Clarion, Utah

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Ghost town
Clarion is located in Utah
Location of Clarion in Utah
Coordinates: 39°07′20″N 111°53′11″W / 39.12222°N 111.88639°W / 39.12222; -111.88639Coordinates: 39°07′20″N 111°53′11″W / 39.12222°N 111.88639°W / 39.12222; -111.88639
Country United States
State Utah
County Sanpete
Established 1911
Abandoned 1915

Clarion is a ghost town in Sanpete County, Utah, United States. Lying about 5 miles (8.0 km) southwest of Gunnison, Clarion was the site of a brief, early-twentieth century experiment in Jewish rural living. The Clarion site was 6,085 acres (24.63 km2; 9.508 sq mi), extending 5 miles (8.0 km) north and south along the Sevier River, and approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) wide.


For several decades, many Jewish reformers and Zionist nationalists had argued that Jews needed to become "a normal nation" and urged the abandonment of both urban living and occupations traditionally associated with Jews. This back-to-the-land movement urged Jews to find a purer life and to renounce sedentary jobs in favor of those based on manual labor. The project was funded by the Jewish Agricultural and Colonial Association of which Benjamin Brown was president and Isaac Herbst secretary. Brown organized the JACA in January 1910 and listed its primary office in Philadelphia's West Parkside neighborhood, with 250 members, branches in New York and Baltimore, and with the express purpose of, "Settling on farms and mutual aid".[1]

Brown and Herbst, as representatives of the organization, traveled in 1911 to investigate potential sites in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. The New Mexico option proved to be impractically expensive. As the disappointed investigators were preparing to leave New Mexico, they received a telegram suggesting a stop in Utah. The state was at the time engaged in a campaign to attract settlers, and in the process of constructing the Piute Canal, which was to irrigate vast tracts of desert. The Association was also encouraged by the financially secure and politically well-connected Jewish community of Salt Lake City. Such prominent local Jews as Simon Bamberger, Samuel Newhouse, and attorney Daniel Alexander pledged their support and began to advocate for the group with area business and political leaders. The Utah State Board of Land Commissioners sent a representative to escort Brown and Herbst to inspect available land. They were favorably impressed with a parcel of state-owned land in south-central Utah below the planned Piute Canal. Brown was convinced of the soil's fertility, and with the state's assurances of available water, the Association agreed to purchase the land at auction on August 7, 1911.[2]

Clarion, Utah (1911-1920)[edit]

Brown became the leader of the colonists, returning to the area permanently in September 1911. Although the settlement was small, with just 23 families, optimism was high. Utah had been advertising nationally to receive more settlers, and Governor William Spry was so pleased with the experiment that he journeyed the 135 miles (217 km) from the capital in order to celebrate the community's first harvest.[3]

More than 1,000 visitors celebrated with the colony settlers after their first harvest in 1912. In October 1912, there were about 150 families at the colony when the Jewish Agricultural and Colonial Association announced that one hundred and fifty additional families would join the settlement.[4] Due to problems with harvests and the inexperience of the urban settlers, the settlement faced financial problems and the state foreclosed on the property in 1915. Most of the settlers returned to New York City.[3]

After Clarion, Benjamin Brown founded the Utah Poultry Cooperative Association, and Maurice Warshaw, founded the Grand Central and Warshaw market chains.[5]

After the colony[edit]

After the demise of the Jewish colony, others moved into the area. Japanese families settled in the Clarion area in 1921, as did Mormons of Scandinavian descent. Brown and a few of the other Jewish colonists stayed and farmed in the area until the 1920s. There were enough persons residing in Clarion in 1925 to establish the Clarion LDS Ward.[6] Friedland observed the Japanese families when he returned to the Clarion site in 1926.[7] In 1932, the Clarion LDS Ward had 166 members. The Ward met in the social hall which the Jewish settlers had constructed. The LDS Ward was dissolved on April 1, 1934, "on account of the shortage of water."[3] World War II disrupted the Japanese settlement and the land reverted to the local citizens.[8]

By 1959 the Clarion community center had been turned into a granary. The fence surrounding the small Jewish cemetery had been torn down and cows had knocked down the headstones which marked the two graves.[9]

By 2008 fences had been constructed to surround the Jewish graves. There are a scattering of foundations, as well as the broken walls of the water cistern that burst and fell apart the first day colonists used it.[10] At the time of the centenary in 2011, Brown Rex Dairy abutted the Clarion site and local residents continued to refer to the area as "Clarion" although it is in the Centerfield postal district.


