Just a stone’s throw from Zion National Park lies the small ghost town of Grafton, Utah, a former settlement along the south banks of the Virgin River. Settled in 1859 by Mormon cotton farmers, and officially abandoned in 1944, the town never had many people, and was emblematic of the difficulties inherent to farming along the notoriously unpredictable river. It was often racked with floods, erosion, and heavy silt accumulation during its short existence, and by the turn of the century, fewer than 100 people called it home.
Its current status as a ghost town and historical attraction is under the stewardship of the Grafton Heritage Partnership, formed in 1997 to protect and preserve the location to help prevent vandalism and other wear and tear to the buildings, a few farm houses, an old church, and a cemetery.
Grafton is located just south of the current town of Rockville, UT, across the historic Rockville Bridge and about 10 minutes drive down a well-maintained BLM dirt road.
I first encountered this ghost town at the end of a ten day road trip through the southwest with my girlfriend, and spent a few hours poking around, taking pictures, and generally loving the quiet solitude of the place. Zion National Park was particularly busy that weekend, obnoxiously so, and we were looking for a respite from the crowds before pushing back to Los Angeles and the real world. We were not disappointed.
The first stop along the road as you enter town is the Grafton Cemetery, a small, fenced off enclosure featuring Mormon and Native American graves, many of the tombstones eroded and unreadable.
Some care has been taken in some instances to preserve or replace the stones, but many are left damaged and unrecognizable. Most of the graves are mounded over and clearly defined, though in a few instances, the earth has collapsed, creating a rather eerie effect.
At the center of the cemetery is the Berry Headstone, a marker for a family of pioneers killed in a Navajo raid, retribution for a series of escalating conflicts around the town of Pipe Springs, AZ, now a National Monument outside of Colorado City, just across the border to the south.
Many of the graves, including the Berrys, date to 1866, a particularly hard year for the people of Grafton, and one which led to the eventual dissolution of the town.
Further down the road, the few remaining houses come into view, well preserved homesteads and crumbling barns amid large swaths of farmland, still actively used for cattle grazing today.
The first house belonged to John and Ellen Smith Wood, and was built in 1877. Well preserved, and tucked behind a well-built fence, the house was home to the Woods until Ellen’s death in 1898, and John’s subsequent move to Hurricane, UT, in 1909. John was a farmer and cattleman, and spent some of his time working at
the blacksmith’s shop in town.
The property stretches back across rolling green fields, and contains a barn, complete with an old wagon, and a small granary. Today, cows wander the fields behind the house, and cottonwoods line the ditch out front.
Beneath the house, a small cellar is accessible, dark and creepy, and very cool.
Down the street from the Wood house lies the Grafton school house, the most well maintained, and likely most recognizable building in town. Situated beneath Mt. Kinasava to the north, it is supposedly the most photographed historic ghost town structure in the west (being used in films such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), and was considered the cultural hub of this small town during the late 1800’s, used as a school, church, town hall, dance hall, and community center.
Next to the school house sits the Russell house, built and inhabited by Alonzo Haventon Russell, one of the early settlers in the area.
Russell, a blacksmith and band leader of the “Russell Band,” which often played music for the townspeople from his front porch, and lived in the building with his second wife, while his fourth wife/sister in law lived across the street.
Between his four wives he had 21 children, most of whom survived to adulthood. When he died in 1910, and was subsequently buried in the Grafton Cemetery, his son bought the house for $200 and a cow before finally moving to St. George in 1944, among the last families to leave Grafton.
At the end of the street, west of the schoolhouse along the banks of the Virgin, sits the Ballard House, a restored 1907 farmhouse which, at the time of my visit, was surrounded by cows and no trespassing signs.
The cows were mostly skittish around us, except for one small calf who followed us around everywhere we wandered.
The Ballard house is a two story structure, though its upper level is more of a cramped attic than a true second story, and the stairs up to it are just asking for someone to bang their head, or fall down them unceremoniously. As with the other buildings in Grafton, great care has been taken in restoring the Ballard house, and it could easily be lived in today, with some small fixes.
The barn next door was full of hay and rusting farm equipment, and featured a stunning Datura bush outside.
Inside, light streamed through the broken-down wood slats on the wall, and was totally cool and slightly creepy. While I avoided the temptation to climb up into the hay loft, I enjoyed poking around inside and taking pictures.