Latitude / Longitude:
7,605 ft (2,318 m)
Mountain (MST) (UTC-7)
Widtsoe /’w”tso”/ is a ghost town in Garfield County, Utah, United States. Located in John’s Valley northeast of Bryce Canyon and along the Sevier River at the mouth of Sweetwater Creek, the town existed about 1908–1936.
The first settlers, including Isaac Riddle and a wife of John D. Lee, came to John’s Valley as early as 1876. The Riddle ranch became an important regrouping point for the San Juan Expedition in 1879, but through the end of the 19th century the area was mainly used by local cattlemen to seasonally run their stock. There were few permanent residents. In the early 1900s Jedediah Adair bought land here and started growing oats, wheat, and barley. His success attracted other settlers, and by 1908 the community became known as Adairville. As the settlement continued to expand, it was renamed Houston for John Houston, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’s local stake in Panguitch.
In 1925 the Forest Service office was moved away, and Widtsoe went into serious decline. By 1930 the population had dropped to 210, and in 1935 there were only 17 families left in town. In 1936 the federal Resettlement Administration stepped in to buy out local landowners, freeing them from unproductive land and delinquent taxes. The intention was to relocate inhabitants to more productive areas and use the land as a public grazing area. Unfortunately, the administration was inefficient and slow. The cost of administering the program was more than twice the amount paid out to purchase the land, and transactions that were supposed to last weeks took many months. Finally Widtsoe was emptied out. Government workers tore down most of the buildings and placed over 26,000 acres (110 km2) under the provisions of the Taylor Grazing Act. A few houses and an old community building still stand on the site.
The town’s fortunes began to change in the summer of 1920, when a severe drought threatened the crops. Rain finally came late in the season and produced a good grain harvest, but the drought continued the next year. Widtsoe’s volatile climate started to drive farmers away. In 1924, as the drought wore on, William F. Holt, who had been successful in irrigating California’s Imperial Valley, came to try John’s Valley. Holt established a creamery in the valley, as well as a storage pond and flume to bring water down 7 miles (11 km) from Pine Lake. This venture, in which he invested hundreds of thousands of dollars, was ultimately a failure. Observers noticed an apparent twenty-year cycle of alternate drought and abundant water in John’s Valley, and it seemed the drought period was just getting started. Soon the only successful crop was a high-altitude variety of lettuce.