Dominguez and Escalante in 1776 made the first historical reference to American irrigation as they observed it at this watercourse confluence: it was a Paiute Indian farm and remains a farm to this day. There are those who say that mountain men Jedediah Smith, George C. Yount, and William Wolfskill passed this way. For certain, the Parley P. Pratt southern expedition of 1849-50 and the John Steele--J.C.L. Smith exploration of 1852 along the Markagunt Plateau and Upper Virgin River used this river junction as a landmark. It was a place that could be forded.
The river has cut deep into the volcanic walls of Timpoweap Canyon, thus making it impossible to take water directly to the table-lands above. However, the soil was fertile and there was good forage, so the pioneer residents of Toquerville and Virgin town were able to use the benchland as range for their herds. These users always dreamed that some day they could get irrigation water onto the flat surface.
Visitors driving through Hurricane today may stop long enough to see the remains of an irrigation canal, supported by walls of rock and masonry, connected in places by tunnels, winding its tortuous way along the precipitous mountainside high above the riverbed until it leaves the canyon to follow the famous Hurricane Fault and then encircle the green and productive benchland of the community.
John Steele of Toquerville and James Jepson of Virgin conceived the idea of a way to get water from the Virgin River onto the Hurricane bench. As a result of their survey, made with a spirit level, the Hurricane Canal Company was organized in Toquerville on 11 July 1893. A second survey indicated that if they went upstream seven and one-half miles above the hot springs and built a fifteen-foot high dam to divert water into a canal, they could irrigate about two thousand acres of excellent quality land. Fifty-three men signed the articles of incorporation, and the stockholders authorized contracts for building the canal.
With pick and shovel, wheelbarrows, crowbars, and hand-driven drills, the hazardous and laborious work proceeded. Most of the work on the canal had to come during the winter months--November to March--to enable the workers to support their farms and families. The ditch slowly took form; the first two diversion dams washed out but the third held. Flumes on trestlework spanned open spaces, and tunnels were hacked and blasted through solid rock. As years raced by the work slowed, with fewer and fewer workers staying on the job. Finally, the canal company ran out of money. Things came almost to a standstill. James Jepson was sent as an emissary to Salt Lake City to petition the LDS Church to subscribe for stock in the company. President Joseph F. Smith and the Council of the Twelve agreed to invest $5,000 in the effort. This boost from the church was what the project needed, and work sped forward rapidly. Water flowed through the canal to the thirsty area for the first time on 6 August 1904, nearly eleven years after the project was initiated.
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas M. Hinton became the first residents of Hurricane when they occupied the bench in 1906. Other stockholders farmed their lands by camping during the week and going home to Virgin and Toquerville over the weekend. Hurricane gradually evolved into a town of fine orchards, vineyards, alfalfa, grain, and sugar beet fields and as a center for the southern Utah sheep industry. The original eleven families of 1906 had by 1917 increased to more than one hundred families with a population of 800. During these eleven years their homes had been lighted by kerosene lamps and their culinary water dipped from ditches into barrels. In February 1917 a fifty-year franchise was granted to the Southern Utah Power Company, and by September most of the homes were wired and ready for the power which was turned on that same month. Also, the town voted a bond, and bought two-thirds of a second-foot of water from Toquerville and began installing a piped system.
When water from the Virgin River was allocated, the St. George and Washington Canal Company received thirty second-feet, La Verkin Canal Company six, and Hurricane Canal Company nine and three-fourths second-feet of primary water right. Additional water in dry seasons was assured when the Hurricane Canal Company built a storage reservoir on the Kolob Terrace.
With the establishment of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, the bulk of the Virgin River irrigation canal has been abandoned. The district supplies irrigation water in a pipeline from the diversion dam and in return uses the surplus water to fill Quail Lake reservoir. When the water reaches town it is distributed in a closed-pipe system.
Conservation of water along with good management has allowed Hurricane to annex thousands of acres of surrounding land to attract new industrial, commercial, and residential developments. Among the major industries is the Wal-Mart Distribution Center, which services one-fourth of the western United States along with western Canada and Mexico. Hurricane is attractive to businesses because of easy access to the interstate highway system, available water and power, a climate below the snow line, and a favorable job market. Numerous small manufacturing businesses have located there, and the population is expected to double or triple in the next decade.
For years Hurricane Peach Days were enjoyed by thousands of people; the festival now has expanded to become the Washington County Fair. A new library; fine school facilities; a medical clinic with full-time doctors, dentists, pharmacists, and nurses; modern stores; a good mix of religious denominations; recreation outlets for hiking, swimming, boating, and fishing; a good airport; a relatively pollution-free environment; rich biotic, geologic, and archaeological areas; handsome farms and ranches; unsurpassed scenery--all have combined to make the valley an ideal place in which to live. Strong civic pride has resulted in the creation of an outstanding Heritage Park and Pioneer and Indian Museum. More and more "snowbirds" are coming to the area to spend the winter. Excellent restaurants and motels aid tourists on their way to the nearby national and state parks and recreation areas. And, fruit stands along the highway, loaded with local produce, continue to remind travelers of Hurricane's historic past.