Hardships and dangers on the Utah trail heading to Croydon

SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT: The pioneering settlers of early 19th Century America expressed their ‘manifest destiny’ by founding a settlement in the Rockies that they called ‘Croydon’. DAVID MORGAN explores what they will have found on the Utah frontier

Home sweet home: a log cabin in Croydon, Utah, home of the Wilde Family, the photograph taken possibly in the late 19th Century

There is, you won’t be surprised, more than one Croydon. Indeed, there’s more than one Croydon in the United States.

Having written recently about the historic links between our Croydon and the one outside Philadelphia, I found another American settlement with the same name, this one suitably in Morgan County, Utah, more than 4,000 miles away.

Some 5,300 feet up in the Rocky Mountains, Croydon Utah is surrounded by spectacular countryside. The hamlet is close to the state border with Wyoming, while a drive of about an hour would take you to Salt Lake City, the home of the Mormons.

It might seem a strange notion that someone who has chosen to leave their home, sail across a vast ocean and trek over a new continent, facing many hardships, dangers and challenges on the way, would decide to name their new settlement after the place they originally left. This, though, is the explanation given by the historians of Morgan County and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints about the origins of their Croydon, saying it was “named after the town in Surrey”.

Elsewhere, it is said to have taken its name from the “native land of a large share of the first settlers”.

Perhaps absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

Sparse: the scattered mountain settlement of Croydon, Utah, today

The geography of place-making in this area would make a fascinating study, with nearby settlements called Coalville, Bountiful, Echo and Wansatch.

The area around Croydon experienced great numbers of folk moving through during the 19th Century, as pioneering settlers trekked westwards across continental America. This had begun several years before the mass arrival of the Mormons who settled by the Great Salt Lake under Brigham Young in 1847.

A year before that, a settler, Edwin Bryant, provided the earliest description of the Croydon area in his journal.

Croydon had originally been called Lost Creek, situated at the confluence of Lost Creek and the Weber River.

New frontier: Brigham Young brought the Mormons to Utah in the 1840s

Bryant had set off from Louisville, Kentucky, on April 18, 1846, intending to cross the Rocky Mountains to California, a journey of nearly 2,400 miles, mostly to be covered on foot, astride a mule or sitting in a bumpy, uncomfortable wagon – this was the time of the Gold Rush.

By the time he reached Utah, Bryant had left his wagon train behind and continued with a party which consisted of nine men riding mules. Their immediate purpose was to explore and discover new routes which, when cleared, might be suitable for wagons.

It was a dangerous journey and at one point the mules were walking single file along a path, beside which was a precipice of more than 1,000 feet. Towards the end of July, after journeying for nearly three months, Bryant’s little group camped in Morgan Valley. In his diary, Bryant recorded seeing the skeletons of buffaloes that had perished there years ago. He also noted the vast herds of antelope and other animals.

Bryant saw two lodges near to his camp. They were home to around 20 indigenous people who seemed curious to find out more about the travellers. Bryant invited the group to share an evening meal, the main course of which was antelope stew, highly flavoured with pepper. Bryant described the faces of those who tried the stew as “grimaced”.

He took a plate from them and ate from it to show that the food wasn’t poisoned.

Nothing would induce them to eat the stew but they were pleased to have coffee and bread, as well as a sugar lump. Bryant wrote that they had never tasted such a thing before.

After the meal each group went off to their own camp to sleep and Bryant’s group felt so confident about their safety that they didn’t post a watch.

Fifteen years after Bryant’s explorations, settlers based in Salt Lake City were using the valley

Wild west: how the settlement of Croydon looked in its early days

for cattle grazing. Thomas Condie from Salt Lake City and Charles Richens from nearby Henefer were sent to round up some of them.

It was the first time Condie had seen the valley. He obviously liked what he saw as he returned in the spring of 1862 to build the first log cabin there. Another two men, George Shill and Levi Savage, began constructing their cabins shortly after and a further group of men arrived in the November, including James Walker, George Knight, William Chapman, Chas Bunting, Abel Mitchell, William Probert and Thomas Walker.

The settlers intended to build their cabins in the form of a fort for protection. However, the original building plan was never carried out and several families were happy to place their homes in a scattered linear row.

This long “high street” was the centre of the annual celebration to remember the anniversary of the arrival of the Mormons into Salt Lake City. On July 24 the “high street” was turned into a horse racing track and the locals were proud to race their best horses. This new settlement of Croydon had many other activities, including choir concerts, orations by men, recitations by the children, dancing for all and a variety of amusements. Homemade ice cream was always a treat, too.

Concrete plans: the factory brought hundreds of new workers to the valley

The first baby to be born in Croydon arrived in 1864 to Thomas Walker and his wife. Around that time, Brigham Young directed some of the early Croydon residents to move to other areas, including Idaho. So new settlers came in to create homesteads in the vacated grounds.

Life wasn’t easy back in those days. A resident named Lyon Toone wrote that to get to Morgan county you had to cross the river 13 times. It took a full day by oxen to go there and back from Salt Lake. Even by 1872 the road to Morgan was in a very poor condition for travel. To get flour, residents would often have to travel to Kaysville, taking a wagon full of wood which they had cut down to use as a barter for trade.

