Chapter 2: Settlement
Thomas Judd: The Canal And The Tunnel
The rich but dry soil of the LaVerkin Bench was admired as potential farmland for many years but it took Thomas Judd to make it bloom. We are indebted to his daughter-in-law, Maude MacFarlane Judd,8 for the bulk of our knowledge about the town’s early development.
Thomas, an LDS convert, was eighteen when he helped his family move from England to St. George in 1864. Toquerville had been established in 1858 and the birth of Virgin and the other up-river towns soon followed. As the Virgin River's floods were eating away half of the available up-river farmland, discouraged farmers dreamed of a way to bring water out onto the Hurricane and LaVerkin benches. An early visitor was Erastus Snow who noted the LaVerkin Bench's potential, perhaps on the same trip in which he gave "Hurricane Hill" its name.
The feasibility of a canal and tunnel to bring water on the bench was discussed at a meeting of Washington County officials at the then-county seat of Washington City, but no action was taken. When Thomas Judd became interested in it, he didn't wait for government or group involvement. He organized a company and brought the bench under cultivation. In 1888, he stopped off on a business trip to the Canaan cattle headquarters to study its potential. Next, he hired engineer I.C. MacFarlane of St. George to do survey work. Following MacFarlane's favorable report and recommendations, Thomas organized a stock land company named The LaVerkin Fruit and Nursery Company. The company was incorporated in June 1889 with a capital stock of $25,000.00.
The company acquired land, the value of which was appraised at twenty-five to thirty-five dollars an acre, and water rights. It then assembled crews todig a canal and an 840 foot tunnel. Work commenced in the spring of 1889 with three main crews at work and with MacFarlane retained as chief surveyor for both the canal work, the tunnel work, and for laying out streets and property lines on the bench. Workers were paid a dollar a day at first, but that was increased to a dollar fifty in deference to the hazardous duties the men had to perform. (Another version has it that they were paid $2.00 per day: half being paid in cottonmill scrip; the other half in company stock.)
One crew excavated the canal while the other two bored into the hillside from either end of the new 840-foot tunnel. Candles were set in place as markers when taking transit readings. After nearly two years of work, the crews were just six inches off from a perfect union when they met each other. At least two caverns were encountered while boring the tunnel. One was quite large and had an extensive network of stalactites and stalagmites. A St. George stonemason who made grave markers and sandstone wheels for foot-operated grinders, broke many of the larger ones off, and hauled them home to use for making headstones. (It's unknown if families paid extra to have their loved ones buried under monuments of such exotic origins.) The other cavern was narrow, perhaps fifteen feet wide, but it had a high ceiling and wass quite deep. Initially, wooden flumes were constructed to conduct water through these caverns.
While the tunnel was still quite new, twelve year-old Owen Sanders and two friends enjoyed exploring the caverns. For light, they employed pitch pine torches. They reached the narrow cavern by poling their way upstream in a crude canoe. By sloshing water over the side and listening for it to hit bottom, they knew the cavern was quite deep, but the dim light from their torches revealed little else. Young Owen had an inquiring mind so he tied a rope to a flume crossbar and shinnied down the rope to the cavern floor. That was his intention anyway. It didn't take long hanging from the bottom of the rope in the darkness and kicking nothing but air to end his inquiry.
Work on the canal kept pace with that of the tunnel, and sections of it took on identifying names. There were Cottam Headgate, Riding Headgate, Judd Fill, Judd Point, et cetera. The canal's cross-section was seven feet wide at the top, five feet at the bottom and two feet deep. It had a fall of one inch in one hundred sixty feet. Finally, early in 1891 the digging was finished, the diversion dam had been constructed, and wooden flumes were in place to carry water over ravines and across caverns. It was time to welcome the water and an expectant crowd gathered at the tunnel's west end to cheer its arrival. No celebration took place that day though. The water signaled its future intentions by dissolving a gypsum bank and escaping into the bowels of the earth.
Troubles continued throughout the decade. The stock company had no choice but to get crops and orchards started in the early 1890's and hope the water would flow. The land had been divided into ten-acre blocks separated by streets two rods wide (Rod=16 fee feet) with one that was designated "Main Street" four rods wide. Acres of almonds, peaches, apricots and grapes were planted. Fifty acres of cotton were planted among some of the young trees. Thomas Judd had widespread investments, including an interest in the Washington Cotton Mill. The cotton went to the mill, cotton lint came back to be used for caulking cracks in the flumes.
The tunnel seemed determined to thwart the operation. Keeping water flowing was sometimes a literal nightmare. Irrigation was a twenty-four hour a day process. Someone had to sleep just at the mouth of the tunnel with his ears tuned to the soft rustling of the water; like a mother monitoring her baby's breathing. If the rustling stopped, just as if the breathing changed; either sentry must awaken and take action. The water might have eaten a new hole through a weak spot, or more likely, it had cut its way around the head of a flume somewhere in the depths of the tunnel. In any case, the sentry alerted the other workers and they took lint, bagasse left over from making sorghum molasses, planks, etc. , and worked to restore the flow.