University of Utah Professor Robert Goldberg[11] chanced upon the Clarion remnants in 1980. A subsequent interview in Los Angeles with a descendant of one of the Clarion families led to Goldberg's writing the Jewish colony's history, Back to the Soil.[12] Goldberg placed advertisements for contacts in the Salt Lake Jewish community newsletter. He tracked down 53 families with ties to Clarion, and reconstructed the story from interviews and records.[13] Goldberg's papers are archived and accessible through the University of Utah in the Robert Alan Goldberg papers which include diaries, monographs, and news articles by or regarding the Clarion participants, as well as interviews, research questionnaires, and correspondence with their descendants.[14]

Clarion was featured in the play "Life, More Sweet Than Bitter" which tells the story of a Jewish family from Russia which came through Philadelphia to Clarion.[15] Beth Hatefutsoth in Tel Aviv included Clarion in the 1983 exhibit, "Diaspora Farmers of the 19th and 20th Century". The community was also featured in a segment in the 2007 play Impossible Cities: A Utopian Experiment. The settlement was the subject of a presentation in June 2013 at Congregation Shivtei Yeshuron-Ezras Israel in the South Philadelphia neighborhood from which many of the Clarion colonists originated as part of the "Hidden City Philadelphia Festival 2013".[16]

The Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area is moving forward in 2014 with placing plaques on key sites in Clarion and developing an interpretive display on Main Street in Gunnison in coordination with the Gunnison City Council. The Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area is providing a grant for which it is seeking 50% match.[17]


In September 2011 a celebration to mark the 100th anniversary of the settlement was celebrated in Salt Lake City. Tours of the site were featured.[18]


  1. ^ American Jewish Year Book. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society. 1911–1912. p. 229. Retrieved 2013. 
  2. ^ Goldberg, Robert Alan (1986). Back to the Soil: The Jewish Farmers of Clarion, Utah, and Their World. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press. pp. 55–61. ISBN 978-1-60781-155-8. 
  3. ^ a b c Hansen, Roger D. "A Short History of Clarion". Retrieved February 24, 2008. 
  4. ^ "Jews to settle in Utah". Evening Argus. October 21, 1912. p. 4. Retrieved October 23, 2011. 
  5. ^ Hecht, Esther (August 2013). "The Jewish Traveler: Salt Lake City". Retrieved 21 August 2013. 
  6. ^ Jason N. Swensen (September 13, 1993). "Clarion Called Jewish Settlers 'back to the Soil' In Early 1900s". Deseret News. p. B1. 
  7. ^ Isaac Friedland, Roy-erd: zikhroynes fun "klarion"; af kalifornier erd; un dertseylungen [Virgin Soil: Memories of 'Clarion'; On the Land of California; and Other Stories in Yiddish], Los Angeles, 1949.
  8. ^ John W. Van Cott (1990). Utah Place Names. Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press. p. 80. ISBN 0-87480-345-4. 
  9. ^ Jack A. Christensen (April 9, 1959). "Former Resident Calls Attention To Valley Area Needing Care". Gunnison Valley News. p. 2. 
  10. ^ Jessica Ravitz (November 28, 2008). "Remnants of Jewish immigrant colony in Utah show experiment gone awry". Salt Lake Tribune. 
  11. ^ "Robert Goldberg". The University of Utah, College of Humanities, Department of History. University of Utah. Retrieved September 13, 2011. 
  12. ^ Joseph Walker (September 2, 2011). "Clarion call: Failed settlement lives on in Jewish hearts". Deseret News. Retrieved September 13, 2011. 
  13. ^ Carma Wadley (March 29, 1987). "Clarion: Utah's ill-fated Jewish colony". Deseret News. p. 4E. Retrieved September 13, 2011. 
  14. ^ "Robert Alan Goldberg papers". University of Utah. Retrieved September 17, 2013. 
  15. ^ Clif Davis (February 24, 1977). "A 14-set musical". Deseret News. p. C11. Retrieved May 9, 2011. 
  16. ^ Greg Salisbury (May 31, 2013). "Hidden City Festival Reveals Revitalization of 'Little Shul'". Jewish Exponent. Retrieved June 13, 2013. 
  17. ^ Bona, Monte R. (May 22, 2014). "Clarion". (Letter to Joan Sacks) (in English). 
  18. ^ 100 Years ago, Jewish Colony Left Its Mark on Utah and Its People, Salt Lake Tribune, 19 September 2011, Lisa Schencker

Further reading[edit]

  • I. Friedland (1949). Roy-erd: zikhroynes fun "klarion"; af kalifornier erd; un dertseylungen [Virgin Soil: Memories of 'Clarion'; On the Land of California; and Other Stories] (in Yiddish). 
  • Robert Alan Goldberg. "The Clarion Colony". Utah History Encyclopedia. 
  • Juanita Brooks (1973). History of the Jews in Utah and Idaho 1853–1950. Western Epics Pub Co. ISBN 978-0-914740-12-4. 
  • Lillian Brown Vogel (2009). What's My Secret?. H. S. Dakin Company. ISBN 978-0-615-29034-8. 
  • Salt Lake Tribune. June 17, 1982. p. 8. 

External links[edit]