Capitol Reef
Administrative History
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"What do we do about Fruita?" This question has no doubt been asked by every National Park Service manager concerned with Capitol Reef. There have been no easy answers regarding Fruita, which is constricted in size by towering cliffs and mesas, and is the focus of various competing interests.

Controversy began decades ago, when private landowners struggling to maintain their way of life and monument managers trying to fulfill their mission sometimes conflicted. Later, after Fruita was acquired by the National Park Service, managers were faced with deciding which buildings would remain and which should be razed. Unfortunately, these decisions were often guided more by aesthetics and infrastructural needs than by a sense of history, and they stirred further local controversy. Once a decision was made to preserve historic Fruita, managers had to determine how to go about it. The recent National Register listing of the entire Fruita area, identified as a rural historic landscape, will help shape a long-term, cohesive policy. But even now, managers must reconcile the often conflicting needs of historic preservation and visitor services within the confines of the historic district.

This study traces National Park Service policies toward Fruita, from inholding conflicts, through Mission 66 developments, to later efforts to manage the historic resources. The purpose of this discussion is to chart the National Park Service's evolving management philosophy toward Fruita. Please consult other chapters of this administrative history or the cited references for more details on area history, prehistory, or other specific issues.

Fruita Becomes Part Of The Monument: 1931-1937

The unique landscape that brought the National Park Service to the Waterpocket Fold country has also limited the agency's ability to develop the area. The rugged, arid, slickrock topography channeled potential visitor services to the few accessible flat spots near water. The only sites that met this criterion within the original monument are those places where the Fremont River and Pleasant Creek enter and exit the Waterpocket Fold. The three most suitable locations for headquarters development -- Notom, Floral Ranch, and Fruita -- have a long record of human habitation; however, of these areas, only Fruita was included within the original monument boundaries.

For the National Park Service officials charged with studying possible boundaries and future development potential of the Capitol Reef area, Fruita was the obvious choice for headquarters development: it was easily accessible, had potable water, and included flat, open land suitable for buildings and campgrounds.

The first in a long series of difficult decisions facing the National Park Service was whether Fruita should even be included within the proposed national monument. The first National Park Service official known to visit the area was Zion National Park Superintendent Thomas J. Allen. In July 1931, at the urging of local business leaders, Allen went to "Wayne Wonderland" to investigate its possibilities as a national park or monument. In describing the region's spectacular scenery, Allen observed that the best of it was around Fruita. [1]

Allen's initial report brought official investigator Roger W. Toll to the area the following year. Toll, like Allen, traveled to Capitol Reef via the rough dirt road from Torrey to Fruita, and continued on through Capitol Gorge. Toll reported that Fruita consisted of "two ranches and a roadside store" and was "probably the best base from which to explore the country." [2]

Toll returned to the Waterpocket Fold country in November 1933 to conduct a more thorough investigation. By this time, local promoter Ephraim Pectol had persuaded the Utah State Legislature to pass a resolution proposing national park or monument status for the area, and providing specific boundary recommendations. These boundaries, presumably drawn up by Pectol himself, specifically excluded the private lands of Fruita. [3]

The problem with this first boundary proposal, according to Toll, was that the proposed monument would be broken into three separate units. After five days of study and discussions with Pectol, Toll recommended that Unit 1, between Torrey and Bicknell, be dropped from consideration, and Unit 2, which encompassed the upper Fremont River Gorge, be connected to an expanded Unit 3. This area would thus protect the Capitol Reef section of the Waterpocket Fold north, east, and west of Fruita. Toll was clear on the point that the private lands of Fruita, itself, were to be excluded from the national monument proposal. [4]

Fruita was not included in the proposed monument's boundaries until after Zion Superintendent Preston P. Patraw's more extensive investigation in 1935. This detailed analysis of lands and resources within the recommended Capitol Reef National Monument introduces the first Fruita management policy:

At the suggestion of the Director's office, Mr. E. P. Pectol, of Torrey, had worked out a boundary line which would include the private lands of rural Fruita. The wisdom of doing so and subsequently acquiring the private lands is apparent when it is realized that Fruita is the logical place for locating the center of future monument development, and that under continued private ownership uncontrolled and competitive development of tourist accommodations is bound to follow progressively with increase of tourist visitation. [5]

