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150 Years in Centerville

compiled by Twila Van Leer

ReferencesThe City In Between, Mary Ellen Smoot and Marilyn Sheriff. East of Antelope Island, Annie Call Carr. "Centerville 1848 to 1948," C. P. Rockwood. Centerville City Newsletter, May 1997 issue.

Latterday Saint pioneers had hardly settled in the Salt Lake Valley in the summer of 1847 before exploring parties began fanning out, seeking new sites where ambitious schemes of colonizing the entire Great Basin could begin. In the fall of that first year, areas to the north of the infant City of the Great Salt Lake, where Davis County ultimately would take shape, were examined.Explorers reported the area to be ideal for grazing and Thomas Grover took a herd of cattle into the Centerville area, becoming the first white settler. In the spring of 1848, the Deuel brothers, Osmyn and William, brought their families to settle on the creek that came to bear their name. The community, too, was known as the Deuel Settlement. When the Cherry family arrived, it was renamed Cherry Creek, and after an 1850 survey found the town to be precisely between the growing communities of Farmington and Bountiful, it became, naturally enough, Centerville, and it was this name that stuck. It was popularly dubbed "The City InBetween."

Typical of Utah's early settlers, the Centerville folk began a wall in 1853 to protect their small community. It was never completed. In 1854, a second wall began to rise, six feet wide at the bottom and about eight feet tall, around the nine blocks that then constituted the town. When expected Indian attacks failed to materialize, this effort, too, was abandoned. By 1855, the town boasted a population of 194.

The everpresent rocks that have been a trademark of this area were handy building materials both for the wall and for the more sturdy homes that began to replace the initial log cabins. Metals were at a premium in the territory in its early days, so builders used wooden pegs or rawhide thongs to hold their structures together.

Centerville's land was fertile, and soon there were healthy crops of wheat and vegetables. But, also in concert with other early communities, farmers found crickets and grasshoppers were anxious to feast on their hardearned crops. In one instance, local lore says, one of the neighborhood's fabled east winds came just in time to blow hungry pests into the Great Salt Lake, saving the crops.

The families that settled the area were typical of the Latterday Saint pioneers who flooded into Utah Territory in the settlement era of 1847_69. They came from various backgrounds and sometimes different foreign countries. Their devotion to the principles of the church often was the only welding link among them as they set out to create cohesive communities.

Families who would lend their names to some of Centerville's streets, creeks and buildings joined the colonizing effort—Samuel Parrish, James Barnard, Joel and Thomas Ricks, William Smith, Perry Rockwood and others. They pooled their skills and often, their resources, to make life in the growing community more comfortable. Small businesses sprang up, including grocery stores, a molasses mill, flour mill, sawmill, blacksmith shops, and a barrelmaking concern.

Shoemakers, carpenters, cabinetmakers, wheelwrights, rock masons, a butcher and others traded services as needed. When LDS Church leader Brigham Young promoted a silk industry among the women of Utah Territory, some in Centerville took up sericulture. Housewives traded eggs, butter, garden produce and the work of their hands for the merchandise offered in the local stores. They also carded wool and spun yarn for clothing and other household items, made their own candles and soap, generated starch from potatoes and knit warm weather accessories for their families.

The few items of crockery, China, cookware and tableware that had come across the plains with these families were supplemented with homemade bowls and trays, chopping blocks, potato mashers and rolling pins. The old Centerville Co-op at Main and Center streets began business in 1869 as part of the church wide effort to make communities so selfsufficient they would have no need to trade with "Gentile" businesses. The parent company, which evolved into ZCMI in Salt Lake City, provided goods for a network of cooperatives throughout the area. The Centerville cooperative continued to serve the community until 1940.

In 1866, William Reeves built a station to serve the Wells Fargo stagecoach. When the Utah Central Railroad came through the area in 1870, making stagecoaches an anachronism, the building converted into an amusement hall where dances were held and local thespians put on their performances. It was known for a time as the Elkhorn Hall and served as a community center and church while the Centerville Ward Chapel was under construction in 1879_80.

Centerville's residents cheered the arrival of the Bamberger Railroad line in their community in 1894, the same year Utah was finally granted statehood. The line ultimately gave them easier access to the larger cities of Salt Lake and Ogden—and eventually a quick trip to Mr. Bamberger's Lagoon resort near Farmington.

The pioneers worked hard and they played hard too. Sleigh riding and bobsledding were favorite winter sports, along with ice skating on the frozen lake barrens west of the town. Special holidays were occasions for visiting, feasting and dancing. Musicians imported from Salt Lake City often provided the music. In 1906, a local blacksmith made a metal hoop to hang on Harold Smith's barn, giving birth to the first basketball games. Baseball diamonds were popular gathering places for the youth and even for older residents. Elmer Barber was still delivering a fiery pitch years after he retired.

The mountain streams that were the lifeblood of the town sometimes turned nasty. In 1923, raging floods flashed down the five streams passing through Centerville, causing seven deaths and wreaking heavy damage on buildings and improved lands. Again in 1930, the outofcontrol streams rampaged, carrying huge boulders, dirt and mud in a wide swath that blocked local roads and rail tracks and inflicted severe damage on structures and farmland. The celebrated east winds that still make headlines now and again also took a toll on the settlement through the years. Weather contributed to some of the most dramatic events in the lives of certain Centerville residents.

