The New Community
The little town slowly grew, and by 1904, there were about seventy inhabitants (one account says 65, another 73) and at least two babies had been born, Rosalba, the daughter of Susannah and Henry Gubler, on October 12, 1903; and Moroni, on October 18, 1903, to William and Sarah (Wilson) Sanders.
Morris Wilson had spent the previous twelve winters working on the Hurricane Canal from his home in Mountain Dell. His labors had earned him twenty acres of farmland plus a building lot. He, along with a half-dozen others, lived temporarily in LaVerkin for convenience while finishing the Hurricane Canal, and then started to build their own farms and homes in the new townsite. One of these, John Sanders, moved his family from Virgin into a converted barn in which they lived for five years until their home in Hurricane was finished. His wife, Fanny, joked that she lived in a stable and that two of her children were born in a manger. Parallels between the babies' lives and that of the Christ Child tapered off as the children got older.
Morris dug a cellar for storage on his sloping lot and built a two-room house for his family over it. One thing he hadn't bothered to do prior to his family moving in on January 28, 1904, was to insulate the house. No insulation was ever used in those days, but the walls of this house were only one-board thick and there were cracks between the boards. A cold north wind howled through the cracks the day after their move making the interior frigid; it also managed to cause smoke from the stove to pour out into the house. The only warmth and fresh air the Wilsons found that day was to huddle outside against the south wall so they could catch the sun's rays and where the wind couldn't reach them.
Morris soon had the house somewhat more weatherproof and had positioned a covered wagon box by the house to serve as a bedroom for the two older children, Afton and Thora.12 When Church leaders such as Joseph F. Smith visited, Morris and Minnie gave up their bed in the lean-to and slept out in the main kitchen-living room.
Morris didn't leave LaVerkin of course. He was called to be bishop of the new ward and eventually sold his Hurricane property. Any lingering thoughts of moving were long gone by 1928 when his twenty-four year tenure as bishop came to an end.
After a few years, Morris was able to move his family into a more substantial home where he and Minnie could sleep in their own bed when Church leaders visited. Heber J. Grant, who became Church President in 1918, no doubt stayed in the Wilson home. He is known to have visited the ward at least twice. Each time, at the end of the service, President Grant stood at the door and shook hands with every man, woman and child as they left. Those were two of young Owen Sanders’ most memorable experiences.
Primitive living conditions were shared by all early families, of course. Susanna Gubler told of how cloth was tacked to ceilings in lieu of plasterboard. Her day might be enlivened by watching a mouse scurrying across the ceiling on the upper surface of the cloth. A bonus would be getting to watch a snake slithering along, also on the upper side of the cloth, in pursuit of the mouse.
Maude Judd provides a brief glimpse of early homebuilding procedures:
Robert P. Woodbury of St. George was teaching school in Virgin in 1903 when he became interested in the LaVerkin area and bought fourteen acres of farm land and a city lot there. His wife and their three children were in St. George, but he was unable to visit with them often due to poor roads and lack of transportation. Since there were still few homes in LaVerkin, and none for rent, he moved his family to Toquerville for the winter. In the spring he moved his family to a tent he had set up on their LaVerkin lot. He, Will Hardy and Sam Webb had made adobes from the white clay on the hillside for building their homes. First, he built a two-room cellar of lava rock and when this was finished he hurried and moved his family into it, as the tent was in the process of being wrecked by fierce spring winds. While he was in the process of laying up the adobe walls, a terrible storm hit. Rain fell in sheets and water ran down the hillside, through their lot and into the cellar. Their neighbors, Joseph and May Gubler, shared their home until the cellar could be cleaned and dried out. The rain almost washed the adobe walls away and they had to be rebuilt.
Maude also provides a brief glimpse into settlers' personalities. She tells of Benjamin DeMille who moved his family from Rockville in 1903. Their first home was a log cabin Ben purchased in Shunsburg and hauled to his lot in LaVerkin. He was quiet and shy but had a good sense of humor that became apparent when he was relaxed. He would dress up as Santa late Christmas Eve and go around peeking in windows to alert children that it was time to be in bed and ready for Santa's visit. His harmonica playing while accompanying himself on the guitar was much in demand at Ward entertainments.
Arthur and Samuel Webb, two young men who apparently didn't stay in LaVerkin long, contributed to the community while pursuing their own pleasures. They were courting Toquerville lasses and thus making frequent trips back and forth between the two communities. They would stop by the Toquerville post office and bring the LaVerkin mail. In 1903 though, LaVerkin got its own service, with Henry Gubler as postmaster. The post office and little store were down the street north from the present city office building.
