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Memories of a company town

Former residents to commemorate Garfield's founding 100 years ago

From start to finish, Garfield was a company town.

The land for the town was purchased in 1905 by Utah Copper Co., just two years after that company was organized by Daniel C. Jackling. Named for President James A. Garfield, the town was laid out "like the spokes of a wagon wheel cut in half," says Lee Romrell, who was born there. It was located a few miles west of Magna on U-201 at about 10000 West and 2400 South.

The Trading Post was built in 1907. A school soon followed. Six hotels were built to house single men. By 1916, there were more than 100 homes, which rented for $18-$28 a month, including water. The company took care of any paint, wallpaper and repairs.

A library, post office, swimming pool and doctor's office were added. A men's club, a women's club, a Boy Scout building and two churches — an LDS church built on one corner and an Episcopalian on the other — soon joined them. Later came a bank, movie house, a few stores and even a railroad station.

At its height, in the 1940s, about 2,000 people called Garfield home. Most of the men worked at the mills; a few at the smelter, which was at the edge of town.

But by 1955, Kennecott Copper, which had acquired Utah Copper in 1936, decided it wanted to get out of the landlord business and shut the town down. Residents could either buy their homes and move them somewhere else or abandon them for demolition. Either way, the town would be no more.

By 1957 Garfield had joined the ranks of Utah's mining ghost towns. Gone ... but not forgotten.

"Even though the town of Garfield is not even a spot on the map any more," says Romrell, "it will always have a place in the hearts of the people, like myself, who grew up in the small mining town. There is a certain bond that links us together."

Romrell is in the process of writing a book about Garfield, because "it's important that the memories live on, that others will understand why we loved the town so much." He kept waiting for someone else to write the book, but then "I realized that if it was going to get done, I'd have to do it."

Some of the former residents are also planning a centennial celebration of the founding of the town, which will be held Saturday at Holmes Park. Most of the folks with ties to Garfield are getting on in years,

says Romrell. The time to remember is now.

Lee Romrell spent the first 10 years of his life in Garfield. "It was a wonderful place to grow up," he says. "It was the neatest town. Everyone who lived there loved it."

Doug Dangerfield, who grew up in the town and lived there after he was married, agrees. "A lot of good memories came from there. A lot of good times. I'm 83, and half the time I can't remember last week. But I can remember Garfield so clearly and vividly."

In those days Garfield was on the old Lincoln Highway, which brought some traffic through the town. "I remember some gypsies who came through and camped out by the fresh springs," says Dangerfield.

He remembers an area fed by canal water that was turned into a swimming hole. "We called it Sandy Bottoms because of the sand they put down."

"We called it Bare-Bum Beach," says Romrell — but for no specific reason that he wants to talk about. That's not the only generational discrepancy. A natural rock formation west of town was called Lion's Head by the older folks, and Dog's Head by the time Romrell came along.

Toronto Cave, a natural cavern to the north, also got a name change. The cave was first used by wandering Indians. After pioneers settled in the Tooele area, it was used as a cattle pen by a man named Toronto. "But we all knew it as Dead Man's Cave," says Romrell. In the 1930s, a man committed suicide there, and that's what it was called after that.

Angel Rock was named for an angelic figure that's visible if the light is right. Next to it was Hundred-Foot Cliff. "To be considered brave, you had to climb Hundred-Foot Cliff with a rope," says Dangerfield. "That was how we proved ourselves."

The natural features around town played a big part in their youthful entertainment, says Romrell. "Up where you can see the old Lake Bonneville shoreline, that was our playground. We used to find shells up there and think we were pretty special."

They used to hunt frogs and watch for snakes in the cattails at the other end of town. The carpenters at the mill made the boys wooden guns. "We'd also go up the gullies and have sword fights with pickets we took off old fences," says Dangerfield.

"At night, we would play what we call now 'night games' — games such as Run Sheep Run, Kick the Can and Jolly Butcher Boy," says Romrell. "We could play for hours, or until our mothers would tell us it was time for bed."

Movies were another favorite attraction. "We could pay $1 a month and the whole family could see three shows a week," he remembers.

In the winter there were sleigh rides on McKinley Hill. "They would block off part of the street to cars, and people would build fires to keep warm. It was great family fun." The Christmas parties sponsored by Kennecott were also memorable.

In the summer, after the big swimming pool was built, that was a favorite hangout. "I don't ever remember taking a towel," says Romrell. "I'd get out of the pool and walk home, and be dry by the time I got there."

People came from all over to use Garfield's facilities, he says. "People in Magna were jealous because we had such nice places. We were never bored, I can tell you that."

However, it was not a perfect place and had a couple of noticeable flaws. "Sometimes the air was so bad because of the smelter smoke that we could hardly breathe," says Romrell. "We would have to put handkerchiefs on our faces to walk down the streets." At other times, dust from the tailings pond would cover everything — lawns, streets, cars, even the insides of homes.

And sometimes there were strikes at the mine. "That really hurt the town," says Dangerfield, "because Kennecott was the only place for most people to work."

But it was a place where neighbor helped neighbor and everyone got along. An example of that was during World War II. "People who had servicemen in their families would meet once a month to pick up a newsletter to deliver to their soldiers," says Romrell. "They would all help keep track of where all the soldiers were and what was going on with each person."

In 1955, when news came that Garfield was being closed down, "we were devastated," says Romrell. "It was a huge shock to the people." In Copperton, which Kennecott also owned, people were allowed to simply buy their homes and stay put. But in Garfield, "I think they had some plans for the land, although nothing ever came of it."

The first home was moved in April 1956. "We were one of the last ones to go," says Romrell. "My dad was the last bishop of the LDS ward. He closed the ward records on Sept. 8, 1957, which was also the last day that mail was delivered in the town. My family slept in the house that night while it was jacked up and ready to go. The next morning it was on its way to Magna. We slept in it in Magna that night."

Everything was left in the house. Romrell rode in the house to make sure things were OK during the trip. One cup and one saucer got broken.

Their house was one of 33 that were moved to a subdivision in Magna that was bought by Garfield residents. It was officially known as April Acres, "but we called it Little Garfield."

The house cost the Romrell family $250 to buy. They paid $257 for the lot in Magna and $1,200 for moving expenses and to put in a new basement.

In all, 193 homes were moved from Garfield, most going to Magna, Hunter, Granger or Kearns. Some 203 homes were knocked down. "It was very difficult at that time to move brick homes, so most of them were torn down. The residents could buy a home that was going to be destroyed for $10. My father bought two homes. We took all the wood out, saved some of the brick, sold all the metal, and then the bulldozers knocked them down." The Romrells built a double garage in Magna out of the wood salvaged from the houses.

If you visit Garfield today, you will find the old post office is the only building left. Dead Man's Cave is still there but fenced off, so it is not accessible. A few of the roads remain. Most of the area is covered with trees and grass. Those who know their way around, however, can find their once-familiar locations: the two corners that held churches; Barbershop Hill; McKinley Hill; 115 W. 16th Avenue, where Dangerfield's folks lived; the tree where his boys built a treehouse and left behind a few boards still nailed to the tree.

Nearby is No. 18 on West 17th Street, where Romrell lived. Trees have grown up; weeds and grass cover any sign of a house. "But I can stand here and see it still, see it the way it was" in the days when Garfield was "as perfect a place as you could ever want to live."