Patraw insightfully observed, "[Fruita] is centrally located in the area and any highway constructed must go through the town. All land suitable for administrative and tourist facilities is in private ownership." [6]

Zion's Superintendent also recognized that purchasing the private lands of Fruita would not be easy. Patraw estimated, based on the "local opinion of land values," that the total cost of purchasing the approximately 100 acres of "rich fruit lands with ample water rights" would be around $50,000. The opinions of the Fruita residents regarding this proposal were not mentioned. [7]

It should be noted that none of the other possible locations that met development criteria was recommended for inclusion within Capitol Reef National Monument. Thus, Fruita was the only possible location for National Park Service development during these early years.

Early Developments: 1937 - 1942

In the euphoria surrounding the 1937 presidential proclamation creating Capitol Reef National Monument, the inherent conflict between National Park Service development needs and continued private ownership in the same restricted area was overlooked. Correspondence among Ephraim Pectol, Superintendent Patraw, and Regional Director Frank Kittredge does not mention previous recommendations to purchase the Fruita lands. [8] Instead, development was to proceed at a slow pace. Kittredge cautioned, "We are going to have to do some thorough studying before we undertake any development. We cannot afford to make mistakes by jumping into work, perhaps scarring some of the country and then wishing we had not." [9]

Of course, lack of money even to conduct preliminary surveys of the new monument also must have played a key role in postponing any attempts to purchase the Fruita lands. Yet, both Patraw and Kittredge recognized the need to either build or acquire some kind of headquarters building and associated water rights. Patraw specifically recommended that a previously proposed Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) crew be assigned to Capitol Reef as soon as possible. [10]

From 1938 to 1942, the CCC built the ranger station, performed extensive stream bank stabilization along the Fremont River through Fruita, improved the Hickman Bridge trail, constructed a new bridge across Sulphur Creek, and realigned and otherwise improved several sections of the monument road. [11]

Because all of the most desirable property was already privately owned, the ranger station was built on public land on the western edge of the community. According to the 1939 master plan, a residence and utility area were to be built adjoining the CCC structure. [12]

After the CCC was disbanded at the beginning of World War II, federally financed construction at Capitol Reef National Monument halted until the early 1960s. Historic photographs from the 1940s and 1950s starkly contrast the lonely CCC building on barren land west of the road to the lush fruit farms on the east. These pictures can be seen as a metaphor for the National Park Service presence at Capitol Reef during this period: minimal and peripheral.

Any future growth in the agency's presence at Capitol Reef was directly tied to the acquisition of private lands at Fruita. The 1938 Development Outline for Capitol Reef National Monument clearly stated, "Monument headquarters developments logically belong at Fruita. The desirable land being in private ownership, a complete development plan for a headquarters, including visitor accommodations and services, may not be prepared until the land is purchased or otherwise acquired." [13]

World War II significantly affected National Park Service development throughout the country. Recently established units such as Capitol Reef were dealt a particularly hard blow. The war effort siphoned off money, personnel, and agency attention, leaving a minimal National Park Service presence at Capitol Reef. The land continued to be used for farming, grazing, and mining, as though the area had never been set aside as a national monument. The nearest National Park Service officials were in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, nearly an entire day's drive away. This lack of federal attention must have disappointed local tourism boosters. Yet, from those living in or using the lands within the monument, there was surely a sigh of relief. Already suffering from years of agricultural depression and war-time restrictions on gas and tires, residents of Fruita struggled to continue their customary lifestyle, monument or no. The lack of National Park Service controls allowed them to do so. The situation led local residents to believe that their traditional use of lands now within the new monument would not be challenged.

By 1943, Zion National Park Superintendent Paul R. Franke, who would oversee Capitol Reef operations between 1939 and 1959, had realized that it was no longer practical to wait for acquisition of Fruita before planning monument developments. Franke wrote:

The present Superintendent recognizes the conflict of private land but can see no reason why [the] majority of present owners cannot continue to reside and operate their ranches within the Monument. With encouragement from the Service, these owners can be encouraged to develop and maintain their property in conformity with standards to be established....The type of physical developments should conform to the early Mormon type of architecture (stone). [14]

While Franke did not clarify his idea of "early Mormon type of architecture," his is the first known reference in a planning document to Fruita as a potential interpretive local for Mormon culture and history.

