Beaver, Utah — Quiet Country, Rich History
“Stand perfectly still and don’t worry they are just as afraid of you as you are of them, “ my grandfather instructed as I was given my spot on the pasture. The closer they came, the more afraid I was. But I stood my ground even as these massive animals came toe to toe with my five-year-old frame. I tried the stare down effect and as their eyes met mine their tongues fell from their mouths like long pieces of red licorice. Sure enough they turned into the corral when they approached the line marked by me and my siblings. Today was branding day at the Hofheins Farm. This is a long ago memory which is forever etched in my mind. I have few of my grandfather as a cowboy after this day. When I was five my grandfather was caught in a post hole digger, his neck broke, and he barely lived. In the 1980’s like many rural Utah farmers the farms was lost to “big dreams” and overextending one’s resources. That was a sad day for our family.
Thankfully, we still had grandfather in his recliner to recount story after story beginning with he and his brother’s desire to leave the family trade of masonry behind and become farmers. They were successful and their acreage grew. Grandpa told me endless stories of riding the range with grandma’s lipstick on to protect his lips, his cowboy hat a top his head, and his chaps protecting his legs. I could get lost in his stories.
I have come to Beaver since my birth to visit my grandparents. It was in their small white frame home with the scent of manure lingering that I discovered years before the nation ever knew that Beaver did indeed have the best drinking water. However, I had always thought it was because of Grandma’s tin cups that it tasted so good. Over the years, our family grew and decreased in number as time marched by us. Some of the stories are pleasant and some rather painful. But I had always thought that even after Grandpa passed that she would be there in that one frame home quilting behind the lace curtains. But Grandma passed away last year and I had not returned to Beaver’s quiet for a year.
One this day in June, I returned with my mom and my two youngest children. We ate curd from the famous Beaver Cache Valley Cheese, watched the horses out to pasture, heard the bell chime and stopped at the red light in the center of town (it has only been in existence for six months). I discovered Beaver from a different perspective. Perhaps, as one returning home. In my ramblings I hope you feel the quiet of this town. The quiet peace that has echoed in my heart for nearly four decades.
The bell of the county courthouse still chimes every hour on the hour here, peacocks are known to wander aimlessly down the busiest road in town, there is only one stop light, and it boasts the best drinking water in the nation. But more than that Beaver is quiet.
Beaver was settled in 1856, when the Mormon apostle, George A. Smith called 15 men and their families from Parowan to establish a settlement in Beaver. It was the lush valleys and rich soil which first drew the settlers to this haven. Today, the history of this town can be traced through the architecture of its buildings.
Beaver’s pink rock houses were made from adobe until the mid 1880’s when the first bricks were fired by the Patterson family along the South Creek where a rich clay deposit was found. In 1868 stone masons came to town led by Thomas Frazer. Frazer’s black rock structures were less expensive than the brick but superior in quality to the adobe. As late as 1999, sixteen of Frazer’ s stone houses still stood.
Both the Beaver County Courthouse and the Beaver Opera House capture the culmination and craftsmanship of early architecture. But homes in both the pink rock and black rocks are still standing today.
The Sleepy Blue Lagoon on the south side of town beckoned wandering tourists until nearly a decade ago when it caught on fire. But before it came to town there were Beaver’s first two notable hotels which beckoned the weary traveler. The Thompson Hotel and the Low Hotel were the first hotel establishments in Beaver. However, these hotels served mostly as boarding homes to the miners and other workers. Fort Cameron also brought an influx of passersby to this thought to be sleepy town. Fort Cameron was a military base established in 1872 at the mouth of Beaver Canyon in efforts to squash Indian uprisings. An African American couple ran The Lee Boarding House above Charley’s Saloon. The Lees came to town because of the Fort and housed many of the workers from Fort Cameron. While Beaver was settled by the Mormons it has a colorful past shaped by its residents, some who stayed for short period while others stayed for generations.
Those adding to the color of Beaver’s “story” are its two most notable citizens who call Beaver their birthplace. The first was the infamous Butch Cassidy who lived in Beaver for a very brief time. The other was Philo T. Farnsworth who called the streets of Beaver home until age thirteen. Farnsworth is credited as the “father of the television” for his “image dissector” which he first drew for his high school teacher, Justin Tolman, at age 16. Today, a statue of Farnsworth stands on the grounds of the County Courthouse in Beaver.
Education in Beaver was an evolving process. In the 1860’s the Methodists opened schools with the initiative of providing a better quality education for Mormon children and perhaps convert them along the way. In 1886 the Mormon Church established their own school naming it Beaver Stake Academy. At the Academy, children were taught during the day while adults were educated in the evenings. This was the first church school south of Provo. In 1888 when the Utah Territorial Legislature tightened its belt, drastic organizational and financial changes were instituted in Beaver’s school. Unable to compete with this new free school system, the Academy closed its doors in 1890. In 1909 a two story red brick school house was constructed and educated children in eight divisions. Up to this point in time, following eighth grade there was no high school offered. However, the Beaver Branch of Brigham Young Academy was opened in September 1898 under the leadership of two Mormon general authorities. When Fort Cameron was abandoned, the church became owner of the land and it was here that the Academy was housed. Later the name was changed to the Murdock Academy and continued educating high school age children throughout the region until 1922 when the doors closed due to the creation of public high schools.
Recreation in Beaver’s early pioneer days was marked by parades and dances. The favored dances of the day were the quadrille, the waltz, the polka and scotch reel. The music was generated from fiddles, organs and accordions. During the winter months, dances were held in houses and churches but when the weather warmed dances were held in barns, under boweries, and even in candle lit fields. Besides the typical wedding dances and church dances, Beaver residents held wood dances (dances held to help the widows. Young men chopped wood in exchange for the price of an admission ticket) and basket dances ( the young women and girls decorated baskets and then filled them with delicious picnic lunches. The baskets were auctioned off to the highest bidder who won the basket and a lunch with its lady). In 1876 baseball came to town as the “Rough and Ready” and the “Resolutes” suited up to display their skills. Other sporting events were somewhat informal as the men gathered near the lake’s shore for a skipping rock competition. Parades likewise caused a reason for Beaver residents to gather and generated great enthusiasm. The Pioneer Day Parade and the 4th of July depicted events from early Utah and United States history. Even today, these parades have few peers amongst the neighboring communities.
Beaver’s history is anything but quiet. But along the banks of its water and amongst the rubble of past buildings there is an echo. The crickets sing of it in the twilight and farm animals hum its song during the day. The tune is simply called quiet. It’s a thoughtful town with a peacock, a chiming bell, delicious drinking water, and one stop light. It is Beaver with one large American Flag.