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Clarion--The Jews' Brave, Sad Experiment

All kinds of immigrants

In addition to the Mormon converts coming to Zion from all across the globe, Utah played host to several colonies of a different kind.  In the early 20th century, various groups founded agricultural colonies in Beaver, Cache, Millard, and Box Elder counties. Also, a group of Mormon immigrants from Hawaii founded a colony in Skull Valley called Iosepa. 

abandoned house

Benjamin Brown's house at Clarion

Jewish settlers have high hopes

In Sanpete County, a group of Jews showed up with high hopes to start flourishing farms, create businesses, mine the mountains, sell lumber, and more.

These immigrants founded the town of Clarion. 

Clarion was started by a few people in 1911. Within a couple of years, Clarion had drawn several dozen people to live there. At the time, there was a part of a growing movement for Jews to get out of the crowded cities so they could go “back to the earth.” Inspired by this dream, hundreds of Jews settled in the West, at least for a time.

For the Jews of Clarion, as for the Mormons before them, Utah seemed to be the perfect place to get away from their old urban lives and start fresh somewhere free. 

photo of Benjamin Brown

Benjamin Brown, a leader of Clarion

Where are the farmers?

Most of the Jewish settlers had come to the United States from Russia. They included a laundryman, tailor, artist, machinist, furrier, mirror-maker, druggist, carpenter, weaver, railroad conductor, and more.

But few had any farming experience at all! Even those who knew something about farming didn’t know about farming and irrigating in the arid West.

But they had their hopes. They came in search of healthier, safer, and more prosperous lives.

The state sold land and irrigation water to the immigrants.  They put up tents and began farming cooperatively.

crowd of people

Governor Spry speaking at the Harvest Celebration at Clarion on August 18, 1912

Things don't go well

The first few harvests were not so big. What’s worse, the second year the irrigation canal broke and flooded the crops. The third year, the farmers couldn’t get enough water. The state couldn’t deliver the water it had promised—and some other farmers in the area seemed to be stealing it.) There just wasn’t enough water for both the Clarion farmers and their neighbors. 

By 1913, the settlers had built a school/church and 33 homes, but just four years later, the group declared bankruptcy.  The colonists slowly moved away.

Fizzled out

Clarion died for many reasons:

Many of the settlers sold their land to the Mormon farmers nearby, who also attempted to make it work.  But drought and bad soil conditions defeated them too. Japanese American settlers came along in the 1920s and made their sections of the town work very well, growing lettuce and other vegetables.  However, their prosperity was brought to a standstill by World War II and the internment camps. Today the land is largely left unfarmed.

Read the story of the first Jewish family to live in Utah.

Read more about Jewish immigrants to Utah in "Glimpses of Utah Jewish Life" in Beehive History 25.