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The Benmore Experiment, Part 2 of 2

21 Oct

Some dreams die, but they need not be forgotten.

The Skidmore-Jorgensen homestead as it looked in the early 1900's.  This photo must have been taken from the vantage point of the barn loft. (photo courtesy USDA Forest Service)

The Skidmore-Jorgensen homestead as it looked in the early 1900's. This photo must have been taken from the vantage point of the barn loft. A photo of the same house today led part 1 of this story.(photo courtesy USDA Forest Service)

The following is part 2 of a more blog-friendly adaptation of a piece I wrote for the Tooele Transcript Bulletin last week on the ghost town of Benmore, UT.  It originally appeared in the October 13, 2009 edition.  Click here to read part 1.

Israel Bennion’s dream was materializing, but it wouldn’t last long.

Annual precipitation proved too low for successful dry-farming in Benmore.  Homesteaders got discouraged and began to sell out.  To make matters worse, the wheat market collapsed, rendering an already impractical operation impossible.  By 1918, most of Benmore’s residents had moved away or were commuting to city or mining jobs.

The Benmore Ward was dissolved in 1920.  As the ward went, predicted Bennion at the outset, so would the town.  Most homesteaders eventually sold their claims to the Agricultural Resettlement Administration in what Thompson describes as a 1900s-style bailout.

Only the Bennion ranch remained.  Israel Bennion’s great granddaughter, Elizibeth Mitchell, still operates it today with her husband, Alan.  The rest of the land that purchased by the Federal government eventually came under the jurisdiction of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

Some dreams die, but they need not be forgotten.

Compared to many other Utah ghost towns, Benmore is well documented.  Most of the information on the town was gleaned from land and church records.  Israel Bennion’s journal was preserved and oral histories fill in some of the gaps.

Beginning in 1999, Passport in Time (PIT), a Forest Service volunteer program, began recording and mapping the site and documenting the artifacts still there.

“Sometimes the only way we can learn about some of these families is to looking at the objects that are left out here,” explained Thompson.  “So these little objects are connections back to real people’s lives.”

Across the road from the schoolhouse is a historical jackpot: the partially intact remains of the Skidmore-Jorgensen homestead.   The house was a large one for its day, once boasting a second story and a large kitchen addition.  The skeletons of a fruit tree orchard lay amongst the brush along the approach to the old house.  The entrance to the yard was marked by the massive trunks of fallen poplar and Box Elder trees.

This photo shows the surface of the walls inside the Skidmore-Jorgensen house.  These thin planks would have been covered with plaster. (photo by Clint Thomsen)

This photo shows the surface of the walls inside the Skidmore-Jorgensen house. These thin planks would have been covered with plaster. (photo by Clint Thomsen)

The house’s upper story and back kitchen have collapsed, but the main four walls still stand.  Its floor is littered with broken planks.  Non-native vines snake up the walls and through their timbers.  The scene is iconic.

Nearby are the remains of a workshop, a barn, a water cistern, and an earthen dam.  According to Thompson, some living Skidmore descendents grew up in this house.  Some of them even remember their mother dying during childbirth in the house.

“There is a very personal connection with this house.” She said.

The Benmore sites have fallen victim to vandalism and looting over the years, despite the best efforts of the Forest Service and the Mitchell Family.   Recently, a log barrier was erected across the drive to the Skidmore-Jorgensen house, but that hasn’t stopped shooters from targeting the remains.  Nor have the laws against stealing artifacts stopped scavengers from digging on the sites.

Despite the ongoing problem with vandalism, the Forest Service hopes Benmore’s remains will serve as self-discovery place where people can come and live the history in a very personal way.

Thompson recalled how during a PIT project, one of the volunteers found a little roller skate and thought of the cobbly roads.

“She started to cry.”  Thompson recalled.  “She was suddenly struck with this impression of a little boy or girl wanting to own a pair of roller skates and not having a place to use them.  She could visualize this little kid out there still trying.  That roller skate in a museum is just a roller skate.  Out here it’s in context, a testament to the desires of these families out here to make good lives out here.”

The Benmore experiment may have ultimately failed, but its crumbling foundations continue to tell a unique story of grit and resolve.

———-

Special thanks to Elizabeth Mitchell and USDA Forest Service archaeologists Charmaine Thompson and Jennifer Beard.

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3 responses to “The Benmore Experiment, Part 2 of 2

  1. Blessed

    October 23, 2009 at 2:55 am

    So true – there is something about actually visiting these sites in person, seeing the artifacts where they belong that brings a connection with the past.

    Probably I’m just a romantic at heart – I love historic fiction, I love the stories of our nations early history, the struggle to survive, to build, to establish towns, homesteads – a history that would become a future. The ghost towns – they are a history that stayed a history, but someone believed in them enough to try – and those stories touch something deep inside me. Thank you for sharing them.

     
    • bonnevillemariner

      October 23, 2009 at 4:51 pm

      Blessed, that is a beautiful sentiment! There is a certain poignancy about ghost towns and you just hit the nail on the head!

       
  2. Kristine Durrant

    January 24, 2016 at 12:46 am

    That was my great-great grandfather’s house 🙂 Thanks for writing this article. It’s always fun to learn more about my ancestors

     

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