History | Capitol Reef Country

Capitol Reef National Park History

The Capitol Reef National Park region is part of Wayne County Utah. The following are some of the historic sites and locations within the county. PRESERVE THE PAST Help us protect the evidence of ancient cultures long vanished in history.  When you explore the back country you will find chip piles, arrowheads, petro- glyphs, ruins and potsherds. Please leave these artifacts as they are. To disturb or collect them is disrespectful and against the law.


As part of the park’s historic district of Fruita, the Gifford House depicts the typical spartan nature of rural Utah farm homes of the early 1900’s.  The house was initially constructed by Calvin Pendleton in 1908.  He and his family occupied it for eight years.  The second residents of the home, the Jorgen Jorgenson family, lived there from 1916 until 1928. Jorgenson sold the homestead to his son-in-law, Dewey Gifford in 1928.  The Gifford family resided there for 41 years. Dewey and his wife, Nell, were the last private residents to live in what is now a national park.   The Gifford Homestead lies in the heart of Fruita Rural Historic District. Recognition of this significant rural cultural landscape (composed of approximately 200 acres within Fruita Valley) is growing and as a result, has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Currently, the Capitol Reef Natural History Association, in collaboration with the National Park Service, operates the Gifford House as a museum, cultural demonstration site and sales outlet to increase visitor awareness of the Fruita settlements. The homestead includes a seven room house, barn, smokehouse, garden, pasture, and rock walls. It was opened to the public in June 1996.


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints established this ward (similar to a parish) in Torrey in 1898. On September 18, 1898, a meeting house for the ward was started.  The one room log structure, twenty-one by thirty-seven feet in plan, was constructed, with the local settlers furnishing labor, cash or materials. Logs were cut and hauled, shingles supplied by a local mill, the doors and windows were donated.  On the night the doors and windows were installed in the building, in order to celebrate the event, the people of Torrey and surrounding ranches spent the night dancing to violin and accordion music. According to local legend, “When dances were held in the log meeting house, it was necessary for the men to take turns in dancing. So when a man bought a ticket, he was given a number, and the floor manager would call, “Numbers one to ten fill the floor for a waltz,” then later, “Ten to twenty fill the floor.”  By November 1898, the building was completed and proceeds from the public dances then went to purchase the bell for the tower. The building was heated by a pot-bellied stove which apparently remained in use until a remodeling in 1947. The building began another life as a school in December 1898. Prior to state aid, the teachers were hired and paid by the parents. Students attended class for five months each year. When state revenue came to the school in 1910, the school year was extended to seven months.  Early makeshift desks and chairs were slowly replaced by individual desks with ink wells.  Slates were replaced by blackboards and paper.  As the town of Torrey grew, the log church/school house was no longer adequate. For decades, it was used for meetings of the Relief Society (the LDS women’s organization), as an extra church classroom, for voting and for meetings of the local Daughters of Utah Pioneers.   The building as it now stands has been moved and renovated. It has been placed on the National Register as a historical building. The Torrey Log Church/School House is a unique structure. Few unaltered examples of log construction remain in Utah, perhaps none that were specifically built for the multiple religious/civic, educational functions as was this building. The continued use of this early, initial phase type meeting house is also uncommon. It remains a significant building, both locally, and in Utah.  The Torrey Log School and Church is located at 89 East Main Street, Torrey,Utah.


The Morrell Cabin was originally built by Paul Christensen in the 1920’s on Thousand Lake Mountain. It was used as a summer logging camp. The cabin was moved to its present location in Cathedral Valley by Lesley Morrell sometime in the 1930’s. Locally known as Les’s cabin, it was used as a cowboy line camp and kept furnished and stocked, open to all who needed a bunk or a meal. This tradition ended in 1970 when the National Park Service purchased the property. With a rugged backdrop of painted badlands and the complete isolation of Cathedral Valley, one gets the feeling of stepping back in time. Visitors to the cabin have left mementoes, artifacts and poetry, a shrine to loneliness and solitude or maybe out of respect for a bygone era. Maybe for the dusty cowboy or weary traveler who needed shelter and a plate of beans before continuing on his way. The ghosts of days past reside here.   The Morrell Cabin is located two miles north of the Hartnet Junction on the Cathedral Valley Loop. This section of Capitol Reef National Park is rarely visited, so the backcountry traveler must be prepared for any situation he or she may encounter.


The mill is located on Highway 24 between Teasdale and Bicknell. The original mill was built in 1883 of logs and burrstones, by Hans Peter Nielson, a Danish miller who came to Utah in 1863. Between 1883 and 1890 the mill burned down and was rebuilt in 1890. In 1910 the mill was remodeled and very modern equipment was installed. There are 16 elevators, and five reels for flour milling. The dust collector, a water power driven turbine with belting on pulleys made from native wood, a Howe wheat buying scale and a scale for packing flour all added to a fully functioning mill. The mill closed about 1935.  Gristmills once were common in Utah communities with populations of more than 500 people. They were the places families went to have their wheat ground into flour. The Nielson mill is the only mill in Utah that still has its original water-powered workings. Water for the mill was diverted by a flume from the Fremont River. The Wayne County Daughters of the Utah Pioneers have constructed a monument with a turn-out east of the Nielson Grist Mill.