A crew of men worked the fields by day and were on call at night to repair breaks. Elizabeth, the wife of John Riding, a member of the crew; cooked for the men in exchange for room and board. She had an infant at the time who must have been a patient, robust child. Elizabeth would fix lunch for the men, put it in a large can with a waterproof lid, then wade up the canal to where the men were working, pulling the can along behind. Meanwhile, strapped in his jumper at the house, Baby Riding looked after things. Later, Mrs. Riding marveled at her negligence--but it had seemed reasonable to her at the time. The men built a lean-to on the main building so Elizabeth and the child could have privacy--and maybe so they wouldn't have to hear the baby cry in the night.
The Dixie villages were isolated from the country at large, but national events did have their impact. An economic panic in 1893 deflated silver prices that severely crippled what was left of mining at Silver Reef, and closed mines in Nevada. This was a severe blow to Dixie farmers who had enjoyed a good market for much of their produce, and it boded ill for the LaVerkin Fruit and Nursery Company. There was some compensation though: skilled unemployed miners worked on the nearby Hurricane canal for little more than room and board. Their skills were vital to the successful boring of some of the canal's tunnels. Good houses were available at Silver Reef at practically no cost. A number of LaVerkin's early homes came from there. They were disassembled and the lumber hauled to the new site.
Poor markets, plus continuing tunnel maintenance costs, spelled the end of the stock company and almost forced Thomas Judd into bankruptcy. But this opened the way for LaVerkin to become a community. The company was effectively dissolved in 1897. Some shares were sold to help meet expenses and shareholders took the remaining property in accordance with their previous holdings. About this same time, Thomas who owned the largest share of the property, mortgaged his St. George home to obtain funds to keep the operation going.
Just as he was adapting to these developments, Thomas received a mission call. On February 20, 1898, President Wilfred Woodruff asked him to take charge of the Whitewater, Nevada, colonization mission. President Woodruff promised Thomas that he would be better off spiritually and financially if he accepted the call. Thomas made preparations to leave; the most important one being to lease his holdings to good caretakers. In fulfillment of President Woodruff's promise, men who could make the project a success were identified. James Pectol, an employee, was willing to stay on temporarily. He recommended his wife’s brothers... Joseph, who had previously worked for Judd; and Henry Gubler of St. George to help out. In addition to being a leasee of the property, Henry Gubler became Thomas' land agent with a charge to sell property to prospective residents.
Henry and Joseph kept the floundering canal operation alive by being two places at once, twenty-four hours a day. They made countless forays up the tunnel and canal to do emergency repair work. They also tended the crops and orchards. When Thomas Judd returned from his mission, Henry and Joseph each bought property for twenty-five dollars an acre and began building their own homes. The fact that they were able to buy land for its original appraised value, indicates the general lack of confidence in the project's success. Had there been no problems with the canal tunnel, land might have sold for three or four times that amount.
Henry and Joseph Gubler became LaVerkin's first permanent citizens. They, plus their families, established residence early in 1899. Henry, his wife, Susanna, and their first son arrived January first. Joseph came at the same time as Henry; but his wife, Mary (May, or Aunt Mae), had a new baby, so she waited a couple of months until a home could be made ready. Toward evening of moving day, they pulled up to the south bank of the Virgin River to be greeted by a raging flood. Joe unhitched the team and began waiting patiently for better fording conditions. May though, wasn't to be denied her new home. She gathered up her children, hiked upstream along a primitive trail to the hot springs, groped her way across the flimsy foot bridge that spanned the flood, trudged on up to the townsite, and spent the night in her own bed. Sadly, the baby died some weeks later. It was buried in St. George.
William Hardy, with his wife and children, became the third family to take up residence. Others, such as Arthur Woodbury, Allen Stout, Byse Ashby, George Jones, Marcellus C. Wright, and George Judd, son of Thomas; gradually followed. Although Thomas remained involved with the canal company for some years, he made St. George his permanent home. He and his son, Joseph, established the Judd Store on Tabernacle Street in 1911. Four generations of Woodward School students have now considered the store their home away from home. It stayed in the family until 1998.
Like her sister-in-law, May, Susanna Gubler was not one to wait around for men to get a job done. Even though the new home Henry was building was a simple rock structure, it was preferable to their temporary quarters and when it was near completion, Susanna went into action. She hitched the team to the wagon and moved their belongings by herself. They owned a fine, big, and very heavy, "Home Comfort" wood-burning cook stove that she needed right away. No one was available to help her load it so she cut a broom handle in two to make rollers and proceeded with the task herself. The secret of just how she got it onto the wagon remains a mystery; but it was all two men could do to get the stove off the wagon and into the new home. Nobody picked quarrels with Susanna after word of that got out.
Canal maintenance problems remained a dominant concern of the budding community for many years. Lining parts of the tunnel and canal with concrete, a prodecure that began about 1910, helped greatly to insure steady water flow. It wasn't until 1929 though, when the canal began to be jointly used for irrigation and for producing hydroelectric power, that resources became available to utilize both concrete and pipe to create a relatively trouble-free system.
