When the Mormon pioneers emerged from Emigration Canyon in July 1847, they saw before them a vast windswept valley stretching thirty miles to the southwest. Less than two years later, as communities began to spring up in various locations around the valley, a small number of settlers ventured across the Jordan River in order to establish homes and farms.
Alexander Beckstead and his family were among the original few who commenced homesteads "over Jordan" in 1849. Beckstead's first home was in West Jordan, but he permanently moved his family to South Jordan in 1859. It is interesting to note that several of the early pioneers to the area of South Jordan lived initially in earthen dugouts fashioned "under the hill" just above the Jordan River. The wilderness of South Jordan had previously been inhabited by coyotes, jackrabbits, and hardy Native Americans.
The South Jordan area was originally purchased by George A. Smith, and Beckstead purchased his land from Smith. The Beckstead land extended from 9000 South ("the Sandy Road") to 12,500 South ("the Draper Road"), and from the Jordan River to about 1300 West ("the Lower Road"). Beckstead, along with seven of his sons and their adjoining neighbors, brought water from the Jordan River in 1859. They diverted the water by constructing a ditch using picks and shovels, with a bucket of water used as a level. The ditch was still utilized for irrigation in contemporary South Jordan.
Other early settlers of South Jordan included Isaac Wardle, as well as his brother and father, John and William Wardle. Isaac had been a member of the ill-fated Martin Handcart Company of 1856. Frederick A. Cooper, Henry Tempest, John W. Winward, and George Shields settled in the same year of 1859 or soon thereafter. Robert Holt traveled to South Jordan from Dorsetshire, England in, 1863. His sons Matthew and Edward also came. Other families who came to South Jordan in the early years were those of James Oliver, Thomas Alsop, James Wood, Jesse Vincent, George Soffe, and David Jenkins. All were Mormons.
The South Jordan Branch of the West Jordan LDS Ward was organized in 1863 with James Woods as president. In 1867 he was succeeded by William A. Bills, who served for 33 years. Ann Holt was the first Relief Society president. She served for more than thirty years in that capacity and also delivered over 500 babies as a midwife in the area.
The original South Jordan meetinghouse was constructed of adobe in 1864, and it served as a schoolhouse. A larger building was erected in the 1870s to meet the needs of the growing hamlet. It was made of granite rock and adobe and measured 30 feet by 14 feet. Today, many chapels of three LDS stakes dot the landscape in South Jordan. There are many families of other faiths living in the area, but no other religious congregation holds meetings within the city limits.
Raising livestock and growing grain and alfalfa were the chief means of livelihood for early residents of South Jordan. During the greater part of the twentieth century, the major crop in South Jordan was sugar beets. Today, the remaining agriculture consists of small plots of land where grain and hay are grown to feed horses and a few cattle.
A landmark day occurred on 14 January 1914 when South Jordan residents participated in a celebration commemorating the installation of a water system, the bringing of electricity into town, and the completion of the interurban railroad, which connected the rural farming village with larger cities to the north and south. The occasion seemed to signal a major shift from the days of horse and buggy toward the modern age.
On 8 November 1935 South Jordan became an incorporated city with a town board and board president. South Jordan City later changed to a part-time mayor with a five-member city council and a full-time city administrator.
The nation's worst school-bus accident up to that time occurred in South Jordan on 2 December 1938 when a train smashed into a school bus carrying thirty-nine people. The bus driver and twenty-three students died. Six of the fatally injured students were from South Jordan; the others were from Riverton, Crescent, and Bluffdale.
Businesses were few while South Jordan remained a quiet farm community. There were the Jordan Merc, H&E Service, Holt's Service, and the White Fawn Flour Mill; all four are gone now. In modern South Jordan a dozen small businesses thrive along with a major grocery store, a freeway motel, and high-rise business towers. Considerable additional land has been zoned along the freeway and east of Redwood Road for business development. Public recreational facilities have been provided, with more than 233 acres of land either already developed or set aside for development as parks. Further recreational outlets in the city include a private golf course and a county-operated equestrian complex and race track, among others.
South Jordan adjoins the neighboring communities of West Jordan to the north, Sandy to the east, and Riverton immediately to the south. The Bingham open-pit copper mine and the Oquirrh Mountains can be seen several miles to the west. The city can be easily located from Interstate 15 by sighting the Jordan River LDS Temple on 1300 West 10,200 South. The temple is a prominent landmark in the south end of Salt Lake Valley and was erected in 1981.
In 1993 the city included four elementary schools, South Jordan Middle School, and Bingham High School. The city was one of the wealthiest communities in Utah in 1993, with a median family income of $35,832. The population of South Jordan was 13,500 in June 1991, with approximately 1,300 people moving in each year.
The agrarian lifestyle which prevailed in South Jordan for its first century of existence has been preserved to some extent even as it became a third-class city in 1963 and as it has continued to expand in population ever since. South Jordan was reportedly the fastest growing city in the state during the early 1990s with a ten percent annual growth rate. Government and civic leaders have planned for controlled future development in order to preserve the "remarkable quality of life" and unique heritage found in South Jordan. Residing in South Jordan has been aptly termed "life just off the fast lane."
Ronald R. Bateman