Capitol Reef
Cultural Landscape Report
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The historic settlement of Fruita represents an important chapter in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Called "Saints" or "Mormons," the members of the church followed Brigham Young to the Great Salt Lake of Utah in the mid-nineteenth century, successfully settling and cultivating the arid and inhospitable Great Basin environment. By the 1870s, Mormons expanded from that region into the Colorado Plateau in south-central Utah, seeking new lands for ranching and farming. Due to the arid climate and high altitude, most areas of the region were poorly suited for agriculture, and the majority of settlers supported their families by cattle or sheep ranching. The river valley where Fruita lies, however, was ideally suited to a system of agriculture based on irrigation. Its lower elevation and more moderate temperatures allowed for a longer growing season and wider variety of crops than could be grown in upland communities. Beginning in the 1880s early settlers in the valley took advantage of such conditions by planting and cultivating fruit orchards.

The four original homestead claims of Nels Johnson, Leo R. Holt, Elijah Behunin and his son Hyrum Behunin, encompassed all of historic Fruita. Relative stability characterized landownership patterns in the valley, with farms frequently given or sold to family members throughout the first half of the twentieth century. World War I coincided with a period of orchard expansion in Fruita, with additional cultivated acreage being devoted to the planting of orchards. The first attempts at large-scale commercial production began about this time, and expanded during the 1920s and 1930s, made possible by the new methods of automotive transportation.

In an attempt to assist economically depressed rural areas in the 1920s and 1930s, efforts were instituted by local civic organizations and politicians to boost tourism by the establishment of a state and/or national park in the area. Efforts to gain authorization and funding for the proposed "Wayne Wonderland State Park" were never realized, but eventually were rewarded by federal designation of the area as Capitol Reef National Monument in 1937. Soon after, a stub camp of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was set up just west of Fruita. A small number of construction projects were undertaken in the monument by the CCC from 1938 to 1942, including the building of a ranger station.

Very little development took place in the monument for the next twenty years. All but a very small portion of Fruita remained in private ownership throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Most residents continued to farm, while taking advantage, whenever possible, of opportunities to benefit from increased tourism and uranium mining activity that took place in the monument. Both created a demand for meals, lodging, and automotive services, to which locals responded by renting out cabins, erecting motels, gas stations, and cafes. During this period, a handful of "outsiders" bought property in Fruita, attracted by the beautiful scenery and remote rural setting.

The most significant changes occurred to the landscape of Fruita in conjunction with the rerouting of Utah State Highway 24 through the Fremont River gorge and the National Park Service's initiation of Mission 66 developments in the early 1960s. Most private lands in Fruita were acquired at this time, and a large number of existing structures were subsequently removed. At the same time, park facilities were sited and constructed throughout the valley.

From the time lands were acquired, orchards continued to be maintained and the fruit made available for sale. Portions of the open-ditch system of irrigation were converted to underground pipe in the 1970s, in addition to other improvements to the system. Since Mission 66, a number of lesser developments have taken place to provide for the expanding needs of visitors and park management, such as the construction of an additional campground and new residences for park staff.


In 1992 the National Park Service's Rocky Mountain Regional Office documented the cultural resources of Fruita as part of a larger assessment of all historic resources in Capitol Reef National Park (CARE). One component of that assessment was the completion of a Determination of Eligibility (DOE) for the Fruita Rural Historic District. The DOE contained a short landscape history, documentation and assessment of character-defining features, and a statement of significance. Based on the DOE, Fruita was determined to be a significant landscape and eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. A nomination was completed in 1996; the Fruita Rural Historic District was listed on the National Register on March 25, 1997.

Concurrent with this effort, the region and the park initiated work associated with the development of a new General Management Plan (GMP) for the park. This planning project encompassed the development of an interpretive prospectus, development concept plans for selected sites, and an environmental impact statement. Because Fruita already serves as the primary developed area in the park - with a visitor center, picnic areas, campgrounds, park service employee housing, park administrative offices, and maintenance facilities - it was identified as a potential site for locating new, much needed, park facilities. However, upon completion of the DOE for Fruita, it became evident that additional guidance with regard to significant landscape resources would be required prior to the development of new management alternatives for the site.

The purpose of this report is to expand the documentation contained in the DOE, and develop recommendations for the treatment of Fruita's cultural landscape resources. This report will provide additional baseline data for the GMP and general planning process from which man agement alternatives and design concepts can be developed.


The cultural landscape report for Fruita is divided into four primary sections: Existing Conditions, Site History, Analysis and Evaluation, and Recommendations. All references are contained in the endnotes and bibliography, with additional source materials in an appendix. A large portion of the material for this report was drawn from the DOE for the Fruita Rural Historic District. In every case, basic data in the DOE was supplemented with additional research and analysis, allowing for the development of recommendations for treatment. In addition, although the DOE for Fruita designated boundaries for the historic district, the boundaries for this report were extended to include significant resources outside of the proposed district boundaries. Specifically, the boundaries were expanded to include the full extent of the historic irrigation system and the lime kiln on Sulphur Creek, located just west of the visitor center (see Existing Conditions: Study Boundaries).

Additional historical research was conducted at the Denver Service Center's Technical Information Center and the Federal Record Center in Denver, park archives, and the Wayne County Courthouse in Loa, Utah. Superintendents' reports and correspondence were used to expand an understanding of landscape changes undertaken by the park service and the intent behind those modifications. Oral interviews were conducted with former property owners and residents in an attempt to clarify information found in the historic record. Some data, particularly that which related to historic land use, were occasionally confusing, contradictory, and difficult to reconcile. Discrepancies among official documents, park maintenance records, oral histories, and photographic documentation of Fruita proved most challenging. Where information could not be tracked in the written record, deference was made to the photographic record. While this technique was useful in several cases, it also illustrated major contradictions between the tax records for Fruita and most other sources. Throughout this report, these discrepancies are noted and explained in the endnotes. In the analysis, the photographic collection and park maintenance records were used as the primary records for documenting landscape resources, including land use. Existing conditions were documented during a two-week site visit in March 1993. Supplementary data were collected from the park's natural resources database, cultural resources records, and administrative files relating to park operations, visitor services, and recreation. As part of this work, all available data on the orchards and agricultural fields were consolidated and an inventory was compiled. The purpose of the inventory was to verify existing management records and document current status, species composition, acreage, layout, and condition. While part of this study, landscape features and historic resources located outside of the DOE boundaries were not extensively documented because of time constraints.

The analysis and evaluation incorporated findings from the research portion of the project and documented three components that influenced the cultural and physical contexts for development of the historic landscape (overall landscape organization, response to natural features, and cultural traditions), and seven additional character-defining features that contribute to the significance of the landscape.

Recommendations in this document incorporate several existing management recommendations found in approved park plans and reports. Special attention was given to the documents specifically addressing the landscape resources of Fruita including the Historic Agricultural Management Plan for Capitol Reef National Park (1979); Interpretation and Management of Change in the Cultural Landscape, Fruita Historic Area (1985); and Capitol Reef National Park Orchard Management Plan (1988). The recommendations in this document address treatment of significant cultural landscape resources in five categories: Management Concepts, Circulation, Vegetation, Structures, and Small-scale Features. The intent of the recommendations is to provide guidelines for treatment. Specific actions are not detailed, pending development of the GMP, development concept plan(s), additional management plans, and special studies, as appropriate. The recommendations identify areas where new development can occur within the district without impacting significant resources and describes, as appropriate, the type and character of those changes.

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Last Updated: 01-Apr-2003