Deseret and Salt Lake Agricultural and Manufacturing Canal Company

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The Deseret and Salt Lake Agricultural and Manufacturing Canal Company was formed in 1889 to promote settlement in Millard County, Utah. For more than a hundred years, the area was considered a premier agricultural area of the Great Basin.

This was possible because of the combination of abundant, fertile, and inexpensive land, and a more plentiful supply of water than existed in most other valleys of the Great Basin. The water stemmed from the longest river in Utah, the Sevier. The Sevier River’s headwaters originate from the tributaries on the Paunsaugrunt and Markagunt Plateaus between Fish Lake and the Bryce Canyon-Panguitch Lake areas in southern Utah. The river sweeps north into Sanpete Valley where it curves southwest to naturally terminate in Sevier Lake in western Millard County.[1]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints assisted The Deseret and Salt Lake Agricultural and Manufacturing Canal Company financially, held stock in it, and assured that the company would be managed for community purposes.[2]

Settlers in the Fillmore area had constructed the first dam in 1860, however, the dam washed out the following year, as it did each of the following years. A dam built in 1864 lasted until the spring of 1868. Finally, the project of the dam in that location was abandoned.

In 1875, a new group of settlers using a different type of dam construction was able to hold the dam until the spring of 1882 when the dam washed out for the fifth time. William V. Black, who had led this group of settlers, determined that a better location was needed, and selected the Gunnison Bend. Three years later, in 1889, Black—who was also an official in the Deseret Irrigation Company—met with Abraham H. Cannon who was in the area on Church business. Later Cannon and Black met with the First Presidency about the new irrigation project. Church president Wilford Woodruff and his two counselors Joseph F. Smith and George Q. Cannon (Abraham’s father) became involved in the company as private investors. In further meetings with interested investors, the Deseret and Salt Lake Agricultural and Manufacturing Canal Company (hereafter Deseret and SL A&M Canal Company) was formed with ten men as trustees, including Abraham Cannon and each of the three members of the First Presidency.

The Deseret and SL A&M Canal Company would construct the new dam “which would raise the impounded reservoir water level from five to ten feet.” The Deseret Irrigation Company “would retain its water rights during low water level years.”

The leaders of the Deseret and SL A&M Canal Company and the Deseret Irrigation Company were aware of the need for a storage reservoir and the possibilities at the Gunnison Bend site. A partnership between the two companies was formed to enlarge the dam there. The Deseret Irrigation Company assumed four-sevenths and Deseret and SL A&M Canal Company three-sevenths of the water rights.

The new dam was designed and constructed by Charles D. Haun, whom the Cannon family had long had good dealings with.

A new townsite was selected and first named Montezuma, which was soon changed to Zarahemla. The area was also known as the Abraham area.

Challenges existed for the construction of the dam and canal, including an economic depression that began in 1893 and subsided in 1898, water-rights challenges from other companies, the need to raise additional funds, financial disputes, and low water privileges. The most difficult was the death of Abraham Cannon at the age of 37—he had been serving as the Deseret and SL A&M Canal Company president.

On September 1, 1898, Wilford Woodruff died. He donated his former company headquarters/house at Abraham to those who needed it. This possibly led to many other Salt Lake City investors divesting of their property at a loss to local Millard County investors. At some point later, the Deseret and SL A&M Canal Company changed its corporate name to the Abraham Irrigation Company. The name of the community was also changed to Abraham.

Local histories occasionally refer to the Abraham project as a church farm, which is technically inaccurate, but it is true that high church leaders, acting as private investors, certainly played an indispensable role in the inception of this land development scheme.[3] 

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