The Way Sam Remembers It

There’s not much left of Valley City, an even five

miles south of Crescent Junction along U. S. Highway 191. Only an

eroded root cellar and a little bit of building debris remains of

what, for a short time, was a thriving Grand County farming community.

I remember, though, when it was an abandoned ghost

town with only the school, a farm house or two and an imposing

two-story frame hotel, all vacant. I went there with my father, a

county commissioner at the time, along with a member of the school

board. We went there to assess whether or not there was anything of

value left in the school building that might be salvaged. Aside from

some tattered desks with benches attached, there wasn’t much left,

except my lasting memories.

According to Grand Memories, a well-researched

history of the area published by the Moab Daughters of Utah Pioneers,

the following bits of history have been recorded:

“In 1905 the Grand Valley Land and Mineral Company

had a number of men from Indianapolis, Indiana, working on a reservoir

that would irrigate 2500 acres of land near Thompson, Utah. The company

sold stock to raise enough money for a cement dam. The land was fertile

and the concept correct, but the secretary-treasurer of the company

spent a lot of money on horse races. Because of this unfortunate

incident, a dirt dam was substituted for the originally planned cement


“In 1908 twenty people had arrived at the dam site

and were industriously setting out sixty acres of orchard. Water from

the reservoir was being utilized.

“Then it happened! Torrents of rain fell and the

dirt dam was washed away by a huge roaring flash flood. Washed away

with the dam were the dreams and hopes of the Indiana people, and most

of them returned to their home state. John Sullivan was one that stayed

in the area. Howard Balsley had come to see his sister, Nellie, and he

too remained.

“Several years later M. L. Burdick and his

sons-in-law, Jack Brace and Paul Oliver, rebuilt the dam and raised

fruits and vegetables.

“In the late twenties Sylvia Harris taught at the

Valley City school. By 1930 there were few schoolchildren. The board of

education authorized a school for the community, but reserved the right

to close the school if attendance dropped too low.

“Because of flash floods, it was impossible to keep

up the reservoir and people kept drifting away from the town. The

school finally closed, the farmers, (Newell “Legs” Dalton was the last)

left, and Valley City became ghost town.

“For many years after Valley City was deserted, a

large gray, weather-worn hotel stood as a silent reminder of the life

and hard work at Valley City. As time went by the hotel gained a

reputation for being haunted.”

I remember that old two-story hotel, which my cousin

and I toured on foot while on a rabbit hunting outing when I was a

youth. As we walked through rooms on the two floors, with boards

creaking under our feet, I could believe the “haunted” reputation and

was glad to get on with the rabbit hunt.

Also remaining, but out of sight from the highway,

is the huge washed-out earthen dam, with hundreds of acres of what was

once a brimming reservoir which silted full during flash floods down

Thompson Wash, which drained several canyons coming off the Book

Cliffs. That drainage did and still can carry torrents of water when

heavy thunderstorms attack its tributary canyons.

There was no dentist in Moab for many years when I

was a kid. We always drove to Grand Junction to visit Dr. P. A.

Matteroli who had offices in the tall (4 stories) First National Bank

building there. The doctor told me he was on his way to Moab to set up

a practice when he found the bridge at Valley City had been washed

away. He returned to Grand Junction and set up his offices, but kept

up with his Moab friends.

Each time I pass through what was once Valley City,

I look at the old root cellar and remember what it was like when I was

young, and what it must have looked like before the dam silted up and

washed out.