By Dawn Aerts
Iron County Today
KANARRAVILLE–Melissa Allen believes that everyone has an ‘internal beacon’ that asks questions of the past. So when the Kanarraville Historical Society gathers with community to celebrate the annual February event, they will be remembering the town known for its romantic dance hall, festive July traditions and a heritage made full with pioneer purpose and spirited housewives.
As a history major at Southern State University, it was only natural that Allen would want to explore her family’s personal connections to the community.
“As I was growing up here, my questions were always about, who are these people, how did they meet, how did they come to this place, and most important, how does a place shape a family and who we become?”
Her college thesis, “Cow Town, U.S.A., A History of Kanarraville, Utah” is based on documents that withered a bit over time, but with help from the local Historical Society, Allen unearthed old letters, articles, and yellowed photographs – adding some first-person accounts that brought that unique story to life.
“This area had traveler’s pass through, but no permanent settlers called this home until after 1862,” writes Allen, “when families feared for their dwellings (from the mounting heavy snow and rains).”
Allen recounts that one early pioneer group eventually moved into present day New Harmony, while a second group moved northeast along the mountain range next to the Kanarra Creek.
While waves of ranchers and sheepherders took root by the 1870s — banding together for protection–there were log buildings built for church meetings, farm dwellings and a Kanarra Co-op store in the early years. She believes most people came looking for a quiet place to raise a family, till that 1866 dust storm unearthed caskets and sent people scattered to the south.
It wasn’t until August 11, 1934 when the humble little enclave officially became a town.
“Unfortunately, there are empty files, with not many records kept prior to the 1930s,” says Allen. But in 1934, the town erected their now legendary dance hall. “The people had an endearing love for music, dancing and just having a good time,” says Allen with a smile, “So when the outdoor pavilion was complete, the town held a celebration, raffled off a name, and George Berry won a free season ticket to the Cobblecrest.”
While stories of some early residents were no longer accessible, Allen contacted a handful of senior neighbors and friends to capture a few personal memories. What she uncovered in the tattered files, was central to her thesis: the Mormon pioneers who struggled against the uncertainties of rain and heavy snows that washed away buildings, with roving Navajos known to raid unprotected lands (1869) was just the edge of the story.
And that Kanarraville was a fascinating place to find.
Allen writes, “By 1900 the Co-op was disbanded, but then settled into an old Relief Society Building for the next 20 years. It was also in 1934 when a committee of builders (Hartley Woodbury, Lex Shields, and others–despite the doubts of some) built a half-dome structure out of bricks for bands to perform – an outdoor dance hall for get-togethers.”
“This town was pretty unique,” said Allen of the ‘All Women’s Fire Department,’ (1961-1968) who were known to respond to alarms and jump atop fire trucks still wearing an apron. She found humorous narratives of the colorful dance hall that became a town focal point, the once popular Valentine’s Day gatherings, and a Fourth of July Day that included bandwagons and sometimes, rowdy parades.
It was an iconic place, she writes. “Stories of romance and heartbreak at the Cobblecrest, where people from all over town would dance on Saturday nights – for over 75 years.”
According to Allen, the 4th of July would begin the night before and in the morning the locals would gather – the fiddlers came, and the music, and flags were waved as part of the main street event with the legendary M.C. Ceylon Davis, known to holler, “Come on now, let’s go!” “We still have folks returning to this town, from across the country,” said Allen, “Just to reminisce and revisit the celebration.”
Allen, who confides that while the history of her hometown is still steeped in unknowns and missing documentation, she is optimistic about the quest to ‘fill in the blanks’ and to boost an interest in local history for future generations.
“The Kanarraville Historical Society knows that there has always been a love for community here,” said Allen of the Society’s role in preserving the past, “and we count on them to share this very important story.”
On February 16, the ‘Valentine’s Frosty event’ will serve as one community outreach, featuring family-friendly entertainment, a potato bar, root beer stand with an opportunity to connect with old neighbors and new friends. The Frosty February event will be held at the Kanarraville Town Hall. For information call the Kanarraville Town Hall, 435-867-1852.
“I hope this history will continue to stir our interest – Sometimes when you’re too close, you take it all for granted.”
Caption: Kanarraville Historical Society members (foreground, left to right, Cheryl Rose and Retta Davis; (standing, left to right) Sharon Williams, Elaine Cartwright, Ron Archibald (second row standing) Charlinda Weymouth and Melissa Allen. The Society pursues community outreach, through special events, oral history interviews and connecting residents with the history of the town.