that if they could bring water to this land they could grow pasture, plant farms, and build homes; perhaps create a new town.
Cattlemen from Toquerville built the first structure on the Hurricane Bench. It was a fort and corral overlooking Toquerville. In the fort they constructed a large chimney, and filled it with dried thistle, grease-wood and other flammable materials. If the herders saw any signs of rustlers, Indians, or thieves, they were to ignite the material in the chimney. The smoke would immediately be visible in Toquerville, and residents would drop their work, get their guns and ride hard to protect the herds. To my knowledge, no raids ever took place. But one time a curious boy, wondering what would happen, set the material in the chimney on fire. Soon riders came from all over. They were not happy when they learned it was a hoax. The Bishop was the young man’s father, and one can only wonder what happened when he got his son home that night. The fort is still standing, and is being preserved and improved by the local Sons of Utah pioneers Chapter. It will be a visiting place for tourists and locals to enjoy when it is improved.
In the early 1860′s, Apostle Erastus Snow was traveling in a buggy from Virgin City to St. George accompanied by some horsemen. Learning of an old Indian trail down over the hill that could save many hours, the group successfully descended it by having the horsemen restrain the buggy with their lariats. As they neared the bottom, a strong gust of wind blew the top off his buggy. “Well, that was a hurricane!” He exclaimed. “We’ll call this place Hurricane Hill.” Later the bench area was named the Hurricane Bench.
In 1865 Erastus Snow sent John W. McFarlane to survey the possibility of getting water out of the river onto the Hurricane Bench. After a thorough examination, he reported the project impossible. Nine years later in 1874, Brigham Young, accompanied by his son, John, spoke in the towns of Virgin and Rockville. On their return to St. George, John, riding a horse with three locals as guides, explored the area to see if it would be possible to dam the river and bring the water over the top of the Hurricane Hill and onto the bench. Using his survey instruments, he determined that there would have to be a dam o the river above Rockville, so he also reported the project impossible.
Nine years later, in June of 1893 James Jepson of Virgin, returning from a trip to Beaver, stopped in Toquerville for dinner with John Steele. John told James that he had been thinking of a canal to get water out of the river and onto the Hurricane Bench. James replied that he had been thinking the same thing for years, and had a dam site already picked out. They agreed to meet the next Thursday and explore the possibility. They met on the ledges above the Virgin River, and together, armed only with a spirit level, descended down into the canyon, and surveyed up river, sighting with the level, then going to that spot and sighting again until they came to a point where the river met their survey. They determined that if a dam was placed at the spot where James had picked out, water would indeed flow onto the fertile land of the Hurricane Bench.
James and John agreed to go back to their communities, pick men interested in the project as representatives, and meet with them. The people of these communities were willing listeners and enthusiastic supporters. Six men were elected to go over the ground and report back. Accordingly, they met in Toquerville four days later; J.T. Willis, Martin Slack and Levi Harmon from Toquerville and James Jepson from Virgin, with Hosea Stout from Rockville and Tom Flanigan from Springdale. After studying the plan, they visited the site from one end to the other. The project looked discouraging, but in the face of necessity decided to attempt the damming of the Virgin River.
At a meeting on July 15, 1893 in Virgin, with many interested citizens in attendance, plans were made to begin the project. Later, on September 1, 1893, the Hurricane Canal Company was organized and incorporated and details worked out for construction of the canal.
At one time everyone connected with Hurricane worked on the Hurricane Canal. Today we classify Canal workers into one of three historical groups of people. 1. Those who built the canal. 2. Those ditch riders who guarded and maintained it. 3. Those who keep the dream alive today by preservation.
There were about 100 original subscribers, each to receive 20 shares entitling them to a city lot in town and 20 acres of farm land on the bench. No person could receive more than 20 acres. That way men could work the 20 acres and not be discouraged. The only exception was when a man had grown sons, each could receive 20 acres and a building lot if they also worked to earn their shares. In this way, the young people could get a start on life with a home and farm. The 20 acre limit would insure that no large property owners could dominate the valley. The canal was to be 7 1/2 miles long, 9 feet wide at the bottom and 13 feet wide at the top, and 4 feet deep. There would be 12 tunnels through solid rock with a combined length of 1,023 feet, and six flumes on truss work across gullies and washes. The canal would run 200 feet above the river at places on sheer ledges.
These pioneers planned the city wisely. In 1896, long before the canal was finished, they surveyed the towns streets and fields. City property was divided into five acre blocks, with four lots in each block, each parcel being a corner lot, containing one and one quarter acres. In the downtown area, streets were marked off five rods wide north and south and four rods wide east and west. A town square was set aside for city offices, school, church and library. The field area was also laid out in 20 acre squares, with a ditch and a road to every farm. Two thousand acres of new fertile farm land would be made available by building this new canal.
The names of every shareholder were placed in a hat. The city lots were numbered and were placed in another hat. The same was done in the fields. Three men drew: one drew a name, another drew a parcel of field land and another drew a town lot. Even the leaders and officers of the canal company were treated equally. Work on the canal was parceled into four rod stations (66 feet). Stakes were placed at the start of each station with the number of the station and the price value of that station written on the stakes. Some of the stations were in loose dirt, others in hard rock, and some had to be built up from below to hold the canal. Still others were through solid rock, and had to be tunneled through the mountain. Prices were set according to the difficulty of each station, based on $2.00 a day of good fair work. Men chose their area of work on a first-come first-served basis, and credit was given for work completed, not for hours worked.
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