The problem with Franke's suggestion was that these "standards" would have to be imposed on private landowners who had resided in Fruita long before the monument was established. Further, the nearest National Park Service presence was hundreds of miles away. Until Franke could secure a habitable residence, water rights, and a staff to provide the monument with a continual National Park Service presence, any Fruita management policy was moot.

From Accommodation To Acquisition: 1943 - 1956

Superintendent Franke must have been greatly relieved to acquire the Alma Chesnut place, its .66 second feet of water, and Charles Kelly as volunteer custodian. [15] However, long-range planners continued to struggle with the Fruita dilemma.

In the 1949 master plan development outline prepared by Zion Superintendent Charles J. Smith, there is a good example of the conflicting attitudes toward Fruita. On one hand, Smith writes, "The choice building sites are [sic] in private ownership within the monument and private enterprise is at present developing a hodge-podge of cabin camps, beer joints and cheap shops on private land." [16] On the other hand, Smith observed:

It is suggested we deviate from Service policy in that we do not attempt to procure all the private lands within the area. The picturesque town of Fruita is situated within the monument. It is a part of the native scene and it is believed we should not attempt to purchase all the land which makes up the small community, at least, not for the present. [17]

Although the desirability of acquiring Fruita was recognized, lack of management control was resulting in private tourist developments deemed unacceptable by National Park Service officials. With no money to purchase the offending private facilities or construct alternative public accommodations, there was little Smith or Charles Kelly could do about the "hodge-podge" nature of tourist developments in the area.

Due to the war and extremely poor roads into Capitol Reef throughout the 1940s, visitors were mostly either local people using the monument on weekends and holidays, or a "higher-class" of adventure seekers who actually preferred the lack of developments. [18] In 1943, the only tourist accommodations were six "poor shacks without any modern conveniences" owned by Doc Inglesby and William Chesnut. [19] By 1946, a private landowner began an ambitious attempt to build a replica of the Zion Lodge at Fruita, but high costs and the owner's poor health forced compromises on the Capitol Reef Lodge's size and appearance. [20]

Although visitation to Capitol Reef began to increase during the 1950s post-war prosperity, the development of hospitality facilities at Fruita was more directly a result of the uranium boom. Capitol Reef Lodge was improved to accommodate winter guests and Dewey Gifford built a motel in his front yard to serve the steady stream of prospectors passing through the area. Local people were also counting on increasing tourism, though, once the roads into Capitol Reef were improved.

In 1950, the National Park Service contemplated purchasing Dean Brimhall's property, across the road from the ranger station, for the residential/utility area and a campground. When Brimhall declined to sell, Zion's Superintendent was actually relieved. [21] Smith believed that the time was simply not right to make long-range plans for a campground or residence on the private lands of Fruita. Smith wrote, "We believe it is just wishful thinking and not at all realistic to plan the key developments, and development which is essential in the near future, on land which we have only a remote prospect of obtaining at an early date." [22]

Smith, however, still favored minimal facilities, such as a campground to be built on the old Alma Chesnut property. He believed that such a facility would meet visitor needs for five or 10 years. Smith observed, "If such campground proves to be inadequate or in the wrong location, we can write it off when the time comes and be satisfied that it has served the people reasonably well for a reasonable time." [23]

Smith realized that acquisition of the private lands of Fruita was several years off, and that National Park Service development of visitor facilities would be delayed accordingly. Back in 1948, the cost of purchasing Fruita was inhibitive, and managers also worried about how the local economy might be affected by such a transaction. According to Smith:

To acquire all inholdings at Capitol Reef, it would be necessary to purchase the land on which the little town of Fruita lies. This land consists almost entirely of highly productive fruit farms. The cost would be great. Recent sales have amounted to $300 per acre and the bearing fruit tree acreage is held at from $800 to $1000 per acre....Purchase by the government would decrease the taxable property in Wayne County -- perhaps the poorest county in point of taxable property in the state of Utah. [24]