Either 1903, or 1904 can be named the year of LaVerkin’s birth as a community. Most of the families who were to shape its development over the next fifty years, were in place by then. Those years saw the culmination of important community-wide decisions. According to Maude Judd, in March 1903, the Canal Company Stockholders moved to secure a post office, school district and a cemetery. A bowery was built the summer of 1903 and the first official Sunday School was held August 2, 1903. Prior to that, May Gubler had conducted Sunday School in her home. The following year, streets were closed off that were not needed, so land could be put into production. The defining event of 1904 and the main basis for designating that year over 1903 as the town’s birth date, was the creation of the LaVerkin Ward. There was no city government until 1927. The bishopric, the school board, the stockholders and the canal board, who all tended to be the same people, no doubt were able to solve most civic problems. Voting was administered at first by the Toquerville Precinct. Washington County made certain everyone knew where taxes were to be paid. Main Street was also part of the Utah highway system and the state kept it graveled and graded. In it’s citizens minds, the LaVerkin ward was synonymous with the community.
The LaVerkin Ward of the St. George Stake was organized Thursday, June 23, 1904 with Morris Wilson, as bishop, and Henry Gubler and Allen J. Stout, as counselors. There were thirteen families. Bishops at that time were frequently called upon to provide spiritual, and secular leadership. LaVerkin, being too small to have a city government, needed both. Morris Wilson was the right man for the job. Along with all the virtues we hope for in our leaders, Morris had energy, stamina, a strong desire to improve himself and a confidence inspiring demeanor. Light from his kitchen in the early morning would indicate that he was studying scriptures or a book on some subject he wished to know more about. If his reading were interrupted, he’d put a finger on the sentence he was reading, then give the intruder his full attention. When entering the sick room as bishop, his mere presence gave hope and strength to those present.
One of the bishop’s first tasks was to prepare for day-to-day duties such as receiving, accounting for, and caring for tithing. People didn't fill out a little form, then put it and a check in an envelope. Practically all tithing was paid in the form of goods and produce. Bishop Wilson had to get a tithing barn built, where tithing hay could be accepted; a large coop for housing tithing chickens; a granary for keeping tithing grain; a pantry to hold tithing eggs, tithing butter, and barrels of tithing vinegar or pickles. The Wilson children almost became part of the bishopric. It was they who took care of the chickens or other animals, who took care of the commodities, and who delivered foodstuffs from the tithing stores to needy families. In winter, they helped bale tithing hay that had accumulated over the summer so that it could be sold to sheepmen and cattlemen.
A necessary offshoot of the bishop's role in accepting goods rather than cash for tithing was that of setting prices. Ultimately, a monetary value had to be assigned with the bishop as the final arbitrator. He had to adhere as closely as possible to "street values", of course, but his decisions in turn helped establish the value of things being traded on the street. Since practically all local commerce was by barter, the bishop's judgment was most important to the community. Morris' son, Reed, is certain that not everyone totally agreed with the bishop's calls, but apparently no serious quarrels developed.
The practice of paying in produce died out slowly. Bishop Loren Squire reported receiving during the year 1945, 320 quarts of molasses, 2,906 pounds of cherries, 175 bushels of peaches, 145 bushels of pears, and 38 bushels of tomatoes. Bishop Squire then had to find a market for most of these items. Members were encouraged more and more to pay tithing with cash because adequate utilization of perishable produce was so much trouble and extra work for the bishopric.
With just two Sundays under its belt on July Fourth, 1904, the new LaVerkin Ward held its first celebration. It is probably indicative of the new bishopric's organizational and promotional skills that people from all the surrounding towns attended the event. There were games and races for both old and young, but ice cream was the main attraction; over a hundred gallons of it were sold that day.
A wonderful tradition was born that day, that of having home-made ice cream and saltine crackers at every social occasion. The ice cream was made in hand-cranked freezers that held a gallon of mix. Ice had been cut from frozen ponds the previous winter and stored under sawdust. Local cows got a surprise early in the afternoon; cream supplies for the ice cream ran out, but somebody remembered that there was plenty more out in the pastures.
A singular feature of Bishop Wilson's twenty four-year tenure as bishop was something that didn't happen. He never called on anyone in advance to speak in church. Speaking assignments were made right during meeting. It kept people on their toes and fostered skill at extemporaneous speaking. Loren Squires reported that he always went to church with a talk prepared, and that he often needed it. One downside of off-the-cuff speaking is that a speaker, being forced to rely on his immediate memory, tended to recall the same experiences and spiritual message time after time. Sacrament meeting ran for a minimum of two hours and with a small speaker pool, the same messages got frequent workouts. “Sabbath squirm” became the juvenile norm. Owen Sanders reports that kids got so they could give a verbatim preview of what most of the brethren were going to say. Sometimes repetitiveness carried over to ward teaching, (now home teaching). As one good fellow, who apparently figured that if your message is good, don’t change it, was being ushered into their home, Owen’s older brother, Bill, whispered, “He will start with ‘The proposition. The matter of fact--is this.’” When it happened, the children broke out into uncontrollable sniggers, and William Senior, got busy twisting little ears.
