Monday, March 14, 2011

Remembering The Wilberg Resort

The Driveway to the Wilberg Resort. Carl Wilberg's House on right.
As an observant stranger drives on Highway 10 through Emery County, he will notice it is a hilly county. Some hills are flat topped and some are round, but all are barren. All except the Wilberg Grove. Between the towns of Huntington and Castle Dale, there the hill is completely covered with trees. The Wilberg Grove was planted by Carl Wilberg about one hundred years ago. It's quite a phenomenon still today.

When I was  a young girl, I would come with my family to visit Emery County. My mother was born in Huntington and had two sisters who lived in the county. My Aunt Lila Wilberg lived in a house near the bottom of that hill grove. My mother would look at that hill and remember stories of how there used to be a resort there called "The Wilberg Resort." She shared her memories with me and described a grand dance pavilion on that hill where dances were held every Saturday night. They had a concession stand where you could buy pop and hot dogs and hamburgers, and they had a wonderful dance band.  She also said that there was a pool where you could swim and dressing rooms where you could change and boats that you could row. She said, "Everyone loved the Wilberg Resort."
It was difficult for me to even imagine a place like she was describing. She said it no longer existed, but it was a marvelous place in its day. I wondered if she hadn't stretched the truth a bit; if her memory had added more colorful strokes to the scene than were actually there. Could there have been such a grand place? Was it real? I pictured a wooden dance floor put together quickly like you see for barn dances in a movie about the "olden days" with maybe a swimming hole near by. But that grove covered hill is still there; somebody went to a lot of work to plant and tend that many trees on top of a desert hill.

In the past years, as I have been doing oral histories, I began asking older people about it. "Do you remember The Wilberg Resort?" 

The rest of this article is what I have learned. It was a real place--as bright and wonderful as my mother's description. It was a really important real place, an enchanting place. The mere mention of the name "Wilberg Resort" brought a sparkle to their eyes and enthusiasm to their voices.

CAUTION: The following description is going to make you want to go see The Wilberg Resort.  But it is on Private Property so PLEASE REFRAIN from trespassing! I had the privilege of touring the grounds through the invitation of the owner who wanted the remnants of it documented in photographs. I am sharing those photographs with you in this blog. I would like to get permission to do a group tour through the historical society. If you are interested in doing that, please leave a comment at the end of this blog--but that may never happen if people start trespassing.

Let's see...where was I? ...the mere mention of the name brought a sparkle to their eyes and enthusiasm to their voices.

From the Oral History of Stella Geary Guymon::
Oh! Oh! That was my first and last love!  I was there to the first dance. I was 15 years old when it first opened July 3rd 1928, and I was there! And I don't think I missed a dance until I was married. Oh! But that was fun. We didn't miss a dance. If you didn't have a date, one of the girl's fathers would load up the car and take us. We could always get a way back home. Older people came out to watch the dancers, and they had a hot dog–hamburger stand. All of Carbon County came. They always had a good dance band.
Stella actually married one of the members of the orchestra who also sang solos on many of those Saturday nights-- Elmo Geary from Huntington. In her 80s Stella was still enraptured by the memories of that resort. She said, "We don't ever have a 4th or 24 th of July that I don't wish somebody would take me to the Wilberg's to dance."

I continued with questions to verify my mother's memory of the place--did they have a swimming pool?
"You could go boating on the lake." (Phillip Nelson Collection)
Yes, they had a swimming pool, and the little houses where you could dress! And the Church used to take parties out there like Relief Society and different things. I remember on the north side of the dance floor, they had a lake. You could go boating on the lake. Really, it was a nice place to be with all those nice trees.

Orlon Mortensen from Ferron :
Oh man, I spent hours and hours and hours dancing on that open air dance floor! And I was one of these peculiar kids, when I went to dance, I went to dance! And I danced. The orchestra would play three melodies in a series, and that was called "a dance." And we'd pick a girl and dance with her during that period and then the orchestra would take a few seconds rest and you would get a new girl to dance with. A new girl every time. The only time I ever danced with my date was when we first got there, the first dance, and then the orchestra always had a special number that they played for the closing number. And when that started to play everyone would drop who they were dancing with and go get their girl for the last dance.
Alice Bunderson Truman who lived on The Muddy Creek between Moore and Emery:
Oh yes! Oh, everybody wanted to go to Wilberg's on a Saturday night. That was so much fun! You know we had to travel in a Model A, over graveled roads for 35 miles. You'd have thought that would discourage all of us from doing that. But it didn't. We just loved to go to Wilberg's. Well, transportation wasn't easy to come by but this was something my sister (Leila Bunderson Black) and I, every year we would kind of decide who we should be going with, and it always had to be somebody that had access to a car, which all the boys didn't have. (laugh) There was one fellow, Leila  wasn't especially fond of him, but we knew he would get us to the dances, and he would always bring somebody along for me to go with. So...
Cloe Truman Anderson from Huntington:
We were very pleased to get to go out to Wilbergs! The dances were the highlight of everyone's week! My three older brothers thought it was a tragedy to miss any of them. The dances were held every Saturday night until Labor Day, plus in July there was a dance on both the 4th and the 24th. Resident both young and old came; there was also a crowd from Carbon County that came to the dances. I recall it was the Malone Jewkes Orchestra. They played the music of the Big Band Era.
There was a swimming pool, an open air dance hall, a grove of trees with a number of picnic tables, a hamburger stand. The grove of trees had lawn planted under them and it was green and beautiful and you could toss balls around and play games! There was a pond that would freeze over in the winter and groups went there to ice skate .