This concern, coupled with the desire to preserve "this picturesque pioneer Mormon settlement," [25] prompted Superintendent Smith to consider the Floral Ranch area on Pleasant Creek as a location for monument headquarters. This uncertainty over where headquarters should be located is exemplified in the following September 1948 statement by now Associate Regional Director Preston Patraw:

The choise (sic) between Fruita and Floral Ranch for Monument headquarters is a very narrow one. The Floral Ranch site has the advantage of being much less dislocating of local communities than would be involved at Fruita. On the other hand, I would consider Fruita as being the more strategic location for administrative headquarters. However, if there is a way to acquire the Floral Ranch I believe I would favor that location, because of the much greater ease and less expense with which the headquarters could be established there. [26]

Ultimately, the location of the monument's headquarters would be determined by the route of the new paved highway through Capitol Reef. In 1956, when the Utah Bureau of Public Roads agreed to build the road through the Fremont River canyon, the Pleasant Creek headquarters idea was abandoned. [27]

When Capitol Reef National Monument was officially activated in 1950, the slowly developing public facilities were still restricted to the edges of Fruita proper. A small campground was finally placed along Sulphur Creek north of the ranger station, and a few picnic tables were set out near the old schoolhouse property owned by Merin and Cora Smith. Apart from the CCC-built ranger station and the Chesnut house where Kelly lived, there were no National Park Service-owned buildings at Capitol Reef until the early 1960s.

The 1953 master plan, written by Superintendent Charles Kelly, proposed purchase of a small amount of private lands for headquarters developments. Since campground, utilities, and residential developments needed to be near the ranger station (which still had no water allocation), acquisition of the Brimhall estate was still the principle objective.

It was Kelly's continued hope that Fruita could be preserved:

The orchards on private land at Fruita, within the monument, make a very favorable impression on desert travelers during the summer. The current policy is to leave these private owners where they are, as part of the local picture, rather than eventually to acquire all private land as was done at Zion, although this will create minor problems and occasional difficulties. [28]

Thus, throughout most of the 1940s and early 1950s the management policy toward Fruita was one of reluctant acceptance. Once it became clear that purchasing the private lands of Fruita was not practical, managers could only hope that voluntary compliance with building standards might make Fruita a more "picturesque town." At the same time, minimal developments such as a campground, and even future residences, were to be constructed at the entrance to Fruita. These were to serve the needs of the monument until the situation changed. Thanks to Mission 66, these changes would occur rather rapidly.

Determining The Fate Of Fruita: 1955-56

When Director Conrad Wirth embarked the National Park Service on its unprecedented 10-year development plan, Mission 66, the acquisition of private property in Fruita became possible. Because of management and resource conflicts with inholders in many of the more famous national parks, Wirth wanted to acquire as many these private lands as possible, either through purchase or exchange. A National Park Service report describing the general objectives of Mission 66 stated, "Development of these lands as private homesites or for commercial enterprises detrimental to the parks, the hindrance they present to orderly park development, and the problems they present to management and protection, warrant their acquisition at the earliest practicable date." [29]

This service-wide goal, along with anticipated Congressional funding allocations, must have been good news to the management staff at Zion. They could finally acquire the private lands of Fruita as part of the overall Mission 66 development plans for Capitol Reef National Monument.

In April 1955, Zion Superintendent Franke answered a general questionnaire on the problems and needs for all parks under his charge. Of the existing problems at Capitol Reef, he observed, "The alien lands, private and State, present the most serious threat, which threatens to hinder public use and destroy the area character....It is estimated that approximately $125,000 would purchase the key private holdings in area known as 'Fruita.' "

As far as concessions were concerned, Franke reported:

Public accommodations on private lands inside the boundary are undesirable and messy. The Capitol Reef Lodge and property should be acquired. Cost is probably $35,000....There appears to be no practical location outside the boundaries for centers of overnight use. The small agricultural community of Fruita is the most logical overnight center and its use and growth will not impair park values. [30]

Superintendent Franke believed that $160,000 would relieve Capitol Reef of a significant management problem as well as provide the needed space for future public facilities. The regional director in Santa Fe, however, was not so sure that all of Fruita should be acquired. In May 1955, Hugh M. Miller, who was in the process of moving from assistant to regional director, wrote Franke:

It seems to this office that probably we should not attempt to destroy this little community through the acquisition of all these tracts. The community is in itself an "exhibit in place," a typical Mormon settlement which has retained much of its early day charm....In other words, it is our feeling that it is more interesting to have these properties occupied and the normal community life carried on than to acquire the properties, remove the buildings, and let the gardens revert to weeds and the ditches fall into disuse. [31]

To solve the problem of undesirable inholdings, Miller suggested that the monument boundary be redrawn so as to exclude most of Fruita. [32]

This 1955 debate, which was to decide Fruita's fate, was centered on three points:

  1. Was there enough room in the tiny valley for the development of adequate, long-range National Park Service facilities and for private inholdings?