Shortly after the turn of the century, Edwin Thatcher Wolverton, a mining engineer from Maine, came to Utah to look for gold in the Henry Mountains. For 12 long years he searched for Spanish mines and even filed several claims. Wolverton built the mill to process the ore he anticipated mining – and the mill did in fact process some ore, but not much. Wolverton abandoned the mill in 1929.  The BLM relocated and reconstructed the mill in one of the largest historic preservation projects the organization ever attempted. The restored mill can be found in the southwest corner of Hanksville, behind the BLM office.  The Wolverton Mill is truly a unique creation because it combined the functions of wood cutting and ore crushing. The self-guided tour of the mill is a real lesson in pioneer ingenuity and takes only a few minutes.  For more information, please contact the BLM Henry Mountain Field Station, P.O. Box 99, Hanksville, Utah 84734. Telephone: (435) 542-3461.



The outlaw trail was a route that included tough, difficult stretches of terrain.  The outlaws had a series of strongholds along the way that offered a chance to rest up after “The Big Job.”  Robbers Roost in the far north eastern corner of Wayne County was one of these strongholds whose visitors included Butch Cassidy, Kid Curry, and many other notorious banditos. Robbers Roost allowed outlaws to move through undetected and go to protected ground when the law closed in.  There is still a spring and the stone remains of the Cottrell cabin.  Also, the series of canyons in this area offer days of exploring.


This area was part of the historic “Outlaw Trail” used by Butch Cassidy and other frontier banditos. Start your tour in historic Hanksville going north 18 miles on Utah 24. Turn right on Hans Flat Road which is a maintained dirt road. After traveling 22.8 miles through the San Rafael desert an intersection veers north (left) or East (right). Continue to the right 6.7 miles. Robbers Roost Spring Trail (central #20) is a right turn. Follow the right hand track 5.7 miles. A left hand trail dead ends at Robbers Roost Spring which is a great place for a picnic lunch. The Cottrell Cabin or what is left of it is .2 miles North Northeast of the dead end. Return the same way you came in. This trip is recommended for a vehicle with higher ground clearance. Please remember roads can become impassable during inclement weather.



Located 11.1 miles east of Fruita in Capitol Reef National Park. The village was founded in 1890. A dozen families settled here, and raised fruits, vegetables, corn, melons and alfalfa. A small schoolhouse was built for the children of the town and for those from Notom. The town was deserted about 1900 because of flooding.


Located approximately 20 miles east of Fruita, Caineville is still inhabited by a few hardy souls. In late 1882, the Behunin family camped in this location, eventually building a log cabin. A number of families arrived during the winter, resulting in a tiny village named after Utah’s Representative to Congress, John T. Caine. A favorable climate permitted farming of grain and garden crops. Floods were a continuing problem, in 1896, and by 1900, every two or three years the water would wash out dams. A huge flood in 1909 convinced the bulk of the settlers to relocate.


Four miles south of Highway 24 (turnoff just outside of the Park). This hamlet was developed in 1886 and was known as Pleasant Creek or Pleasant Dale. When the post office was to be established in the village, the postal department would not allow either of the two names it was known by (there were already too many Pleasant Creeks and Pleasant Dales) – so the name of Notom was suggested. Where this name came from is not known – but it has been suggested that there were no Tom’s in the village.

Giles/Blue Valley

Four miles west of Hanksville, this is a truly remote location. At one time, approximately 200 people lived here. In 1883, another site along the Fremont River was chosen and a band of hardy pioneers moved in. Irrigation canals were dug, crops planted, and by 1900 the population reached the 200 mark. Known as Blue Valley until 1895, the town changed names to honor the local LDS Bishop, Henry Giles. Floods, common in the area were a continuing problem, and in 1919 the last villager had had enough.

Clifton or Kitchentown

This ghost town is now all but forgotten – in about 1889 Clifton was founded by Bert Averey, just east of Giles/Blue Valley. Flooding caused the demise of this village once located near the mile post 112 on Highway 24.

Mesa or Elephant

Another forgotten community. It was very near to Caineville and included in histories as a part of Caineville. Founded in 1887, approximately 10 families lived there. They weren’t there long, because the flood of 1897 did extensive damage to Mesa, and was totally abandoned by 1898.


The Visitor Center (vc) features a great selection of books, maps, postcards, and more. Also visit the Historic Gifford House (one mile south of the vc) a restored pioneer  home and charming old time store with many specialty items including bottled fruits,  vegetables, pie and ice cream made daily.  Your purchase helps support Capitol Reef National Park. www.capitolreefnha.org  ~ 435-425-3791

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