Elaine Wilberg from Castle Dale:
I was little, but I remember going with one of my brothers, and I would sit in the car and watch everybody dance.They had a swimming pool out there and a hot dog stand, and a zoo with animals like racoons, deer, a bear, a wolf, a coyote, and a mountain lion and lots of foxes. And that swing! You would swing out so far! And they had the bathhouses there. It was nice.
So there you have it. It was a real resort--more than a dance floor with a swimming hole. I wish my mom were still around so she could add even more strokes and colors to her memory picture of the place.

The problem is, these word-pictures are really all we have of those days. I have only found a couple of actual old photographs of the place. If you know of any, please let the Archives scan them so we can preserve as much of this wonderful historic place as possible!
Looking from the north side of the Pond to the hilltop grove that was The Wilberg  Resort (Ross Wilberg Collection)
Carl Wilberg was one of the most enterprising early residents of Emery County. He had several sons and several businesses --each business seemed to be assigned to one of his sons, but when he started the resort, the whole family was involved together. He had planted trees all over the hill near Wilberg Wash. Carl and his sons groomed the area to be a local resort. They hauled gravel from the Buckhorn area and made a cement floor for dancing that was about half the size of a football field. Then they used a motorized tool to grind any rough edges off from it. And they polished it so it would be perfect for dancing.

I spoke to Kay Wilberg about the resort and later to his brother Wayne. Carl is their grandfather. They were both too young to attend many of the dances, but they helped get it all ready each week. So here are the real details.
 Kay Wilberg:
I mean they polished that cement floor and then there was very little done in the way of refinishing it. Every week we would have to sweep the floor about a dozen times to get the dirt and debris off from it so it was ready to dance on. Then we sprinkled Spangles on it. It was flakes that came in 30 gallon wooden barrels and would make the floor slick for dancing. Dad would take handfuls and sprinkle around and it didn't take long for the people to stir it up and spread it all over the floor. People liked to dance on it.  Now if it rained, people just danced in the rain. It was slick; it was good.
All of the Wilbergs--uncles, aunts and cousins pitched in to help.

Wynona Ann Wilberg Rampton wrote:
Evin, Cyrus, Rufus and Warren ran the hamburger stand. They cooked about 400 hamburgers which were sold during the intermission of the dance along with other items such as candy, gum, cookies, etc. Cyrus's family was responsible for the electrical maintenance. Warren's family directed the parking of the cars, patrolled the area to deep the peach and make sure no one got into trouble. Rufus sold the tickets and stamped the visitors hands. I am the daughter of Rufus and Edna Wilberg. I was a child when the resort was doing business. I remember sleeping in the back of a pickup parked next to the hamburger stand on Saturday nights during the dance.
As a young boy, Wayne Wilberg remembers:
We put up hay on Saturdays. We'd be farming and watering and then about 4:00 in the afternoon, we'd quit farming and go up and sweep the dance hall. I learned how to sweep as a boy. It was a big dance hall! It was about half as big as a football field. There were picnic tables and the animals and that was all free. People could come there and picnic and it didn't cost them a dime, but the dance was the main thing. People came there by the droves! People even came from Salt Lake to dance there!
Here are some photographs of the remnants of the Wilberg Resort as it looks today. 

Concession Area
As one pulled up to the top of the hill, there was parking room. There was a large concession area where the Wilbergs grilled hamburgers and hot dogs on an electric grill. Bottled soda pop was in a wooden trough filled with ice.They got the ice from the pond in the winter and put it in the ice house to keep through the summer. Kay's father Warren was in charge of getting the meat to the resort on Saturdays. The women cooked the hamburgers. They used ice cream scoops to scoop up a round ball of hamburger, put it between two slices of waxed paper and flatten them with a large can so they were all the same size. Kay remembers that his Aunt Liza always cooked the hamburgers.

Dance Floor looking from Entrance Posts to the far end of the floor with the bandstand on the far right, light pole behind left entrance post. Pond is behind the bandstand, small grove at the end was part of the dance floor.
The vine covered lattice

Light Control Panel
The Dance Floor was fenced all the way around with shrubs and flowers. Couples entered the dance floor past the vine covered lattice fence,  via the ticket booth and then through a vine covered trellis which had cement posts painted silver each spring. The ticket booth also held the light control panel. 

Center light pole--note all wires dangling

There was a pole in the center of the dance floor that had a barrel shaped object on top that was the spot lights and from there wires ran to the edges of the dance floor creating a web of lights. Also there were lights all around the sides of the floor with fancy shades on them. The ceiling of lights changed colors --to red, green, blue, etc. The light panel was operated from the ticket booth. I thought it sounded pretty complex for the 1930s outdoor lighting. Kay Wilberg said that Joe Potter did most of the electrical work for the resort.

