Ferron is a town in western Emery County with a 1990 population of 1,606. The original townsite occupies a series of rising terraces on the north side of Ferron Creek, but more recent residential developments have spread to the flats south of the creek as well. Both the creek and the town were named for Augustus D. Ferron, whose 1873 survey opened the region to entry under the homestead laws.
Settlement began in the late 1870s, when stockmen from central and western Utah discovered that Ferron Creek was favorably situated in a natural grazing drift between the 11,000-foot Wasatch Plateau to the west (locally known as Ferron Mountain) and the winter range on the San Rafael Swell to the east. Among the first to move their livestock into the region were Mike Molen and the four Swasey brothers-- Joe, Charles, Sid, and Rod--whose names are attached to numerous landscape features in the area.
The first homesteaders, the Larson and Peterson families from Ephraim, Sanpete County, located on Ferron Creek in the fall of 1877. The Ferron LDS ward was organized in 1879, and the 1880 census listed a population of ninety. Earlier Mormon colonies in Utah had typically begun as compact, sometimes fortified, villages. Ferron, however, was settled under laws designed primarily for the agricultural regions of the Midwest, which required homesteaders to reside on their farms in order to obtain title to the land. Thus, from the beginning, Ferron represented a mixed settlement pattern combining elements of the Mormon village with the dispersed pattern encouraged by the homestead laws. A majority of the settlers established homes in town after they legally established their homesteads, but a significant number elected to remain on their farms.
In 1900, 660 people were living in the Ferron precinct, which included the town and the surrounding farms. By 1910 the population had grown to 1,022, and Ferron enjoyed the amenities of a substantial country town, including schools, churches, a flour mill, a hotel, stores, and a saloon. For the next half century, the community exported virtually all of its natural increase, and the 1960 census showed population numbers almost identical to those of 1900--though with a significantly older average age.
Farming and stockraising have been mainstays of the Ferron economy throughout its history. Several families have continued into the fourth and fifth generation the tradition of grazing range livestock on the Wasatch Plateau in the summer and on the San Rafael Swell in the winter, with supplemental feed grown on irrigated farms in the river valley. The Southeastern Utah Junior Livestock Show has been held annually in Ferron for more than fifty years. Through the early decades of the twentieth century, many families kept a few milk cows for their own use and produced butter for sale. In 1905 and again in 1930, commercial creameries were established in Ferron. Though these operations were fairly shortlived, they led to the development of modern dairy farms that from 1950 onward supplied milk to the Wasatch Front urban market.
Despite Ferron's 6,000-foot elevation, the air circulation patterns at the mouth of the canyon provide favorable conditions for fruit growing, and extensive orchards of apples, peaches, and other fruits were planted during the first decade of the twentieth century. The distance from major markets proved to be an insuperable obstacle to commercial success, however, and most of the orchards have disappeared. Yet Ferron peaches still have an excellent local reputation and a Peach Days celebration has been held each September since 1906.
The first school was conducted in a small log building that also served as a Mormon meetinghouse and general community center. This structure was replaced in 1889 by the "blue frame school," which was superseded in its turn by a much larger brick building completed in 1916. A brick LDS meetinghouse that was erected around 1901 was destroyed by fire in 1920. A new chapel completed in 1930 burned in 1933 but was rebuilt. With additions, it continues in use today. A Presbyterian mission school, established in 1904, was housed in an imposing brick building by 1913 and continued to offer a high-school-level education until 1927, attracting many students from the predominantly Mormon community because of the quality of its teachers. Ferron was home to South Emery High School from its establishment in 1916 until its closure in the major Emery County school consolidation of 1962.
The decade of the 1970s brought dramatic changes to Ferron as it did to other Emery County communities. The completion in 1971 of the Mill Site Dam and Reservoir at the mouth of Ferron Canyon not only improved the water supply for agriculture and domestic purposes but also made water available for the Hunter Power Plant, several miles to the northeast. Construction of the Hunter plant, together with the development of coal mining operations to fuel its three massive steam-electric generating units, brought a tripling of Ferron's population between 1970 and 1980 to a peak of more than 2,000 people. The Mill Site project also had important recreational benefits, including fishing and boating facilities at the lake and the construction nearby of Emery County's only golf course, with greens and fairways winding picturesquely among Mancos Shale cliffs and pinnacles.
See: Emery County Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Castle Valley: A History of Emery County (1949); Allan Kent Powell, Emery County: Reflections on Its Past and Future (1979); Emery County Historical Society, Emery County 1880-1980 (1981); Lowry Nelson, "Boyhood in a Mormon Village," in In the Direction of His Dreams: Memoirs (1985).
Edward A. Geary