Perry is located in eastern Box Elder County, directly south of Brigham City. The Bear River Valley, in which Perry is located, is one of the prime agricultural areas of northern Utah. Perry is bordered on the east by the Wasatch Mountains and on the west by the shoreline of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. The town consists of an area of about nine square miles with a population (in 1992) of 1,550.
In 1851, the same year that Box Elder (now Brigham City) was being settled, Orrin Porter Rockwell and his brother Merritt laid claim to some land lying about 2.5 miles southwest of the center of Box Elder settlement. It was adjacent to a large spring known to this day as Porter Spring. The Rockwells made no improvements on their land, although they claimed it for a number of years. One reason they never occupied the land may have been the danger of Indian raids; Porter Springs was a great camping place for both emigrants and Indians in those days.
Early in the spring of 1853 Mormon pioneers began to settle in the area. William Plummer Tippetts and his family, along with Lorenzo and May Wray Perry, and Gustavus Perry and his family, laid claim to land in what became the center of town. Thomas C. Young Sr., Robert Henderson, and Alexander Perry settled to the north of the Tippetts and Perrys.
Three Mile Creek was the name given to early-day Perry, as it was just three miles from the center of Box Elder to the small stream which furnished water for the settlers.
While surrounding communities were building forts to protect themselves from the Indians, the residents of Three Mile Creek made friends with the Indians, who would bring wild game and trade it for what was called "white face bread." They taught the settlers to cure and tan deer hides to make coverings for their feet.
There was a small settlement of Welsh immigrants midway between Three Mile Creek and Brigham City. Among the first settlers of the area were Benjamin Jones, Kidwalendar Owens, David Peters, Thomas Mathias, and John Roberts. They chose to meet with those living in Box Elder until 1868 when the two communities joined together and organized a Sunday School.
The first brick school building in Box Elder County was built in Perry in 1874. It was erected ostensibly for a meetinghouse, but was used for school purposes also. In 1899 a new meetinghouse was erected, a two-story building 32 by 60 feet with a tower and large double doors on the west. The building was constructed under the direction of Bishop James Nelson at a cost of $5,000. This building has had several additions, and when a new LDS meetinghouse was built in 1974-75 it was sold to a theatrical group and is now home to the Heritage Theater. Live productions delight people throughout northern Utah each month.
From the beginning, lack of water kept back the growth of Three Mile Creek, as there was much more land than water to irrigate it. In the fall of 1894 a reservoir was partially completed at the head of Three Mile Creek Canyon. Before the project was completed, however, frost stopped the work and winter set in. The next year no work was done to finish the dam; but because it was a low water year, nothing happened.
In June 1896 a rainstorm that occurred before the snow was all melted caused a heavy flow of water into the reservoir which resulted in a terrible flood. Homes were lost and farms were covered with mud, gravel, and debris, but no lives were lost. In 1923 a series of cloudbursts caused a second flood; however, damage was not quite as great that time.
When the railroad passed through the western part of Three Mile Creek in 1868-69, it brought much-needed revenue to the residents, who hauled timber and telegraph poles from the canyon. Some men made as much as thirty dollars a day. The railroad also paid high prices for goods. Hay sold for fifty dollars a ton, and grain, eggs, and butter were also very much in demand.
In May 1898 the name of Three Mile Creek was changed to Perry in honor of O.A. Perry, who had served as an LDS bishop for almost twenty years. Population of the town at the turn of the century was 261 (50 families).
In the spring of 1905, residents of Perry built their own electric company, with Vinson F. Davis as president. They erected their own poles and strung the wires. The company was purchased by the town in 1912 and it was sold to Utah Power and Light Company in 1950.
Water, or the lack of it, continued to be a major problem. In 1902 the Three Mile Creek Irrigation Company decided to pipe water from the mouth of the canyon to the settlement for irrigation purposes. When the Pine View Canal later was built from Ogden to Brigham City, farmers were able to increase their orchards and plant row crops, and hundreds of acres of arid land were reclaimed. A culinary water system providing water to each home in Perry was put into operation in 1911. The water came from mountain springs and later from wells. The town was incorporated in 1911.
Agriculture, consisting primarily of family dairies and fruit orchards, was the leading industry in Perry. A creamery was built at the Barnard White farm, and in 1910 a cannery was established to can local peas, tomatoes, carrots, and beets. Facilities were also set up to ship the excellent fruit grown in the region to all parts of the United States. This provided work to those in the community and surrounding areas.
A nursery was established on forty acres in the southwest part of Perry, growing and grafting to make a better variety of fruit trees. In 1909 the number of trees in the nursery reached a half million, supplying trees for many orchards in the area.
Population in 1958 was 500. At that time increased Perry City growth began, orchards giving way to housing areas, and dairy farms becoming fewer in number. The character of the town changed from a rural community to a suburban community whose residents commuted to Ogden, Brigham City, Thiokol, and other areas for employment. With this growth, the small three-room schoolhouse built in about 1910 was enlarged in 1961. Six added classrooms along with a multipurpose room and kitchen helped make it a modern school.
Perry City today is a progressive community, looking to the future in its development. The city has three parks, one with baseball diamonds and a bowery, one with a children's play area and small boweries, while the third is a nature park with small baseball diamond, a horse riding arena, and, in the winter, an ice skating rink. Perry is also home to Maddox Ranch House, which is known throughout Utah for its fried chicken and steak dinners.
See: Lydia Walker Forsgren, History of Box Elder County (1937); and Lois J. Nelson, Story of Three Mile Creek (1970).
Lois J. Nelson