Emigration Canyon is well-known in these parts as the “Gateway to Salt Lake City.” Tens of thousands of pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley through this main thoroughfare in the mid-1800s. When the Pioneer Era ended with the coming of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, the canyon became a local road, still used by travelers, but a lot less. That same year, the first surveys were conducted in the canyon, to create the official boundaries for private property. Homesteaders began working the land for their sustenance. None of the other local canyons were conducive to homesteading (though anyone was willing to try), which needed flat areas of tillable soil and a growing season found only at lower elevations.
It could be said that the homesteaders were the canyon’s first residents, though many only came up to work the land during the summer months. Their names appear in record books (well, most of them) that only show us how long they kept at it. It must have been a hard way to make a living, as so many bailed out after only a year or two, abandoning the land for back taxes or resale. Those that succeeded were allowed to own their land. Simply put, the homesteaders are the reason Emigration Canyon is full of homes today – with the successful transfer of land into private hands.
Luckily, one homesteading family wrote of their experience here. We know a little of life for the homesteaders thanks to A.P. Cederlof, who wrote down his father’s stories. A.P.’s father, G. Ephraim Cederlof, grew up on his parent’s homestead in Emigration Canyon and peppered his reminiscence with wonderful memories of growing up “wild” in the canyon (they lived near today’s Fire Station). He also remembered the hardships. He clearly loved the canyon, naming the side canyons, locations of neighbors, and points of interest along the old road, some of which are not (yet?) included on canyon maps.
He tells us of John Johnson, who kept dairy cows (peddling his milk to Fort Douglas) at today’s Sunnydale Lane. The Strong family, who sold out to Walter Perkins, kept a family homestead at Perkins Flat. John Wretberg was Cederlof’s neighbor to the east. William Winkworth claimed the area we’ve come to know as Kelvin Grove. Ike Pierce and John McRae (and their families) worked the land around Maple Grove.
We’re not convinced that Cederlof was the only homesteader to leave a family record. Somewhere in a shoebox in a musty attic there must be reminiscences or even photos of “great-grandad’s homestead in Emigration Canyon.” I wonder how we can find those. Maybe someday a random search by a descendent will land on our canyon website. So here’s a list of homesteaders we’ve found (with hopes that they can find us):
Samuel E. Allan
James F. Bradley
George H. Brown
John M. Cederlof
John M. Cornia
Carl C. Jensen
Lloyd G. Johns
John P. Johnson
Robert M. Marcroft
Walter K. Perkins
John C. Sharp
James T. Strong
–Submitted by Emigration Canyon historian Jeff Carlstrom