Despite being so isolated, Croydon residents were able to receive post three times a week at Walker’s store. Charles Bunting was the first named Postmaster, recorded in the 1870 US Census. Bunting would ride to the nearby town of Echo, which had a railway station, taking the mail left at Walker’s store and returning with what was unloaded from the incoming train.

By 1878 there were three more stores in Croydon. As well as Walker’s, they was Swan’s, Thackery’s and Hopkin’s. Walker’s store, which was situated at the eastern end of Banana Slope mountain, also offered accommodation for travellers. It was in business until 1900.

Swan’s store stocked herbs as well as general goods and Mrs Swan helped with the medical needs of the population by prescribing herbal remedies. Fanny Swan had worked for a Dr Davis before she left England and when he knew she was to emigrate to America, he gave her medical lessons and some instruction books. In her new community she was described as “an angel of mercy”.

The 1880 Census recorded Croydon Utah’s population as 152. Most of the men were listed as farmers, but some worked in the quarry, some were timber merchants and a few were carpenters. George Bowering was the teacher.

In 1883 there were 28 families with a population of 176. The 1893 tax roll recorded that there were 33 dwellings, 26 built with logs, four were frame structures, one was made of rock, one of concrete and one of lumber.

By 1910, Croydon, Utah, had a population of 539. That would be the biggest that the hamlet would ever become, the population diminishing steadily through the 20th century, now down to fewer than 300 according to the most recent census.

An account written in the 1920s remembered the author’s great-grandmother’s house. “The house that my great-grandmother lived in was so crudely built that they put cowhide on the roof to keep the mud dry so it wouldn’t leak through and wet things.

“My grandmother had to sit holding an umbrella up indoors.”

Another resident recalled, “When we awoke in the morning we would find snow on the bed because the house was so poorly built.”

In 1905, a meeting of the residents of Croydon and other nearby settlements heard how a new cement works would bring new jobs and prosperity. A year later, the Union Portland Cement Company opened close to Croydon. It provided employment for between 250 and 300 men. It brought a big economic boost to the area.

Putting Croydon on the map: close to a salt lake and ‘Devil’s Slide’, Croydon, Utah, is now popular with trekkers and kayakers

Men worked seven days a week, the day shift lasting 11 hours and the night shift 13. Single men were given accommodation in the form of bunk bed dormitories on site, while some family dwellings were built close by.

Today in Croydon, there are still large ranches rearing sheep and cattle, but because of the location in the Wasatch mountain range on the edge of the Rockies, a new kind of people are being attracted to the area: those who love outdoor pursuits.

Whitewater kayaking on the Weber River, camping by the Echo reservoir and hiking along the many trails are all very popular. Two state parks, Lost Creek Reservoir and East Canyon Reservoir, provide recreation for thousands.

The differences between Croydon Utah and Croydon south London are huge on every level. Perhaps a new twinning agreement could be suggested so that each settlement could learn about each other and celebrate a common humanity?

  • David Morgan, pictured right, is a former Croydon headteacher, now the volunteer education officer at Croydon Minster, who offers tours or illustrated talks on the history around the Minster for local community groups

If you would like a group tour of Croydon Minster or want to book a school visit, then ring the Minster Office on 020 688 8104 or go to the website on www.croydonminster.org and use the contact page

Other articles by David Morgan:

  • If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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  • ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS: Croydon was named among the country’s rottenest boroughs for a SIXTH successive year in 2022 in the annual round-up of civic cock-ups in Private Eye magazine

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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6 Responses to Hardships and dangers on the Utah trail heading to Croydon

  1. Bilbo says:

    What a fascinating read. Thanks very much.

  2. Lewis White says:

    Quote from article above : (Edwin) “Bryant had set off from Louisville, Kentucky, on April 18, 1846, intending to cross the Rocky Mountains to California, a journey of nearly 2,400 miles, mostly to be covered on foot, astride a mule or sitting in a bumpy, uncomfortable wagon – this was the time of the Gold Rush.”

    Historical insight – after daily delays on the commute up to London from Croydon train, waiting in subzero temperatures in the uninsulated waiting rooms on East Croydon Station during the harsh South London winter, and enduring the squalor of the platform w.c’s, the original settlers of Croydon Utah found the hardships of the journey over the stormy Atlantic by sailing ship, the snake-infested swamps of coastal Virginia, the dense woods of the Appalachian mountains, the parched Great Plains and avalanches in the snowbound passes of the Eastern Rockies, a complete doddle.

  3. Margaret Chan says:

    What a fascinating addition to the history of our town!

  4. Simon says:

    Croydon, UT, is ~35miles north of Brighton, UT. Small world.

  5. Lewis White says:

    p.s. I am sure I saw Antelope stew being enjoyed by shoppers at one of the foodstalls in Surrey Street.

    The modern Croydon Utah seems rather green and pleasant.

    Whitewater canoeing on the Wandle , anyone?

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