The city of Mapleton started out as an agricultural extension of the small Hobble Creek community that is now called Springville, Utah. Mapleton is located to the south and east of its parent community, on the Provo level of what was once Lake Bonneville. The area was partially covered by an extensive stand of junipers which started near the mouth of Hobble Creek Canyon and extended around its western edge to the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon. On the eastern side it is flanked by one of the most beautiful of the Wasatch Mountains--the official maps now call it Mount Flonette, but earlier inhabitants of the area called it Sierra Bonita.
According to the testimony of Cyrus Sanford and Richard Bird, two early settlers of Springville and Mapleton, land on the bench was surveyed for farming purposes less than a year after the original settlement was founded in 1850. By 1856, a group of men including Sanford and Bird, Henry Claucus, Buck Atchison, Sanford Fuller, John Deal, John Maycock, Myron Crandall, Spicer Crandall, Henry Roylance, Thomas Avery, Walter Bird, Stephen C. Perry, and John Solomon Fuller were busily engaged in leveling the land and digging a ditch to bring water from Hobble Creek. The ditch was five miles in length and cost over one hundred dollars with its added improvements.
The settlers cleared and fenced between five and six hundred acres of bench land; and, since they did it as a united group, they called the new farming area the Union Field. It was not to stay a united effort. The early Indian wars, which started with the Walker War of 1853-1854, and subsequent hostilities in Utah and surrounding counties, kept the Springville farmers from effectively farming their new holdings. By the time these problems were dealt with, a new set of farming conditions existed that would change how the bench area was going to grow and develop.
A more extensive land survey was completed in the late 1860s. When the Indians who had claimed Utah Valley were moved to a reservation in 1869, the development of the Mapleton bench area began. Those farmers who had previously developed the land had the best claims to the farmland. However, it was not going to be a smooth transition from a farming program developed from a United Order communal organization to an American free-enterprise land-grab allowed under the Homestead Act of 1862. The Union Field farmers struggled to get their land claims worked out; and when the final disputes were settled by the bishops' courts, a new name was needed for the area.
John S. Fullmer and Cyrus Sanford were the first two to establish farming operations on the bench after the removal of the Indians. The Blackhawk War was in progress, but a few hardy souls did venture out to build homes in the area. Charles E. Malmstrom, a Swedish immigrant with an Australian wife, built a home at what is now west Maple Street, about 250 rods west of the present Mapleton City Building, and moved in 1 December 1873. By 1877 there were at least eighteen families established with homes on the Union Field land.
With the coming of permanent residents, a school was needed. By 1884 an acre of land had been donated by Lewis R. Perry at the southwest corner of his farm, and a twelve-by-fifteen-foot building was erected. The new schoolhouse soon became the focal point of the community. It was not only a place for children to be educated, it became the Mormon branch meetinghouse for the local farm families. Three years later, it housed the first Mormon ward on the bench. At that time, and probably because of land-claim problems, L.J. Whitney suggested that the new ward be named Mapleton after a small grove of black maple trees found at the mouth of Maple Canyon.
The community has always been a good place to live and raise a family, but it also has always been a hard place to make a living. As the large farm families grew, there was neither sufficient land nor water to let them stay and take advantage of the agricultural lifestyle. Several families left the area to find a better situation in Oregon, Arizona, or Canada. By the late 1890s the problem had grown, and the Mapleton farm families were getting frustrated at what they considered a lack of concern from the Springville City Council about their problems (roads, ditches, canals, and water rights).
By 3 September 1901 a petition by Aaron Johnson, Jr., son of the first Mormon leader of Springville, and 110 other Mapleton adults, requested permission from Utah County for the right to organize a town. It was granted; and the first Mapleton town board reads like a Who's Who of important bench leaders: John R. Bromley was president, and the trustees were John H. Lee, Christian W. Houtz, John Tuckett, and Richard Mendenhall, who was later replaced by William T. Tew.
It was during the drive for a town government that a real sense of community developed. A large new school building, a larger Mormon meetinghouse, stores, a dance hall, and improved roads, canals, and groves of trees (where residents gathered for recreation) were developed by the people under the direction of their new leaders. By 1911 they had a new recreation center in town, built by public donation. Utah Power and Light Company was granted a franchise to supply electricity to the town by 1913, and a new water system was developed by 1918. In 1930 the town celebrated the establishment of a new culinary water system. Still, the officials never found a way, even after Mapleton became a third-class city in 1948, to provide enough local jobs for the residents. Lack of water, especially in drought years, ditches, canals, size of building lots, maintenance of roads, a shortage of recreation programs, and lack of a sewage system, still plague the city and challenge the local inhabitants.
Mapleton has had a few stores and small industries since the 1890s, but it has never had any large stores or shopping malls. There is little industry to provide jobs and a tax base to help the community deal adequately with its problems. The city has always had to depend upon a great deal of donated help and innovative ideas to solve its problems; but, amazingly, the community continues to thrive.
The city held its small farm community flavor--with a dominant Mormon culture and small religious minorities--until after World War II. By the early 1950s, it was becoming a bedroom community for the metropolitan Utah County area. People attracted to rural living started to move to Mapleton and drive to other cities for their jobs. This has exacerbated some local conditions; Mapleton has retained its strong sense of community, but its leaders have felt increasing pressure to modernize as the population continues to grow.
Mapleton's 1990 population is quite cosmopolitan. There are still a number of the people from the old farm families, but they are becoming a minority with less influence on the city's political decisions. A majority of Mapleton's population is still native, with a large sprinkling of transplanted Californians and others adding diversity to the community. The increasing population is still putting extreme pressure on the city to solve its long-standing problems. With its lack of industrial base and extensive program needs, Mapleton is going to face major challenges in the coming years. It will take all the ingenuity of its diversifying population and a large economic effort to keep Mapleton a great place to live, but that challenge will not be new.
Ralph K. Harmer