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The Fruita Rural Historic District is significant under criterion A on a local level under the area of settlement for its association with the small Mormon town of Fruita established in the Fremont River Valley in the late nineteenth century. It is also significant under the areas of agriculture, for Fruita's subsequent development into a fruit producing center of local importance, and ethnic heritage, for its ties to Mormon cultural traditions. Fruita typified the manner in which the Mormon cooperative and communal farming practices allowed settlers to succeed in making a living in areas where arable land was scarce and environments were inhospitable. Distinct from the Mormon livestock raising communities of the High Plateau to the west, Fruita is also important as one of the few Fremont River settlements east of the Plateau that survived beyond the 1930s, most having been abandoned. In addition to these areas of significance, one NPS rustic-designed building located within the district, the Ranger Station, is significant under criterion C on a local level under the area of architecture and under A under the area of politics/government.

The period of significance for the Fruita Rural Historic District dates from 1895 to 1946. The 1895 date coincides with the estimated construction date of the Leo R. Holt House and earliest documented date of irrigation ditches in the valley. The period of significance ends in 1946, the end of the historic period as defined by the National Register. Significant dates coincide with known construction dates of some of the district's buildings: 1895 (the Holt House), 1896 (Fruita Schoolhouse), and 1940 (Ranger Station); and 1883, the date the historic road through Fruita (now known as the Scenic Drive) was built. In the many cases, construction dates of other buildings and structures in the district can only be estimated, based on oral or other secondary sources of documentation. Most are believed to date from the first two decades of the twentieth century.

Three historic contexts are important to understanding the significance of Fruita's resources: Mormon Settlement and Early Agriculture in Capitol Reef National Park, 1880-1920; Tourism and Creation of Capitol Reef National Park, 1920-1960; and Mission 66 Development in Capitol Reef National Park, 1960-1990. These are included in the National Register of Historic places nomination for the Fruita Rural Historic District (1996). The following text focuses on the role played by cultural traditions in the settlement and agricultural development of Fruita.

Brigham Young made prophecies of the desert blossoming "as the rose well before him" during the whole of his tenure as LDS leader, and one after another, the valleys of the Jordan, Provo, Weber, Ogden, Bear, Sevier, and Virgin were occupied and cultivated by Mormon settlers. In Utah, the Land of Blossoming Valleys, the author eloquently describes that where these "indefatigable bands of pioneers" settled:

there speedily sprang into existence great fields of waving grain, wheat, oats, barley, and rye, green areas of alfalfa, widely flung acres of sugar beets. . .while in every direction thousands of healthy milk-cows and herds of beef-cattle, horses and mules waded shoulder deep in richest pasture. . . . Then the orchards! Who that has seen the heavily-laden peach, apricot and especially cherry trees of Utah can ever forget them — fruit, rich and luscious, fit for the gods, in appearance, flavor and the satisfaction they give. [1]

The planting of fruit was frequently prescribed by Church leaders from the time of settlement in the territory. In Brigham Young's near annual visits to Mormon settlements he gave verbal encouragement and direction to members to "Build good houses, make fine farms, set out apple, pear, and other fruit trees that will flourish here. . . build up and adorn a beautiful city." Church leader G. A. Smith in 1856 urged residents of Paowan, Utah to plant orchards, even in the public square, to "make it like the garden of Eden". In 1881, Brigham Young's successor, President John Taylor, urged congregations in Malad, Idaho, to plant more apple, pear, and cherry trees.

The theme of creating "a fit place for the angels to visit" was echoed frequently by church leadership, encouraging settlers to plant flower gardens, fruit trees, and shade trees, in addition to the more traditional food crops. Fruit was an ideal crop in many ways: it both beautified the landscape with springtime blossoms, it could be readily preserved for family consumption, and surpluses could be bartered or sold for other needed goods, contributing to the family's self-sufficiency. Fruit trees were so highly valued by Mormons that a law to prohibit the wanton neglect of fruit orchards was passed and still remains on the books in Utah. Orchards must either be maintained or removed.

