South Jordan has been one of the fastest-growing cities in Utah since the early 1990s; a 2007 U.S. Census Bureau estimate put its population at 48,046. Kennecott Land, a land development company, under Rio Tinto (who owns the huge copper mine in the mountains directly to the west) owns the Daybreak Community in the entire western half of South Jordan. This community could potentially double South Jordan's population. South Jordan is also the first city in the world with two LDS temples (Jordan River Temple and Oquirrh Mountain Temple). The history of South Jordan begins with its landforms. South Jordan lies on top of a huge alluvial plain created by the wearing down of the Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountains over eons of time. Beneath the surface lies over a kilometer of unconsolidated sand, rock and clay. The surface soil was put into place by Lake Bonneville, a gigantic prehistoric lake that stretched from the Idaho border south through western Utah to about Cedar City. Lake Bonneville was one of several huge lakes that existed during the ice ages that came and went since dinosaur times. The lake had its own currents which deposited clay in some places, sand and gravel in others. The weight of the huge volume of water depressed the valley floor. Wave action created the great sand and gravel "spit" called the "point of the mountain" and the benches visible on the east side of the Salt Lake Valley. As the lake began to dry up, the dissolved minerals were left behind in the heavy clay soil making it alkaline as well. The Jordan River carved out a narrow flood plain down the middle of the valley and wind blown deposits of sand built up in the western part of the valley.
The first unnamed people in the area lived around the edges of Lake Bonneville about 9000 years ago. They were wandering hunter-gatherers who moved through the region staying in caves and rock shelters, or building temporary shelters out of local materials. Evidence of a successful mammoth hunt was found just across the river in Sandy, so these most ancient Utahns certainly lived in the area. They left little physical evidence aside from a few stone tools, atl atl points, and bits and pieces of everyday household trash. The first named group who lived in the valley were the northern Fremont people who lived permanently in small settlements. The largest discovered so far was on City Creek in downtown Salt Lake City. Others may have been located on the other creeks in the valley. Fremont were hunter-gatherer-farmers who made pottery in such numbers that it was traded as far away as central Idaho. By 1300 the Fremont had abandoned all the settlements throughout Utah. There is scholarly difference of opinion about what happened. The core of the argument is whether the Fremont were ancestors of modern Ute, Paiute, Gosiute,Shoshoni, and perhaps others, the first Numic speaking people who migrated into the area about the time the Fremont culture disappeared.
Salt Lake Valley had a unique position in an informal arrangement among the Ute bands who used the central Utah mountains and valleys as resource areas. Curiously no one called Salt Lake Valley home permanently, perhaps because most of the valley was dry. Near the streams and flood plain of the Jordan river would have been good temporary camping spots. Early settlers in South Jordan reported that a well-used trail existed along what would become 1300 West used by groups of Nuche (Ute) traveling between the Weber River, the marshes of the Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake. These people most likely would have been part of the Timpanogots, the large band living in Utah Valley. One early area settler recalled using the name "Yo-No" to refer to at least one group who traveled along the river each season. The first Europeans to travel through the area were perhaps small parties of Spanish soldiers, missionaries, miners, or slave buyers as early as the 1600s. Evidence is sparse because it was illegal to mine silver or trade with the Nuche. The name on Spanish maps for the area was Teguayo and Spanish authorities were aware of a large lake named Copalla, which shows a southern and northern bay perhaps Utah and Salt Lake combined for lack of accurate information. The Dominguez Escalante Expedition of 1776 only got as far as Utah Lake and never ventured farther but were told about the Salt Lake Valley and the salt lake at its northern end.