  2. Was Fruita still a "typical Mormon settlement?" [33]

  3. If so, would it be better to simply redraw the boundaries and divest the inholdings?

Zion Superintendent Franke seemed to be the only one to answer "no" to all three questions. In passing on the regional director's memorandum to Kelly, Franke included a cover letter discussing his own opinion of Fruita's long range value. He wrote:

It seems to me that the idea of an exhibit in place featuring a typical Mormon settlement is far from the real picture and would neither reflect credit to us or to the Mormon pioneers. It is true that there are some colorful characters living in Fruita at the present time but that they are either typical or in keeping with the dignity of the National Park Service as 'exhibits in place' are concerned is questionable. When they are gone, the 'typical Mormon settlement' is likely to revert to a frontier slum town and not a dignified exhibit that is likely to add anything to the awe inspiring and natural beauty of Capitol Reef, or to the credit of the National Park Service. [34]

Superintendent Kelly opined that Fruita had indeed evolved from pioneer to modern in character over the past decade, but he argued against acquisition of all the Fruita inholdings:

If all the private lands are purchased, it means that the park service will have to operate the lodge and motel as concessions, and it also means that we would have to irrigate all the land in order to maintain shade trees and grass, since it would be unthinkable to let this little oasis revert to desert. Its green trees and fields are its greatest attraction, enjoyed by all the traveling public. [35]

Kelly also pointed out that speculation over the coming of the new highway had caused land prices to triple over their 1941 value, "beyond any real present value." This situation, coupled with Kelly's desire to preserve the Fruita "oasis," led him to make two recommendations:

  1. The National Park Service should purchase the Max Krueger property, east of Kelly's residence, for construction of a campground and to ensure access to Hickman Bridge Trail. [36]

  2. The monument boundary should be modified to exclude the remaining private lands of Fruita. [37]

Superintendent Franke disagreed. In a strongly worded memorandum to Regional Director Miller, he pointed out that Mission 66 charged the National Park Service with acquiring lands to provide for adequate public use. Franke argued that the monument boundary should not be changed to exclude Fruita, and that the Krueger property alone would be inadequate for monument developments. He stated:

[I]t is difficult for me to accept permanent abandonment and alienation of desirable lands within the area merely for the reason that funds for acquisition would be difficult to obtain. History has taught me that in our National parks and monuments we usually strangle ourselves by too little land with the result that objectives highly important are lost forever....History also teaches that a compromise with ideals and retreat to a line that can be defended before local citizens is a good method for increasing the 'headaches.' If a National park or monument is worthy let's fight for it. If the area is not worth that national status let's recommend its abolishment. [38]

Further, Franke argued:

We must, to be in tune with Mission 66, stop thinking of 15 years ago or of the present. Let us realize that by 1966, 250,000 visitors will come to Capitol Reef....These visitors will come in spite of our failure to properly plan and develop. To plan to develop only about 1/2 of 1 percent of the area for public use is not being realistic. We must accept the facts and that 6 or 7 percent of the area will have to be made available for public use, in order to satisfy that public, and that usable land is only around Fruita. [39]

Franke pointed out that piecemeal purchase of the Fruita inholdings (i.e., acquiring the Krueger property immediately and purchasing other properties as the need arose and/or as funding became available), would lead to administrative and maintenance problems. He wrote, "Minimum land needs in the Fruita area, from my viewpoint, are: all lands north or south of the Fremont River. My preference, if a choice has to be made, is for those lands north of the river, where we are now established." [40]

