DATE 10/23/2004 7:00 AM

This is part of an occasional series by the Sanpete Country Travel and Utah Heritage Highway 89 Alliance on the people and places along U.S. Highway 89.


Kelly Taylor is practically giving away a historical Utah town.For $1 per member, families can purchase 1.1 acres of land to build a home or cabin. The only requirements are buyers must be descendants of one of the town’s original settlers and agree to document their entire family history.

“If there are 10,000 people in a family line, fine, each family member can each pay their $1 when they want to, there are no upfront requirements,” says Taylor. “But they have to trace their ancestry for us, starting with the youngest newborn baby and going back to the original pioneer who lived in the town. Right now, we are working with one family who has traced their roots back to a settler who was a polygamist, and there are 1,000 descendants from him.”

Taylor and his 90-year-old father, Vance, own 88 acres of land in Wayne County that was once known as the town of Giles or the Old Blue Valley. They bought the land, located in southeastern Utah near the Fremont River and east of Capitol Reef Park, in 1971 but never developed it. A few years ago, they considered selling it for use as a feedlot.

“The minute we offered it, it started wearing on my mind. I kept asking myself “is this the best use for this old historical town, turning it into a cow pasture?”” Taylor says.

He and his father decided a better idea was to give the town back to the original inhabitants, so to speak. “So we started talking with the county about restoring it, and they bought into the idea right away,” Taylor says.

The town of Giles was created in1880, set up by Mormon settlers to produce cotton, sorghum and silkworms. “It was intended to grow things that couldn’t be grown anywhere else in the state except maybe in Dixie,” Taylor says. The town was named after its first bishop and county commissioner, Henry Giles, who died not long after its settlement.

Between about 1880 and 1910, more than 90 different families lived in the town. “It was the biggest town in Wayne County, next to Loa,” Taylor says. “During that time, about 1,200 acres of land was cultivated and farmed, using a lengthy and intricate ditch system that diverted water from up the Fremont River.” But the area was plagued by flooding, and in 1910, there was such a severe flood that all of the residents had to flee.

“They walked away with nothing. Some of them had been there 30 years. Many of them couldn’t even get their team of horses or anything from their homes, the flood took every bit of it and rolled it down into the Grand Canyon,” Taylor says.

According to local history, the town’s bishop at the time stood on the highest hill and proclaimed that what people saw and experienced that day would never be believed, Taylor says. “Entire homes, whole orchards and herds of livestock were floating by, going down the river. It was just devastating. Everyone was released from their mission and told to find new lives and new places.”

All that is now left of the town is the outline of rock foundations where homes once stood, along with some chimneys and the fragments of a church. “But all of the adobe bricks that the houses were made out of have long since decayed, it’s just a pile of rubble at the foot of the wall” Taylor says.

He has been gathering personal histories and old photographs of the town, which he plans to publish on a web site. “I’m interviewing different people every week. I sit down with them, pick their brain and put on a tape and let them talk.” He even has a photo of the old church with about 40 people standing out in front of it. “This area is just rich in Mormon history,” he says. He also holds reunions at the town’s site twice a year, on Memorial Day and Labor Day.

In preparation for selling plots of land to descendants for $1 per person, Taylor has divided the town into its original 1.1 acre sections. “It isn’t about money to us. We want people to build on the lot, but with materials that authentic to the era, and collect old farm pieces — anything that will make it look like it did back then. I hope that families come here and plant a whole variety of plants and trees and gardens, varieties that the settlers were sent here to grow,” Taylor says. He is also hoping to locate and move old buildings and cabins from other areas of the state into the town.

“No way am I putting anything in there made of new lumber. We want people to put forth a real effort and help us restore the area to the way it once was.”

If you have questions or information for Kelly Taylor, he may be reached at his St. George home at (435) 656-0252.


For more information Contact:Monte Bona
Sanpete County Travel and Heritage Council
(435) 462-2502
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