Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Desert Lake 2001
I moved to Elmo in 1975. It was the smallest town I had ever heard of or seen. It was a long time after moving there that I heard about it's history and found out that there were other communities nearby at one time called Desert Lake and Victor. Desert Lake is still there; I knew it as a bird refuge, so it's a little hard to imagine a town there.

I remember the house that used to sit there near the lake when we headed to the Dinosaur Quarry. Someone told me that it was part of the town that was once there. Since then I've been piecing in my head what that town looked like. I couldn't get a good picture of more than a few houses, but then I heard they had a school as did Victor. I also read that the community was not successful because of a shortage of water and eventually the town was abandoned.
Thomas Wells, one of first settlers in Desert Lake.
I was pretty excited when Theora Worley from Wellington called me and said she had some history about Desert Lake. She said that she was born in Desert Lake, and so was her father. I had no idea that it lasted for two generations. That's when I decided  to study up more on that little town. So I set out to visit with her and took my computer with me hoping to get her oral history. She was very generous as she shared her knowledge and memories of the area. She also shared precious histories and photographs that she has collected through the years for me to copy for the Archives and public use.

Thomas Wells 1925 in his blacksmith shop in Desert Lake
Here at the Archives we know how priceless photographs and family history are and only borrow them for a short period of time and take very careful care as we scan them into the computer which is called digitizing and then return them, usually in better condition with archival sleeves to protect the photographs. We then make CDs of all that we have digitized and will make as many as the donor wants--to give away to family. We then have them to share with the public for education and research purposes. These photographs are great!

Theora had a photograph of Thomas Wells (above) that I had never seen before. The 1949 Castle Valley A History of Emery County, compiled by Stella McElprang says that Desert Lake was settled by three men in 1888. Hans P. Marsing and Charley Winder had worked on the Cleveland Canal and had accepted stock in the canal for payment. They obtained land in the Desert Lake area. In Edward Geary's History of Emery County, we read:
Members of the Wells, Powell, Thayne, Winder, Marsing, and Pilling families took up land in this hollow between 1885 and 1888 and began work on an earthen dam...Their intention was to capture runoff from higher fields and also store the winter flow of the Cleveland Canal...The 1900 census showed a population of 127 in the Desert Lake precinct.(Geary, 114). 
The dam failed in 1896 and flooded the town, but it was rebuilt with help from the LDS church. And extension of the Huntington North Ditch, the town was able to continue until the 1930s.

We read from other historical accounts that there were many orchards, a nice school, store, post office, dairy, and good farms.The population was around 125. They raised children, attended church, had house parties, went sleigh riding, horseback riding, hay rack riding, ice skating, and of course there was dancing. "C.H. Winder developed a resort at Desert Lake featuring Saturday night dances and moonlight boat rides" (Geary, 246).

Wilford and Charlotte Pilling with Woodrow on the horse-- Desert Lake 1920
Theora said her grandfather, father and his brothers started a dairy--"The Modern Dairy." In 1928 they relocated the dairy to Big Springs Ranch. The photograph above is of the Pilling family home where he grandparents lived. It was taken many years after Desert Lake had been abandoned. On the back of the photograph there is a poem: 
The old house stands alone now. Where once a family lived and worked, now there is nothing but the wind blowing dust through the open door. Where once there was laughter and the sound of little children, now there is nothing...nothing but the rustle of a rodent that has set up light housekeeping in the wall of the house. The old windmill creaks in the wind to let one know it is still there.Once there were horses and cattle lowing in the fields, now there is nothing. The wind blows the dust, and all is still and ghostly.
The shortage of water during the drought-ridden depression years effected all communities but forced the demise of Desert Lake. Today there is nothing left there but a small cemetery and a few remnants that show it was once a living place. As you look at this forgotten place, it's good to remember that ghost towns are not sad; life did not die there-- it just moved on to a better future.
An old house on Desert Lake

Below are some people who lived in Desert Lake (If you know someone who lived there, leave a comment at the end of this blog) :

Frances Isabell Cooley

Maruice and Bell Mills
Emily and Thomas Wells

Monte Pilling
Ervin Pilling
John Wilford Pilling

Emily Wells and daughters Bertha, Luella, and Bell
William Pilling

Cleon Pilling
Clifford Smith
Kathy Hamaker from Price just sent me a picture of her husband Van's grandfather, Clifford Smith, who was born in Desert Lake along with three of his siblings. His parents were Joseph and Estella Holt Smith.  Their oldest daughter, Pearline Smith was married to Charles Albert Mills and their first two children where born in Desert Lake. 

Keep the information coming. Who do you know that lived in Desert Lake/Victor?

Also, check out Kathy Hamaker's work in preserving history for Carbon County at http://www.carbon-utgenweb.com and