Franke recommended that all National Park Service buildings and visitor facilities be placed on public lands north of the river, but that no lodgings be provided there. Rather, lodgings could be provided by private businesses outside the monument and south of the river. Regarding the historic value of Fruita, Franke argued:

The worn out buildings are such that even the most pious Mormon would disown. Historic quaintness may be associated with the 'old timers.' However, their time in a permanent exhibit is but a passing moment....How can we build a typical 'Mormon Community' out of such temporary variables as human beings? These are transient values and we should not let our misguided sympathies for a few 'old timers' and their structures...divert our attention from the real values and significant points of Capitol Reef. [41]

Superintendent Franke believed that, given the limited area suitable for building in the Fruita valley, the National Park Service must choose between preserving "early day charm" and providing visitor facilities. To Franke, facilities were more important than sentiment, and Mission 66 provided an opportunity to upgrade the monument.

Notably, Franke's detailed, impassioned argument never mentioned Fruita's orchards. Presumably, he believed that all lands north of the river -- including the orchards -- would be needed for monument developments.

Unfortunately, there is no record of Director Miller's or Superintendent Kelly's responses to Franke's memorandum. Franke must have persuaded the regional director, however, because the initial drafts of Capitol Reef's Mission 66 Prospectus all included the "bold proposal to acquire all inholdings within the Monument which would include the entire town of Fruita." [42]

This proposal caught the attention of National Park Service Director Conrad Wirth. He favored acquisition of the inholdings, pending a more detailed report. [43] In response, Assistant Zion Superintendent Chester A. Thomas submitted a detailed table of the various private and state inholdings in the monument. The table showed:

Although there is a total of 686.92 acres of land in private ownership within the boundaries, (note this is exclusive of state owned lands) only some 130 acres is irrigated farm land suitable for development. The balance of 556 acres is wasteland very little of which would serve for development purposes. Much of it lies above the ledges of the canyon. It would seem that 130 acres of flat land is not an unreasonable acreage to request for a headquarters site and for development of campgrounds, residences and utility area. Although the acreage of useable land is small, some it is orchard land and has a high cash value. [44]

This table lists the 11 state and private inholdings (state lands are combined) within the monument in order of acquisition priority. The cost of purchasing the nine private inholdings in the Fruita was estimated at $123,000. The land was needed, according to Thomas, for visitor use, development, and roads and trails rights of way. [45]

In the final (April 1965) Mission 66 prospectus for Capitol Reef National Monument, proposed locations for the visitor center, residences, and campground were not specified. [46] The prospectus was clear, however, about private inholdings in Fruita:

Privately owned lands within the monument occupy practically all of the land suitable for development for visitor use and administrative purposes....There is no justification for maintaining the old settlement of Fruita because it is neither typical of pioneer settlements nor is there any value that might enhance understanding or appreciation of the area. Reduced to its proper perspective acquisition of the private lands within the monument is in accordance with Service policy and need not constitute a major undertaking. [47]

This proposal for acquiring the private property for Mission 66 facilities would be the basis of all development plans during this period. Given the limited area available for development, the National Park Service felt compelled to purchase the inholdings. The effects of this move on residents, their homes, and their orchards, were of lesser concern.

The prospectus also called for eliminating all motels, rental cabins, and other lodgings from the monument, at least until 1966. Small concessions for gas, meals, souvenirs, and camping supplies would be permitted. The 50-car campground proposed for Fruita could be expanded to 100 sites, and could later be moved or supplemented by a campground at Pleasant Creek (once the land was acquired). [48]

The prospectus does not detail plans for Fruita's buildings and orchards. The only mention of trees in Fruita is a recommendation to spray periodically the "large number of valuable shade trees in the area" to control parasites and disease. [49] At least some of the old irrigation ditches would be maintained to water vegetation in the campground. [50]

Additional water rights, which were to come with the purchase of the inholdings, would be utilized for irrigating vegetation in the campground and around public buildings. Planners evidently assumed that this, plus the water needs for the visitor center, residences, and other National Park Service buildings would require all available water rights. None of early Mission 66 planning documents or correspondence mentions the need to irrigate the Fruita orchards to protect these accumulated water rights. Further, no documentation has ever been found suggesting that the Fruita area be restored to its natural vegetative condition. [51]

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Last Updated: 10-Dec-2002