The development of agriculture in Fruita parallels that of many other Mormon settlements, in its heavy dependence upon the ability of farmers to create and maintain irrigation systems and to agree on an equitable distribution of water. From the time the first immigrants reached the Great Basin, distinctive institutions were devised by Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to govern the use of water. The theocratic provisional government of the "State of Deseret" assumed control of its allocation, while Brigham Young declared "There shall be no private ownership of the streams that come out of the canyons, nor the timber that grows in the hills. These belong to the people: all the people." County governments were given authority to grant privileges petitioners to divert streams for irrigation or other purposes. After the water was diverted, equitable distribution was insured by the church through its appointed officials. Controversies were settled in bishops' courts and could be appealed.

Consistent with the egalitarian ideals of the Church, the Saints' system was instituted by statute in 1852, insuring that the welfare of the community took precedent over private profit. This system of water administration was created for a society based on subsistence agriculture. By 1880, the old system no longer functioned well, partly due to the growth of commercial agriculture and its demands for increased water supplies. An influx of non-Mormons and the growth of the mining industry also played a role in challenging the old system. The 1852 statute was rescinded in 1880 and Utah adopted in its place the laissez-faire, individualistic approach to distribution of water common in other western states and territories.

In spite of the increasing Americanization of the Utah Territory in the latter decades of the century, a number of Mormon agricultural communities still continued to be strongly influenced by the cooperative, communitarian ideals of Deseret's founders. [2] Fruita's families managed to subsist through their ability to distribute and regulate water from the Fremont River and Sulphur Creek. When disputes over water occurred, they were usually settled out of court, with the help of Torrey's Bishop. In such out-of-the-way places as Fruita, where clinging to a livelihood was most precarious, the Mormon tradition of cooperation played an important role in the success of the settlement. In the words of historian Charles S. Peterson, "The Mormon withdrawal from the larger community was expressed in forms on the landscape that can be seen to this day, and for many Utahns, traditions of land use that reached beyond economics became second nature." [3]

Fruita is distinguishable from the surrounding region and neighboring towns by the lush, verdant appearance of its orchards and fields. The contrast is made all the more dramatic by the barren canyon walls that cradled the tiny agricultural Mormon community in the last decade of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century. Fruita's cultural landscape represents more than one small group's attempts to wrest a living from yet another remote Utah region — it signifies the successful effort of the faithful to fulfill the wishes of Church leadership, to create a miniature Eden. In doing so, settlers may have felt twice blessed: both with the knowledge of economic self-sufficiency, and with visual proof that their activities were looked upon with Divine favor.

In Utah, where the environment has since dictated that the majority of land (87 percent) be utilized for livestock grazing and only a small portion (4 percent) for the production of crops, the survival of an early Mormon agricultural landscape takes on added significance. The tradition of fruit-picking in the orchards of Fruita goes back for generations among the families of neighboring plateau towns to the west, some of whom claim kinship ties with Fruita's historic residents.

While a number of historic period buildings have been removed and some fields and orchards have been supplanted to accommodate NPS staff housing and visitor services, Fruita still clearly reflects a half-century of land use and cultural adaptation by Mormon settlers. The historic landscape features that remain include more than 66 acres of orchards and fields connected by a network of irrigation ditches, two historic farm complexes (the Gifford Farm and the Holt Farm), and several individual structures that reflect the agricultural and social development of the community. In addition, there are several key character-defining features, patterns, and relationships that are significant and contribute to the significance and general cohesiveness of the cultural landscape at Fruita, including overall landscape organization, land use, response to natural features, and cultural traditions. While some aspects of the landscape have changed, these large-scale patterns and relationships have a strong degree of integrity and contribute to the historic character, feeling, and association of the district as a whole.


1 James, George Warton. Utah, The Land of Blossoming Valleys. The Page Company, Boston, Massachusetts, 1922, x.

2 See Analysis and Evaluation, Cultural Traditions section for definition of the term "Americanization."

3 Peterson, Charles S. "'Touch of the Mountain Sod': How Land United and Divided Utahns, 1847-1985." Dello G. Dayton Memorial Lecture, 1988, 5.

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Last Updated: 01-Apr-2003