The ghost town of Grafton has been featured in a number of films including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid which is a classic and In Old Arizona produced in 1929. The latter was the first talkie to be filmed outdoors. Grafton has been termed as the most photographed ghost town in the West and is located to the south of Zion National Park, neighboring the town of Rockville.
Previously, this was where the southern Utah cotton growing project was located as directed by Brigham Young. This was in 1859 when this area was settled formally. A settlement that was given the name Wheeler was established by Nathan Tenney and team who were from Virgin.
Before long, Wheeler was ravaged on 8th January 1862 when the Virgin River flooded for a period of one week. This was part of the Great Flood experience of 1862 and it led to the rise of New Grafton after the rebuilding that took place when the floods had subsided. It was located a mile away from the Virgin River and the name New Grafton had its origin from Grafton, Massachusetts.
Grafton grew fast when it came up and by 1864 a total of 28 families had made this town their home already, with each of these farming an acre of land in the area. Irrigation canals were dug and orchards were planted in the area and some of these have lasted to this current day. The town also became Kane County’s county seat though this was short lived – between January 1866 and 12th January 1867.
Grafton town became part of the county of Washington when changes to boundaries were made in 1882, which meant that this town had to let go of the county seat. Apart from the floods, Grafton faced several other challenges among them being isolation from other towns since it was the only town on the south bank of the river and the presence of silt in farms along the Virgin River whose clogged ditches had to be dredged on a weekly basis.
These ditches were used for irrigation purposes and the frequency of dredging them was much often than that of other settlements around. The town was deserted in the wake of the Black Hawk War that induced the fear of attack by Indians and therefore, inhabitants of this town had to move to Rockville.
This area continued experiencing serious flooding after this, which made it difficult for those who had settled here previously, to resettle. That being the case, they sought permanent residence on the other side of the Virgin River on locations that had better access. A total of 4 families remained at Grafton, the branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints established here earlier, closed down in 1921 and the last settlers in Grafton Town finally departed in 1944.
Interest in this town was renewed in 1997 when the Grafton Heritage Partnership was put together to protect, preserve and restore the site of the old town. With the help of former residents of the town, the BLM, the Utah Division of State History and the Utah State Historical Society, some of the buildings that have been restored include the John Wood Home, the Berry fence in the cemetery, Louisa Foster Home, and the old church. As a visitor, these are some of the structures to view today.