Behind the Bandstand is the Pond

The bandstand was on the north side of the dance floor. Many different bands or orchestras played at the Wilberg Resort. They always had a great orchestra and it was a coveted gig because they could always count on a large dance group. On the opposite side of the entrance--the back of the dance floor, the fenced in area included a bit of the grove with benches so couple could sit out the dance or find a secluded spot to be alone.  

Joane Pappas White remembers some family members sharing stories about the Wilberg Resort:
They all remember taking their good shoes off when it rained, putting them under the bandstand to stay dry and dancing in bubbles because the soap shavings were used to make the outdoor dance floor slick for dancing. When it rained, the dance floor looked like a giant bubble bath. 
Then the weekend was over and Wayne said,
"On Monday mornings it was mine and Kay's chore to go up and pick up all the cigarette butts and all the hamburger napkins, and pop bottles. We had to clean the place up. Granddad kept it spotless.

Flying Swings
Flying Swings
The Flying Swing was built by Carl also. It had places for several people--each spoke had a cable swing for a person, and a long rope on the outside that was pulled by someone else. The swing would go fast and swingers would fly outward from the circle. They called it the Flying Swings.

Swimming Pool
     Besides the pond, or lake, they built a swimming pool that sloped so there was a deep end with a diving board.

Kay said,  There was a couple of places in the bottom of the pool where they piped the water out of the bottom down to the slaughter house and corral. They used to run the water, and it would flush it out so the water was clean with very little stuff in it. On the bottom end of the pool was rows of dressing rooms, and there was another house with an arched roof, and that's where the bathing suits were. My mom washed the swimming suits in her washing machine and dried them the best they could before someone else needed to use them.

The swimming pool was a very large one, and it is still there, but is filled with 70 years of dirt and debris instead of water. The cement is crumbling and exposes the layers of cement and the methods used in pouring the pool.

The resort opened its gates on July 3rd, 1928. The cement floor wore out and was replaced with the finely polished floor Kay talked about. The band stand was moved and a few other renovations were made to the resort. This resort provided a great deal of pleasure and fun during the years of the Depression. It opened every Memorial Day and closed every Labor Day. It continued this schedule until the season of 1941. No one knew that would be the last of the dances, but by the end of that year, young men of the county were drafted into World War II. the Wilberg family sent 15 of their boys off during the course of the war. The boys were gone; the swimming pool was not filled; the bands were not hired, and the picnic grounds were not kept up. It closed to the public on Labor Day of 1941 and never reopened.Overnight the world had changed.

The Wilberg Resort had opened with perfect timing for the needs of the people of Emery County. It's history and memories span the same years as the Great Depression.

Owen McClenahan recalled,
The Wilberg took the edge off the Depression. Everyone had to work hard to earn just enough to eat and buy a few clothes. Dancing at Wilbergs gave the people the relaxation they needed.
I loved taking a tour of the ruins. Because of the memories so many have shared with me, it was not difficult to use my imagination and see what it had been like in its glory. As I wandered around, I could hear the orchestra play and people laugh. I could smell the hot dogs and hamburgers cooking and the perfume of the pretty girls. I could picture the moonlight streaming in through the trees as couple took a break from dancing. I can now understand why older people's eye's would light up when I asked, "Do you remember The Wilberg Resort?"

Following is a newspaper article describing the resort:
Wilberg’s Resort, four miles north of Castle Dale, which opened for the season June 16, 1929 is drawing large crowds of picnickers and pleasure seekers. A number of improvements and additions have been made this season: a new open air pavilion, now under construction will be opened on July 31. This pavilion 80’ by 120 ‘ is the largest and best dance floor in Eastern Utah.
A lake on the grounds furnishes excellent fishing and boats will be provided; a splendid bathing pool providing 24 private bath houses is kept busy a greater part of the time by the lovers of the sport. Lunch stands and tables are provided for picnickers where lunches may be served on the lawn beneath sumptuous shade.
A silver fox farm and zoo, where many wild animals and birds may be seen free of charge including a bear, coyote, mink, wild cat, and huge land turtle imported from the desert of Arizona, peacocks, eagles and others.
No admission is charged to enter the grounds or to view the many interesting sights to be seen on the place, or the use of the tables and swings. A nominal fee only is charged for bathing (swimming), boating, fishing, dancing or for supplies at the lunch stand. A free band concert is given each Sunday afternoon.

  A Hand drawn map of Wilberg Resort
Map of the Wilberg Resort and Hilltop


  1. Thanks so much for this post. Like you I have heard stories since I was a child about the Wilberg Resort and always wondered if they were true and if so, why did it close and hat was it really like. Growing up in Emery we drove by it every time we went to Price or Huntington or SLC. This was so much fun to read about the resort its' history and demise. It would have been fun to be part of those days of Emery County.

  2. I have always noticed the grove of trees, but never knew the history behind it. Thank you for such a wonderful post and photos! If you ever get permission to do a group tour for the historical society, I would LOVE to go!

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  4. I want to tour if permission is given!