Widtsoe ghost town is located in John’s Valley, about 16 miles northeast of Bryce Canyon National Park near the East Fork of the Sevier River. The town was settled in the early 1900s by Jedediah Adair, and his success as a ‘dry’ farmer drew other settlers to the area over the next few years. Originally known as Adairville, the town was renamed several times in honor of prominent locals including LDS Church leaders John Houston and John R. Winder, and University of Utah president John A. Widtsoe.
In 1912, the town (then known as Winder) began to thrive. The prospering community had a post office, sawmills, a confectionary plant, two hotels, four stores, and a church meetinghouse that also served as a school. Running water was piped into town from a local spring in 1915. By 1917 the town was renamed once again, this time in recognition of John A. Widtsoe’s agricultural expertise. Widtsoe continued to prosper with the relocation of the US Forest Service’s district office, and by 1919 the community had a population estimate of 1,100 residents.
But in 1920, threat of drought began to drive farmers out of Widtsoe. Despite efforts by renowned developer W.F. Holt to expand and revitalize the community by building more homes, a creamery, and constructing an irrigation system to bring in water from nearby Pine Lake, the harsh conditions took its toll on the struggling agricultural community. With most crops failing and the relocation of the US Forest Service’s office, Widtsoe’s population began to decline until there were just a few dozen families left. In 1936 the Federal Resettlement Administration bought out the remaining landowners, tore down most of the buildings, and the last residents left Widtsoe for good in 1938.
Today, just a few homes, the church/school building, and the cemetery remain as a testament to Widtsoe’s potential. The town’s remains are equally owned by private landowners, the State of Utah, and the federal government. Visitors are reminded not to remove debris from the site.
Where is Widtsoe? It is located just north of Bryce Canyon National Park on highway 22. View this map below for more details.