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WEST JORDAN

By Glen Moosman
West Jordan was on of the earliest Utah pioneer settlements after the founding of Salt Lake City. The community's roots begin in the later part of 1849 when some pioneers began spreading out in the Salt Lake valley. West Jordan's original unofficial area included most of the valley on the West Side of the Jordan River, and about a three-mile strip on the east side of the river past State Street in an area now occupied by Midvale, Sandy and the former Crescent area.

West Jordan's name captures some of the flavor of what the Mormon pioneers considered their promised land. They saw strong similarities in this arid western desert and the biblical lands. Both contained fresh water lakes (Sea of Galilee and Utah Lake) and dead salt water rivers (River Jordan and Utah River.) This similarity in geological features led to this area being referred to as a western Jordan and the southern part of the valley as the Jordan Valley. Brigham Young reinforced this concept when he renamed the Utah River the West Jordan River, which was shortened through time and use to the Jordan River.

The first settlers in the present area known as West Jordan were the Marius Ensign, Thomas Butterfield, and Samuel Egbert families. Other settlers soon followed. In 1850 Archibald Gardner and his brother Robert built a 2.5 mile millrace (canal) to bring water out of the Jordan River to the area of 7800 South. The water thus channeled was to provide a source of power for the saw mill they built the following year. Before long the population began to cluster near this general area and other enterprises were built and operated such as a flour mill, woolen mill, and tannery. Many settlers initially built dugouts to live in near the crest of the hill overlooking the river bottoms where farming was done. Although the original flour mill was burned by fire, it was rebuilt and still stands. During the 1980's it was converted into a fine furniture and delightful gift shop before a quality restaurant was added as well as a little village complex on the adjoining land.

About one hundred yards to the Southwest of the flour mill, stands the first non-log chapel in Salt Lake Valley outside Salt Lake City. It took years of construction (1861-1867) before completion and dedication by Brigham Young. This building was known as the Rock Meeting House. It served most of settlements in the south end of the valley on both sides of the river and was used for many activities besides church. In fact to help finance the roof, a grand ball was held and officers from Fort Douglas were invited to participate. Dancing was a favorite pastime of the pioneers. In addition the building was used for school and other community activities and social events. Today the structure remains basically unchanged from the way the pioneers built it. Although the city of West Jordan now owns the property, it is operated by The Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, who make it available through rental to the public. Over the past three decades, its has also been used by other religions coming into the area. The building, now known as Pioneer Hall, adjoins the West Jordan Cemetery, which is one of two in the community with pioneer origins. The second is the small Wight's Forts cemetery located on 9000 South at 3449 West.

In 1872 a major multicommunity cooperative effort was launched to build canals throughout the valley to provide water. This in turn provided the initial means for further growth in farming, settlement and other related development.

West Jordan was also the site of some of the very earliest airplane flights in the west, which commenced in 1909 and continued through 14 March 1910. These experimental flights were made by L. R. Culver about six years after the Wright brothers flew their airplane at Kitty Hawk in 1903. Culver, a farmhand, built the aircraft in a farm equipment shed near 1700 West and 9000 South. At first a glider was constructed, then a motor was added to power the craft. His most successful flight was about fifty feet off the ground and lasted for about fifteen to twenty minutes.

Much of Utah's sugar beet history and production was centered in West Jordan due to the large sugar factory built and operated in the community for many years. West Jordan also had been known for its fur industry, which has mostly disappeared due to urbanization.

In the sports world, several West Jordan boxers gained national and international recognition, ranking and titles under the management of Marvin Jenson. Most notably native-son Gene Fullmer twice won the World Middle Weight Boxing Championship. Other fighters of note include AAU champions Floyd Richardson and Rex Layne (also a top professional contender), Olympic champion Jay Lambert, and Gene Fullmer's brother Don, who also fought for the Middle-weight championship.

In politics, West Jordan was the home of Jean M. Westwood, when she was chosen to chair the National Democratic party on 14 July 1972, the first woman in America to chair a major national political party.

It was 10 January 1941 before the town of West Jordan, with a population of less than 2,000, was officially incorporated. In the late 1960s the community began growing at such a rate it became one of the fastest growing small communities in the United States. By 1990 the population had reached 42,912. During this time the community has developed a degree of economic diversity with segments of industrial and commercial development along with its population growth. In the process, over a dozen community parks have been acquired and developed. This push to strengthen quality of life for citizens is also reflected in a recent successful proposal that brought it together with its sister city, South Jordan, to win the location site for a new 100-acre Salt Lake Community College campus, which will be built straddling the cities' shared border.