School And Multipurpose Building
Public buildings for church and for school were an immediate priority. There were no unified county school districts then; each community had its own. A school board was chosen in July of 1904 and work on a schoolhouse was begun. Two loans were floated in November to cover construction costs, and the building was completed in December so that school could commence in January of 1905. The building, located on what is now the City Hall parking lot had walls of limestone rock quarried from near the hilltop north and east of town and featured just one large room. A bell, housed in a little tower on top, summoned scholars to school on weekdays and gave one-half hour, plus five-minute, reminders on Sundays. Clocks and watches were scarce, so this was a valuable community service. Later, a wooden addition was built onto the rear of the building, and a covered front porch made of lumber was added.
Joseph Gubler was called on a mission to the southern states soon after the building was completed, and May, needing to support herself, hired on as school janitor for $2.50 per month. In her personal history she states, “I had to ring the bell, keep the building warm and clean, sweep, dust, wash windows, chop wood and carry it in, and keep the fire burning.”5
Emma Woodbury McTaggart and Gladys Woodbury Isom provide glimpses of how the school day began. “The teacher, Emma’s father, R.P., rang a bell and all the students would stand in line. Then he came out to the front entry and played a lively march on his harmonica. The students marched in to the music and took their seats."
For twenty-two years until a chapel was completed in 1926, the little rock building served for all community functions, whether educational, religious, or social. Today, lawyers of the ACLU warn that such a combination is injurious to people's mental and spiritual health, but the townspeople who enjoyed the hundreds of gatherings in the little building for church, Christmas celebrations, dramas, and public meetings, would testify otherwise.
The building’s death in 1938 was caused by the same medium that made its construction possible-- irrigation water. Untended water softened the soil on which the foundation rested. Parts of the building settled causing jagged fractures in the walls. There was no choice but to tear itdown. The elementary school children still being taught in it, were bused to Hurricane. It was a sad moment for the students; they had loved their little school and didn’t want to leave it.
Two other major concerns for the new town were culinary water and electricity. At first, water for drinking and for household use was taken from the canal or hauled up from the river; some homes had cisterns for storing the water. Canal water was fine for those who didn't mind inconvenience, an occasional muddy taste, and perhaps seeing a dead animal floating down the stream. Toquerville had springs of pure water available, but LaVerkin had no city government and no way of financing a water system.
Unable to get the county's cooperation, along about 1915, Joseph and Henry Gubler and Morris Wilson brought water from the Toquerville springs on their own. In a true demonstration of civic responsibility, they took out mortgages on their own property to obtain money for a LaVerkin culinary system. The first pipes were made of long redwood boards, their edges tapered so that a round pipe could be formed. A heavy wire that spiraled around the outside held them together.
Having culinary water available didn't necessarily mean indoor plumbing. Some homes just had a faucet in the front yard. Others might have a single cold-water tap in the kitchen. Water for washing or bathing was heated on top of the wood-burning kitchen stove. Kitchen stoves were available with pipes installed through which water could circulate, and with these, heating was somewhat more automatic.
Bathing took place every Saturday night in a #3 washtub on the kitchen floor. Fresh bath water for each bather was a luxury few families could afford. Usually the first batch of water was heated, then bathing could begin. Additional water that had been heating in the teakettle might be added after each bather to freshen the next-in-line's bath.
The system’s wooden pipes sprung leaks. Young Reed Wilson saw numerous wood plugs that had been inserted along the pipe where it ran above ground to staunch the flow. You could chart the course of buried pipe by little springs that welled up. After LaVerkin was incorporated, the city took over responsibility for the water system, and the three benefactors were freed of their mortgages.
Electricity from hydroelectric plants near Veyo and, possibly one other location, became available about 1917. Coal oil lamps gradually became obsolete. They were kept at the ready though, since frequent electrical outages were a way of life for many years. Lamps, candles and later, flashlights were always kept handy.
LaVerkin hosted a hydroelectric plant for about twenty-five years. An account of it follows:
The hydroelectric plant that was in operation from 1929 until 1983, utilized water diverted from the expanded and strengthened LaVerkin irrigation canal. By combining their resources, the LaVerkin Canal Company and the Dixie Power Company were able solve the major problems that had bedeviled the canal and the tunnel. The channel was greatly enlarged so it could serve the needs of both organizations. Firm concrete lining tamed the tunnel. Unfortunately for adventuresome youth, the caverns were also sealed off. Now, as water was diverted from the river, it first went into a settling pond that allowed silt to settle out. A sluice gate facilitated flushing the settling pond as necessary. (The settling pond also made a fine “suits-optional” swimming pool. The structure over the sluice gate was a more than adequate diving platform.) Downstream from the settling pond, the canal clung to the Virgin River canyon wall, then went through the tunnel before emerging out onto the LaVerkin bench. From this point, a pipe of about forty inches in diameter conducted water to the hydroelectric plant.
