La Verkin lies on the north banks of the Virgin River opposite Hurricane, and three miles south of Toquerville. The Zion National Park-Grand Canyon Highway (State Highway 9) bisects the town, while the La Verkin Hot Mineral Springs, a popular bathing resort, is located in the Rio Virgin Canyon immediately south of the community. Rich farmlands make up La Verkin bench between La Verkin Creek on the west and the Hurricane Fault on the east.
The origin of the name is somewhat confusing. In a letter from John Steele and J.C.L. Smith to the Deseret News, dated 26 June 1852, La Verkin Creek is referred to as the "Leiver Skin." Perhaps it originally was "Beaver Skin"; it would have been easy for pioneer writers to transpose an "L" for a "B." Others, however, say that La Verkin is a corruption of the Spanish "La Virgen," referring to the nearby Virgin River. Whatever the source of origin, early Washington County Court records also list the creek as "Leiversking." In time it was shortened to La Verkin.
The La Verkin bench was observed by Erastus Snow when his party explored the Virgin River Valley from Zion Canyon to Santa Clara during the fall of 1861. They were attempting to locate lands suitable for the Cotton Mission farmers. Snow opined that Virgin River water could be conveyed to the bench land, however, the others felt that the labor involved would be too expensive.
Almost thirty years later, Thomas Judd and Thomas P. Cottam had a survey made and started work on a canal. In June 1889 the La Verkin Fruit and Nursery Company was incorporated with a capital stock of $25,000.00. Its objectives were to establish nursery orchards and vineyards, to manufacture wine and liquor, and to promote fruit raising, stock raising, and general farming.
Work on the canal and tunnel was most difficult; a major part of the canal was made through the solid rock limestone of the precipitous cliff wall, other portions through talus slides that had broken off the limestone ledges above. A tunnel through the Kaibab limestone escarpment east of the bench was eight hundred feet in length. It was worked on from both sides, and when the two crews met, the sections fitted together almost perfectly. A row of lighted candles from each end was used as a mark to keep the lines straight as the men on both sides of the ridge drove toward the center. They built a dam two miles up the river from the place where the tunnel penetrated the mountain. Water was turned into the ditch in April 1891.
Leaks in the canal where it coursed through gypsum formations plagued the project. When cement became available, the worst of the leaking places in the canal were cemented, and the canal gave less trouble.
It wasn't until 1898 that a townsite was surveyed and brothers Joseph and Henry Gubler as well as James Pectol came to La Verkin with their families. The town flourished and gradually grew into an area of fruit production, turkey growing, and dairying.
The Southern Utah Power Company agreed to enlarge and cement the canal from the west entrance of the tunnel to the dam in exchange for the right to carry water in the canal to its power plant in the Virgin River canyon west of La Verkin. Later, in the 1980s, the open ditches in La Verkin were converted to a closed pressurized system.
Bubbling up beneath the ledges of the point where the Virgin River breaks through the Hurricane Fault are the warm mineral waters of the La Verkin sulfur springs. Fathers Dominguez and Escalante probably visited the sulfur springs, since they named the stream the "Rio Sulfureo." The Indians regarded the hot springs as sacred and healing spaces, available to friend or enemy. The grounds were preserved as a peaceful sanctuary for everyone. The springs became one of the first recreation spots for the early Mormon pioneers. They dammed up the springs sufficiently that people could bathe. During the years of canal building, the waters soothed and comforted the men who swung the picks and pushed the wheelbarrows.
Early settlers baptized their children in the warm waters at this point of the river. Sheep men dammed off the lower end of the springs for a dipping vat before the days of sheep-dip. The mineral water appeared to be good for the scabies. Washington County built a wooden bridge across the river below the springs, but floods washed it away. A second bridge was also destroyed. In 1916 the county replaced the wooden bridge with a steel one, and later a high arched span was built a short distance downstream.
Today the springs have been developed into an attractive "spa" with seven comfortable little pools in the grotto area. A swimming pool, dressing rooms, and restrooms are provided and there is a bed and breakfast facility for families on vacation.
For many years La Verkin town was a part of Toquerville precinct. It later came under county jurisdiction with its own justice of the peace and constable. In November 1927 residents and voters petitioned the Washington County Commission to constitute the town as a corporate body--an action that was granted that same year.
La Verkin presently is a growing, thriving community with paved streets, modern sewage system, an excellent elementary school, many beautiful new homes, and an expanding business section--all located in a magnificent scenic area.
See: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Washington County Chapter, Under Dixie Sun (1950); Andrew Karl Larson, I Was Called to Dixie (1961); Angus M. Woodbury, "A History of Southern Utah and its National Parks," Utah Historical Quarterly (Vol. 12, 1944).
Wesley P. Larsen