After spending the morning poking around Fort Zion and The Virgin Trading Post, we headed out to explore the nearby ghost town of Grafton before our off-road UTV adventure through the Zion High Country. I’m a ghost town junkie and if there is a ghost town anywhere near our road trip route, I always try to convince Brian to squeeze it in!
So far I’ve been successful several times, visiting:
- The Terlingua ghost town near Big Bend National Park
- The Shaniko ghost town in Oregon
- The Leadfield ghost town in Death Valley National Park
- The Rhyolite ghost town in Beatty, Nevada
- The Shasta ghost town in the Shasta State Historic Park
- The Widtsoe ghost town near Bryce Canyon National Park
Of all the ghost towns we have visited so far, Grafton is the most beautiful. It’s lush green pastures, established orchards, tree-lined fields, and restored historic buildings make it easy to see why missionary settlers chose this place to build a home.
Wandering The Grafton Ghost Town
Nestled along the banks of the Virgin River, the picturesque, restored ghost town of Grafton, Utah features a schoolhouse/church, four historic homes, stunning cattle pastures, fruit and nut orchards, old iron farm equipment, and huge cottonwood shade trees.
Most of the Grafton ghost town buildings were open when we visited, so we got to go inside and even into an old basement!
The Schoolhouse/Church was our first stop.
The schoolhouse was built in 1886. Its two-story walls stand on a lava rock foundation quarried from a nearby hillside; its adobe bricks were handmade from clay dug west of town. The settlers cut trees on Mount Trumbull, nearly 75 miles away, and hauled them to town to hew the building’s beams. The schoolhouse was used for school, church, meetings, community gatherings, and even dances. The last classes, for only nine students, were taught here during the 1918-19 school year.
Next up was the Russell Home.
Alonzo Haventon Russell built this two-story, adobe brick home in 1862 for his second wife Nancy Briggs Foster and their children. It has a hand-crafted wooden front porch where the family enjoyed playing music. Alonzo was an expert blacksmith by trade and supplied the town with eating utensils and farm tools in addition to repairing broken wagon parts, sharpening plows, and shoeing horses.
Alonzo and Nancy had nine children; the last four died as infants. In 1853, he married Clarissa Henrietta Hardy as a plural wife who birthed three children before their divorce. One of the children died as an infant, and Alonzo and his second wife Nancy raised the other two. In 1856, he married Nancy’s sister, Louisa Maria Foster who birthed nine children.
Alonzo lived in the adobe home until he died in 1910 at the age of 89 and was buried in the Grafton Cemetery alongside Nancy and Louisa. After his death, Alonzo’s son Frank Stephen Russell bought the house for $200 and a cow. Frank and his wife Mary Ellen Ballard Russell moved into the house in 1917 and lived there until they moved to St. George in 1944.
Then we visited Louisa Marie Russell Home.
Russell built this one story, gabled log home and outbuilding for his plural wife Louisa across the road from his main home between 1873 and 1879. Louisa owned one of the first weaving looms in Grafton and raised six children in this small home.
After our picnic lunch, we checked out the Ruby Rose Cabin.
In 1947, a hand-hewn log cabin was moved from Beaver, Utah to the Hastings Dugout — a hole dug in the ground the Hastings Family walled up and lived in — for the movie Ramrod. The cabin interior had plaster walls and used extensively in the movie as Rose’s home and dressmaker shop. Like the other buildings, it has since been restored.
Finally, we stopped at the John and Ellen Wood Home.
John was a farmer, raised cattle, worked in a blacksmith shop, and made beautiful horse-hair ropes and hackamores in his spare time. A historic split-rail fence surrounds the adobe brick home and two outbuildings: a large log barn and a raised one room log granary — all were built in 1877. Ellen died in 1898, and is buried in Grafton cemetery. John moved to Hurricane, where he died in 1911.
The Grafton Cemetery
After we were done exploring the schoolhouse and homes, we ate a tailgate picnic lunch under the shade of the cottonwood trees before hopping back in the car to check out the Grafton Cemetery a half mile south of the townsite.
The Grafton cemetery is an old pioneer cemetery where many Grafton residents and fellow Southern Paiute people were laid to rest. Historians believe there are 74-84 grave sites, which means many headstones are missing. Of the few dozen that remain, most are dated between 1860 and 1910, with thirteen who all died in 1866 from epidemics, accidents, and fighting.
Inscriptions on the head stones share some of the pioneer’s stories: The three Berry brothers and one of their wives were killed by Indians, someone was dragged to death by a horse, and five children of John and Charlotte Ballard all died under the age of 9 — the parents are buried there as well. Other dies from tuberculosis, Scarlett Fever, and tuberculosis. One large memorial plot for the Berry family stands in the center of the cemetery surrounded by a wooden fence.
The History Of Grafton, Utah
According to signs in the ghost town…
In 1847, Brigham Young and members of The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) arrived in Utah after fleeing religious persecution. Settling near what is now Salt Lake City, the Church sent volunteers on colonizing missions throughout the West to secure territory and resources. Grafton was settled along the Virgin River to grow cotton, part of Young’s plan for Mormon self-sufficiency.
In 1859, five families from Virgin settled one mile downstream from modern-day Grafton. They dug irrigation ditched, planted crops, and built homes. But in 1862, a raging flood washed the entire town site away. Later that year, the town was resettled on the present site.
Cotton production didn’t last long as settlers quickly realized they needed their land to grow food. By 1864, 168 people lived in Grafton. Homes clustered in the village center to support community and religious life, farm field ranged along the river, and cattle grazed the mesa tops. Grafton grew to its peak when it was home to 30 families and served as the seat of Garfield County.
In 1866, after settlers were killed by Navajo raiders, Grafton’s residents moved to nearby Rockville for protection. Farmers returned to town daily to tend crops, and by 1868, the residents moved back to the small town. The once-thriving community was mostly abandoned in 1906, however, when a canal was built to deliver water from the Virgin River to Hurricane 20 miles down stream. Some residents even disassembled their houses and rebuilt them in Hurricane! Only a few families remained in Grafton, with the last finally leaving in 1945. Today the few buildings left in Grafton have been preserved and restored. They are open to the public and stand as a testament to the pioneer spirit of the early settlers.
Directions To The Grafton Ghost Town
Grafton Ghost Town, located a few miles from Springdale and Zion National Park just outside the town of Rockville, is a restored ghost town.
- When traveling on Utah Highway 9 in the town of Rockville, look for Bridge Road on the south side of the highway. It’s easy to miss — we drove right past it and had to turn around. You have to look for the small brown Grafton sign stuck on the stop sign.
- After crossing a gorgeous old bridge over the Virgin River, turn right on Grafton Road — there are signs along the well-maintained dirt road pointing you to Grafton.
- At the fork in the road, stay left — it’s about three miles to the ghost town. You’ll see a sign for the Grafton Cemetery before reaching the end of the road and the town just 350 feet from the banks of the Virgin River.
- Grafton’s scenic beauty is featured in at least three Hollywood movies, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Ramrod, and The Arizona Kid..
- The site is under 24-hour surveillance.