In February 1864, John Rigby made a frenzied trip to Salt Lake City to sell wood to his brotherinlaw, in order to buy medicine for John Rigby Jr., his ailing infant son. As he hurried back to Centerville, the father faced into one of the storied east winds. Snowdrifts soon became so deep he was forced to abandon his team and fight his way on foot. The animals were found frozen the next day. After spending the night with a Bountiful family, Rigby continued his journey on foot. He was two miles south of his home when he met William Ford. Ford was en route to the home of Brother Harris to order a coffin. The coffin was for Rigby's wife, Elizabeth, and their baby son, for whom the medicine was too late. Elizabeth apparently had become frightened during the windstorm and headed for a neighbor's house. She and the baby were blown into a wire fence, where they froze to death. Besides his family, Rigby also lost the bulk of his stock, being left with a yearling colt, a calf, his dog and two sheep.

One of the first communal undertakings in any Mormon colony was the establishment of a school. Centerville was only a few years old when, in 1851, a small log building was dedicated to the education of the children. Parents paid tuition monthly. Two years later, a public school system had been instituted and a board of examiners was seated to hire capable teachers. A tax-supported system was initiated throughout the territory in 1890.

Initially, church services were held in homes. The first LDS meetinghouse was built in 1855 with W.R. Smith as bishop. Earlier, in 1852, Sanford Porter had been called to preside over the fledgling community as bishop.

As Centerville grew, the need for central services became more pressing. In 1915, a few local residents petitioned Davis County to incorporate the town so that a culinary water system could be developed. That first system consisted of wirewrapped woodstave pipes, which were not replaced by metal pipes until 1936. Centerville was upgraded to a thirdclass city in 1956. The addition of Weber Basin water as an aid to irrigation was hailed as the major event of the following year.

The first electric lights came along in the early 1920s when some enterprising citizens installed lights at two street corners. They were crude systems consisting of a timeclock in a wooden box mounted on a pole, with a long string attached to the alarm, then running up the pole to a light switch. The nearest homeowner was assigned to wind the alarm clock to turn on the streetlight at dusk each evening and to turn it off at daylight.

A handpulled, two-wheeled hose cart, housed in Art Pettit's garage was the community's protection against one of the scourges of early pioneer villages—fire. A fire bell mounted on the garage roof alerted volunteer firemen that their services were needed, in a hurry.

Among Centerville's most noted citizens: Brigham H. Roberts, colorful theologian and general authority of the LDS Church; William H. Streeper, one of the last of the Pony Express riders; Arthur V. Watkins, longtime U.S. senator; Cecelia Harrison Foxley, who was named National College Queen in 1962 and went on to become current Commissioner for Higher Education for Utah; David F. Smith, former Utah Commissioner for Agriculture.

Time and history have done their work. Over the years, Centerville has grown from a bucolic pioneer booming town to a bustling bedroom community whose citizens tend to migrate daily to larger cities for work, returning at night to neat, orderly neighborhoods. The town offers the best of all possible combinations—the amenities of shopping centers and other commercial outlets in a setting that has geographical boundaries that will forever limit growth, preserving its smalltown atmosphere.

The Sesquicentennial celebration of 1998 is an opportunity to look backward on a distinguished history and forward to a continuing era of prosperity and progress in a town that is truly "A Caring Community where there is Goodness in Action."



Our Heritage

Vestil Harrison, Centerville Historical Society

As written on plaque at Founders Park monument

Centerville was populated by a mix of pioneers from widely scattered places and different cultures. These pioneers came together for a common cause, and they generally discovered that the talents, skills, and determination needed for survival were found among themselves.

Many housewives carded wool and spun the yarn on spinning wheels. Some had looms for weaving clothes from which they fashioned clothing, bedding, tablecloths, and rag carpets. Gloves, mittens, stockings, and shawls were also knitted. Dyes were made of different colors from various plants, soap was made using homemade lye, candles were made to furnish light for the homes, and potatoes furnished the ingredient for making starch.

The men made furniture and wooden cooking utensils such as butter bowls, potato mashers, and rolling pins. These items supplemented the few items of crockery, china, iron kettles, skillets, and Dutch ovens that some had brought across the plains. In essence, the families of this early settlement lived mainly by their own production and through the products they exchanged with their neighbors.

Numerous small enterprises sprang up in Centerville, such as grocery and general merchandise stores, molasses mill, flour mills, saw mills, blacksmith shops, and a cooperage. There were shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, cabinetmakers, wheelwrights, rock masons, tree nurseries, meat markets, and even the raising of silkworms.

Probably the most important early business of Centerville was the old Centerville Co-op that opened in 1869 at Main and Center streets. When money was scarce, housewives traded eggs, butter, and other home-produced items for store merchandise. The Co-op finally closed in 1940.

The streets were dark at night until the early 1920s when a few enterprising citizens installed lights at two street corners. They mounted a time-clock in a wooden box at the bottom of the pole and had a long string running from the clock at the bottom to a light switch at the top. The nearest homeowner had the assignment of winding the clock so the streetlights would go on at dark and off in the morning.

The groundwork for all the conveniences we enjoy today was laid by the early pioneers of Centerville, whose suffering, diligence, and faith in the cause that brought them here has made this the choice land we had inherited. We honor these noble pioneers! May the dedication of this monument to their faith, sacrifice, and deeds, inspire us to emulate them and revere their memory with profound gratitude.