We’ve zipped past this a dozen times on our annual drive down to Moab UT. Each time we both say, “Dang! We missed it again. Next time!” Well… next time finally happened. Ironically, we missed the entrance on our way down but we managed to take the time to stop and check out this semi-hidden jewel on our way back home.
Mill Fork is a ghost town, established in 1837 and abandoned by homesteaders in the 1930s. It’s located in Spanish Fork Canyon. Based around and named for the sawmills, at its height the town boasted some 250 inhabitants. It was an important part of the railroad development through the canyon and upon completion the town & its resources dried up like the earth surrounding it. All that remains of the town is the cemetery offset from the busy highway camouflaged by the tall grass that is typical of the area. The arched entrance to the small, well-tended to cemetery is a landmark on U.S. Route 6 between Spanish Fork & Price UT.
The ancestors from three families, the Atwoods, Chadwicks & the Elliotts, are responsible for the maintenance of this tiny reminder of a long since forgotten town and its history. Without their tireless efforts, most of the 16 known residents of the cemetery would have been forever lost or unknown along with their tragic stories. Up until 2005, no one had known exactly how many souls where forever marked on the unforgiving terrain, their names a mystery shrouded in the dust and decay.
We pulled off of the highway and drove under the arched sign and parked in the small area levelled out for visitors. We grabbed our cameras and started our way on foot and I was surprised to feel an overwhelming sense of calm wash over me after crossing a run down bridge into the cemetery proper. Devon & I had thought being in such a place would have given us both the worst case of the heebs. The fenced in cemetery with its carefully planted trees had an eerily soothing feeling to it. Being mindful not to step on any of the residents we both walked about reading their headstones in sombre silence while taking pictures. I left a coin on the main marker bearing the cemetery’s name. This slab feels original. Legend has it that leaving coins helped the spirits pay the toll to have the gates of Heaven opened for them. This is especially important to do so in a place where most of the inhabitants are children. Leaving coins also lets others know that people have visited.
Devon wandered off on her own & I found the visitors book in a neat looking box with a pen. I thumbed through the pages and read some comments before flipping to a crisp page to leave a message of my own. I then returned the book to its rightful place and locked the door. We went through each section at a time. The family plots were distinctly marked with separate fencing and gates. I’m no stranger to cemeteries, I actually find them both beautiful & calming. I will say this… the markers for the children were the smallest I have ever seen.
I looked up a few facts about Mill Fork before we arrived and it turns out the cemetery is steeped in tragedy. Two such events stand out for me. The earliest inhabitants were three little girls, sisters, who perished due to scarlet fever in June of 1893. The youngest, Edna Vivian Finch, just 1 year old.
Even more shocking than that is the story of Paris & Voila Chadwick Ballard. The two met, fell in love and married. Years later, in 1919, Paris took a job as a range rider on Antelope Island (another of our favourite spots). The Ballards had to relocate to Salt Lake City for this job. As Paris was away for work, Voila spent more time with her first cousin, H.A. Hill. Paris grew paranoid & jealous of anyone who spent time with his wife. Voila’s cousin ate supper with her & her sister almost every night. When Paris came home, he grew increasingly jealous of Hill because of his constant presence. After one particularly bad argument where Paris had threatened to kill his comely wife, Voila & Hill went to the police station to report it. Voila was then accompanied home by the deputy sheriff, where they discovered that Paris was gone, so the deputy left. Paris had taken his clothes, making it appear that he had returned to Antelope Island… he had not. He purchased a gun & ammunition the next morning and returned to his apartment to confront his wife. After a heated exchange neighbours heard two quick shots followed by her screams. Seconds later, two more shots rang out. Then there was silence. When officers arrived they found two bodies. Paris lay on the bed, barely breathing… he died in hospital eight hours later. Voila lay dead between his feet. There is still speculation today among their ancestors whether his jealousy was merited.
Mill Fork came about in the pioneer days, bringing much needed jobs with the expansion of the railroads and the industrial revolution brought the demise of the town altogether. The beautiful arched entrance, in its simplicity, stands as the constant sole reminder of this long gone town. Without the dedicated work of these three families this cemetery would have been but a faint mark in an obscure history book ignored on a dusty shelf in a tiny library in some forgotten small town. Due to their efforts, the cemetery, like its inhabitants buried within its sheltering fence, has undergone a resurrection.
I’m glad we took a few minutes to finally stop and visit. It was worth the wait.