The Gubler brothers missed a lot of sleep during their first years of running the farms and dealing with the ditch. Adding excitement to their efforts were rattlesnakes that frequented the canal bank and the village itself. Joseph related that many times he raced up the canal bank at night barefoot to divert water back into the river channel before it did further damage to the channel inside the tunnel. Retracing his steps at daybreak, he would encounter rattlesnakes coiled up waiting for the morning warmth, or he would see their trails in the dust. He marveled that none ever attempted to nip his ankles as he went by in the night--at least none of which he was aware. He finally concluded that they were going to leave him alone and that he might as well reciprocate, so he quit killing them. In fact, he developed quite a charming peaceful co-existence with some of them. Later in life, he kept beehives and had the extraction equipment in a little shack on the hillside. Lyman Gubler, a grandson, recalls that a huge rattlesnake called the shack home. It might be stretched out on the floor relaxing and digesting its most recent mouse or rat while Joseph stepped over, or around it as he went about operating the centrifuge that yielded liquid honey. Young Lyman found it a fascinating sight, but one he was content to view from a distance.
What little that was left of the LaVerkin Fruit and Nursery Company ceased to exist in 1902 and from then on the canal was operated by a new organization, the LaVerkin Bench Canal Company with Thomas Judd, President; Henry Gubler, Vice President; Riley Savage, Secretary-treasurer; Allen Stout and James Neagle, Directors. The board did not always agree on how to deal with problems as we learn from reminiscences of Henry Gubler, dated 1935:
My brother and I had farmed and built irrigation ditches all our lives and we believed that it (the canal and tunnel) could be fixed all right. We didn't always agree with Brother Judd on the way to manage the ditch to control the water. I wanted to shoot some rocks at the head of the ditch that were giving us trouble. Sometimes the water hitting against them eddied and filled the head with sand and debris, and again, it would wash out the ditch. I had to get all the owners to vote against Brother Judd once to do this. He didn't think we could control the river. He meant well but he just couldn't see how we could do it; but I guess I knew more about ditches. It, my plan, worked fine, and when the Light Company put more water in the ditch they shot a lot more rock into the river. Brother Judd finally admitted I was right, but first he used to say, ‘You'll never succeed’.
Henry was a most affable fellow and we can rest assured that he did not let differences of opinion interfere with positive personal relationships. The reader can learn a little lesson from Henry: "write your life history". That way posterity will learn the "correct" interpretation of events.
About 1910, Thomas Judd learned of concrete being used to line canals and recognized it as the possible solution to the problems being experienced in the tunnel. Portland cement, the crucial ingredient for concrete was invented in England in 1824 and the reader may wonder why it wasn't used from the beginning. (It was named "Portland" because it resembled Portland stone with which the inventor was acquainted) Costs were the first problem. Cement is a heavy product and wagons had to traverse rudimentary roads; importing it was prohibitively expensive. Getting it to the job site high up on the side of the canyon or deep into the tunnel was another daunting problem. By 1910, though, railroad freight came as far south as Lund. A crude but passable road skirted the east side of Ash Creek and conveyed traffic over the Black Ridge, one of the worst barriers to transportation in Southern Utah. By 1914, thanks to convict labor, a good graveled highway led directly north from Toquerville that stayed just to the west of Ash Creek until it reached Pintura. Also bridges now spanned Ash Creek and LaVerkin Creek, as well as the Virgin River, so that vehicles no longer had to ford the streams. From Pintura the road went over the Black Ridge in about the same route the freeway now occupies. Options for solving problems were thus opening up that were unavailable in previous years.
Although installed sparingly because of limited resources, concrete lining gradually changed the canal from a capricious, demanding, washout prone, nightmare-inducing lifeline, to one that was willing to do its job with just a little daily attention. The process of lining the canal deserves comment. You don't just drive a cement truck to a canal perched high on a canyon wall or drive it two hundred yards up into a constricted tunnel. The procedure that soon evolved is as follows:
The three components of the aggregate, gravel, sand and cement, were hauled by a horse-drawn wagon, (and later by motor truck), as close as possible to the work site. This might be at the west mouth of the tunnel, or a few rods upstream of the tunnel's east end. The desired mix was shoveled into a cart consisting of a metal box riding on iron wheels that held nearly a yard of dry aggregate and that was pulled by a small horse or a donkey. Getting the cart and animal turned around for the return trip in the narrow channel for the return trip was a bit tricky. The six or eight man crew would mix water with the aggregate right in the channel, first creating a concrete bottom for the ditch. The solid bottom now became the mixing pan for doing the sides. A ten to twelve-foot swath of aggregate would be laid down and just enough water added to moisten all the particles. Excess water weakens the resulting concrete and the fresh mix had to be firm enough to hold onto the canal walls. No supporting forms were used. Three to four men on each side would now work the mix with their shovels, moving along the swath as they worked. When two passes had been made, it was ready and the men pasted it to the sides of the channel with their shovels. A wooden tool called a "darby" was used to smooth the fresh mix out. Finally the surface was sprinkled with water and gone over with a wood "float" to seal the concrete. By the time the finisher had completed his work with the darby and float, a new batch was being readied.