Southern Utah is mostly desert. Which is spectacular to look at, but it can be a hard place to live. Before the conveniences of modernity, several communities in Utah fell victim to the harsh environment. In fact, Utah boasts of having more than a hundred “ghost towns.” (But most of these aren’t much to look at, just a single building marking a failed community.) Perhaps the most famous – and certainly the best preserved – of these ghost towns is Grafton, Utah.
The remains of Grafton can be found in Washington County, south of Zion National Park.
In 1859 and 1860 Mormon pioneers attempted to grow cotton in the area. They founded a town called Wheeler along the Virgin River. But in 1862, a massive weeks-long flood washed the town of Wheeler away. The residents relocated about a mile upriver, and started a new town – Grafton. Attempts to cultivate cotton were met with disaster. More flooding, irrigation problems, and discontentment made life in Grafton difficult. When the Black Hawk war began, residents began to flee to less-isolated towns, most notably Rockville. After an end to hostilities, some residents returned. But by 1890 only four families remained in Grafton. Surprisingly, the last residents didn’t fully abandon the town until 1944.
Grafton has benefited from preservation efforts of the Grafton Historical Partnership, which receives funds from a variety of private and public sources. As such, it remains in excellent condition. Which is one of the reasons that Grafton has been photographed so extensively. (You’ve probably seen it in the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.) If you want to visit the town for yourself, and it’s a pretty surreal experience, just remember that a lot of effort goes into keeping Grafton looking good. So don’t damage or deface any of the existing buildings. (Also the site is under 24-hour surveillance.)