Woods Cross lies near the bottom of the Great Salt Lake Basin, approximately eight miles north of Salt Lake City. It was officially chartered in 1935 by the owners of the Reservoir and Pipeline Company who pooled their Mill Creek water shares and transferred their capital stock and assets to the new city board of trustees. Woods Cross was originally an unincorporated area extending from the southern boundary of Centerville south to the Salt Lake County line and including the areas and communities of Val Verda, Orchard, North Salt Lake, West Bountiful, among others.
In 1847, after the initial Mormon settlement of the Salt Lake Valley, Peregrine Sessions went north to locate pasture lands. He selected a spot near Cudahy Lane, where he spent the winter with is family watching over the herds. The next year, 1848, other settlers arrived and built cellars and dugouts along and near the banks of the Jordan River.
The historical development of Woods Cross is directly linked to water. Pioneer settlers in 1848 selected the area's rich bottom lands to establish their farms -- generations of fertile silt deposits from the overflowing channels of Mill Creek created some of the best farm land in the state. The mountain watersheds east of Woods Cross retained rain and melting snows until saturation sent runoff water into the boggy meadows and sloughs of the bottoms. Here some of the water was trapped and absorbed into underground aquifers preserving fresh water along the eastern edge of the Great Salt Lake.
Among the early settlers of the area was Daniel Wood, for whom Woods Cross is named. By 1855 he was the wealthiest man in Woods Cross with land, houses, and personal possessions worth nearly $14,000. He built a school in 1854, a church in 1863, and in 1869 gave the lower portion of his rich farm gratis for a railroad depot and crossing--called Woods Crossing, then shortened to Woods Cross.
Another prominent early settler was Ira S. Hatch. The Hatch family played an important role in the establishment and operation of several brickyards in Woods Cross. Descendants of Ira S. Hatch and his three wives were well represented among the ninety-five original shareholders of the Deseret Livestock Company which was organized in 1891 by Woods Cross sheepmen. It remained a Woods Cross company until 1933, at which time much of the stock was sold to Henry D. Moyle and his brothers and the offices of the company were transferred to Salt Lake City and the company's mercantile store in Woods Cross was closed.
As the watersheds in Bountiful were cleared to build homes and the sloughs along the Jordan were drained for commercial and industrial development, runoff had no place to go. Woods Cross townspeople struggled to control and utilize this water effectively. They built wooden troughs and ditches along the foothills to channel the water where they wanted it to go and they installed drains in the bottoms to carry the excess to the lake. They also built holding ponds and underground cisterns to save the runoff until the residents had a need for it. Not until a federally funded water project in the 1980s built concrete containing walls, collecting basins, and lined ditches carry the overflow to the Great Salt Lake did the city's surface water problems disappear.
The Lower Ditch of the Mill Creek water system was eventually replaced by the Lower Bonneville Canal. The canal impoverished the city at the same time that it provided an adequate and consistent water supply for the first time. The Bonneville project cost over $1,000,000 -- a staggering sum which local farmers could hardly pay by themselves. Almost every tract of land in Woods Cross was mortgaged to meet the bonds and in danger of reversion to the state for tax debts. When those bonds were finally retired in 1946-47, the bondholders had lost over 80 percent of their original investment. County Commissioner Calvin Rampton, later Governor of Utah, took the desperate condition of the people to the United States Senate. County remedies to reduce the past-due monies were not enough. Without government relief the people faced relocation and the city continuous litigation. Low-interest aid was granted, the bonds were cleared. By 1970, Woods Cross had become the third fastest growing city in the state of Utah, reaching a population of 3,124--up from 1,098 in 1960. The population continued to grow at a rate of more than a thousand a decade, reaching 5,384 residents in 1990.
The unprecedented growth alarmed the city. With support from local residents, city officials preserved their hard won water resources by keeping town boundaries tight. Woods Cross allowed more aggressive towns like Bountiful and North Salt Lake to annex shopping centers and industrial parks and to supply them with water.
Woods Cross and its population are visibly committed to their "rural way of life." The LDS chapel, the park, and the city hall form the hub of the town. Small local businesses and limited heavy industry ring the city. Subdivision housing separates the two. Local residents (60 percent ) told interviewers they preferred the rural life-style and less complicated life of Woods Cross to city life in Salt Lake City or Bountiful. Many new residents have selected Woods Cross as a place to raise their families. High-density housing and industrial complexes have consistently been defeated when proposed as developments for the city. Recent state and federal matching grants have enabled Woods Cross to mark its boundaries and welcome newcomers with evergreens and flowers.
This carefully controlled growth keeps over-crowding, high crime rates, traffic congestion, homeless transients, and bitter inter-city squabbles to a minimum. "Let's make every effort to keep our life-style" is and has been the political focus of both city officials and local residents.
See: Woods Cross, Woods Cross: Patterns and Profiles of a City (1976); East of Antelope Island (1948).
Arlene H. Eakle