Washington County News files, provide information about the plant's birth. The first item, dated February 16, 1928, relates that the Dixie Power Company was in the process of obtaining water rights from the LaVerkin Bench Canal Company for the purpose of producing hydro-electricity. An item of July 12, 1928 states that the Dixie Power Company was applying for a permit to build an 899 kilowatt capacity hydroelectric plant at an estimated cost of $90,000.00. The laying of one thousand feet of forty-two inch wood pipe and the starting of concrete work above the tunnel made news December 12, 1928. On April 12, 1929, the paper reported that operation of the plant had begun, that full capacity awaited minor adjustments, and that Fred Brooks, whose family was then living at the plant, would be in charge.
Changes took place over the years. The wood pipe was replaced with metal, power-plant machinery was upgraded, and the plant was finally semi-automated so that it became unnecessary for someone to live on the premises.
Output of the plant was about the same as the small generator at Hoover Dam that generates power for use at the dam. It was the largest of a network of four hydroelectric plants. If all four plants were down, the LaVerkin facility had to be started first. Electricity was generated when water under high pressure was fed over a Pelton wheel (patented in 1889 by American engineer, Lester Allen Pelton) which was connected to a generator. In shape, a Pelton wheel resembles an old fashioned water wheel rather than the turbines used at Hoover Dam. Unlike the old fashioned wheels though, Pelton wheels were made of cast iron. After years of use, cracks would develop in the wheels. Victor King and, later, Winston Stratton of Hurricane had the welding skill necessary to keep the cast iron mended. They had to crawl inside the wheel to do thewelding. They more than earned their pay.
If no water was running over the wheel, but electricity was coming in from other sources, the generator would act as an electric motor. The Pelton wheel was designed to run within a specific RPM range; if allowed to run too fast, it could literally throw itself to pieces. When the generator was producing electricity, the resultant friction kept the Pelton wheel at a safe speed. If, however, the generator were turned off, the Pelton wheel would soon reach catastrophic speeds. To prevent this from happening, a shunt was designed to automatically drop down when the power went off and divert the water out into the river channel.
Water flow to the wheel was sometimes interrupted by leaks in the canal. Obstructions in the pipe, or more silt than could be settled out at the settling pond, were the most common problems. During the colder winters, ice was a problem.. Particularly at night, it would form in the canal, then pile up on the intake grill. A father and his sons would work through the night pulling ice from the grill. A burning automobile tire would warm them when they had time for a break.
Sand abrasion would quickly wear out the wheel paddles. If the river was flooding, the settling pond might need to be drained three times a day, or in extreme conditions, to be shut down. The canal had to be constantly monitored for leaks. Small leaks soon became cascades that, if unchecked, could rip out hundreds of yards of canal bank. When flow was being restored, water had to be slowly ushered into the pipe. If an air bubble were allowed to form, it could seriously impede water flow.
Thunder showers were a double threat. If they happened upstream, they could load the river with silt. If they happened locally, avalanches of rock and water might tear down the canyon-side and would rip out whole sections of canal. The last major break apparently began as a small leak that grew to gargantuan proportions. By the time the problem was discovered and the water diverted, fifty feet of canal was gone. To restore it, the crew first had to rebuild forty feet of supporting bank.
Kay McMullin was chief operator of the plant from 1958 until it closed. Ordinarily, he worked alone. Maintaining flow through the canal and through the pipe was his constant year-round concern, and he got to know the canal bank well. It was no more than six inches wide in many places. Falling off the bank one way meant getting wet, falling the other meant landing on rocks ten to twenty feet below.
Walking such a bank, even on a nice day, takes getting used to. Kay walked it at night and at times he had to kick snow off to see where to step. Once he was making his way along the bank after an eight-inch snowfall. He slipped. His shovel flew out into the canyon. He dropped into the icy water. Fortunately, he had stashed emergency supplies at intervals along the canal. He retrieved some matches, got a fire going, and lived.
The plant met a sudden end in 1983. Kay returned from a vacation to find the Pelton wheel and other machinery in shambles. Lightning may have caused a power shut-off and the deflector plate may have failed to fall in place. The Pelton wheel had spun out of control to its doom. Rebuilding was economically unfeasible. The machinery and pipe were sold as scrap metal.
The Quail Lake project was underway at the time of the plant’s demise and the project’s master plan called for an alternative system to produce electric power. The machinery flew to pieces at a convenient time. Water from the Quail Lake Project pipe began flowing into the canal at the west end of the tunnel May 17, 1985, and Bud Iverson, the last ditch rider, had no further duties. He could only reflect with nostalgia on the passing of an era.