The written record is nearly silent from 1776 until the arrival of the first fur European trappers and traders who arrived in the early 1800s. There was a lively trade in slaves between New Mexico and the Nuche, as well as traders moving over the Old Spanish Trail. Apparently there was some later conflict because the Mexicans were chased out of Utah before the fur trappers showed up. Another unusual occurrence was the disappearance of buffalo by 1842. Sources suggest that disease played a factor. The only recorded trapper who led a party through the area was Etienne Provost, a French-Canadian trapper, who was lured into a Nuche camp somewhere along the Jordan River north of Utah Lake. The people responsible for the attack were planning revenge against Provost's party for an unexplained incident involving other trappers earlier. Provost's men were caught off-guard and fifteen of them were killed, Provost escaped with his life. In July of 1847 the Pioneer Company of the Mormons entered the valley and immediately began to irrigate land and explore the area for new settlements. Because the valley wasn't the home range of any Ute band, the Nuche didn't do anything about the fledgling settlement on City Creek. Just two years later Mormon settlers began to spread out into the western part of the Salt Lake Valley. Heber C. Kimball suggested the "Utah River" be renamed the "Western Jordan" after the Jordan River in Palestine. In time the "western" fell out of use. The earliest pioneer landowner in the South Jordan area was Alexander Beckstead and his family who settled along the Jordan River about 9000 South and lived in a dugout cut into the west bluffs above the river in 1849. Beckstead bought his land from George A. Smith who claimed to own most of the southern half of western Salt Lake Valley as a result of a Mexican land grant he somehow obtained before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848. The flood plain of the Jordan was level and needed only to be cleared to begin farming if water could be taken out of the river and brought along the base of the west bluff in a ditch. The "Beckstead Ditch" that stretched eventually from the Draper Bridge (12600 South) to Sandy Road (9000 South) was constructed. A brief Indian scare in 1853 caused settlers to abandon farms and homes and "fort up" at Wight's Fort on 9000 South and 4000 West. In 1859 Beckstead brought his family including seven sons and daughters south to the area at 1000 West and 11000 South to start a new settlement. Several other Mormon families joined them "under the hill" including the families of Isaac John Wardle and his father, John, and brother William; Robert Holt and his sons, Matthew and Edward; John Winward; George Shields; George Soffe; Jesse Vincent; David Jenkins; James Wood; Thomas Alsop; William Bills; and James Oliver. Residents called the place "Gale" because the wind always seemed to be blowing. Residents dug into the bluffs to make one-room dugouts with hide doors and layered roofs of wood, brush reeds and dirt for shelter. Late comers camped out under wagon covers until shelter could be built. Some families expanded the dugouts by adding adobe brick rooms in front of the dugout. They cleared and farmed the fields just above the Jordan River which at the time was a crystal clear trout stream. The work was hard and came with no guarantee of success. Periodic droughts dried out crops before they produced single kernel of grain, making irrigation ditches became the life lines of South Jordan farmers. Grasshoppers threatened crops every few years.
In 1863 the area "west of Jordan" was divided into the North Jordan (Taylorsville), West Jordan, South Jordan, and Herriman Wards of the LDS Church giving South Jordan its name. The first building in South Jordan other than houses was the first South Jordan meetinghouse located under the hill on Cemetery Road (1055 West). The tiny structure was built in 1864 out of adobe and measured just 14' by 18'. The "Rock Church" on the Lower Road in West Jordan was used for combined meetings of the LDS pioneers in the area. As South Jordan grew, a new and larger building was constructed on the east side of the current cemetery site in 1873. It measured 30' by 46' and had an upper and lower entrance with a granite foundation using left over materials brought from the granite quarry at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon. The upper story was made of over-sized adobe bricks. The main hall had curtains which could be pulled to section off the hall for classes. The meetinghouse also served as the "ward" school when it was held during the fall and winter months. It came to be known as the "Mud Temple". The building was used until 1908 when South Jordan Ward moved into a new building on the Lower Road and Park Lane (10400 South. Adjacent to the church was the South Jordan Cemetery which was built on land donated by James Oliver for a burying ground.
Many local families with pioneer ancestors who lived in South Jordan have preserved stories about encounters with Nuche (Ute) in the south part of Salt Lake County. One journal names them the "Yo-No". Whether that is an approximation of the name of the band or more likely a misnomer by someone who did not understand the language is unknown. Journals record that when small groups of Ute moved along the Lower Road, they stopped to ask for food at doors where they received food the last time they passed through. Early on these were tense encounters; food was scarce, but the fear of making the Ute angry ensured that the visitors received something. Pioneers viewed these requests as begging, but for the Ute it was more like collecting rent since traditional hunting lands had been turned into fields and pastures. A few encounters strained relations between the two groups. Mistreatment of children or women by the men brought the strain to the breaking point. A few children were "adopted" after pioneers believed a young boy or girl offered for sale might be killed if the child were not purchased. It may be that the children had been captured from other bands and were viewed as a source of income. Slavery quickly became a point of contention between the Ute and the Mormons and was resolved by several short Ute-Mormon "Wars". After the end of the Black Hawk War in 1872, the Ute were forced onto reservations in the Uintah Basin. A school was constructed in 1873 on the Lower Road built of red bricks. It was a ward school with a local board of trustees responsible for hiring teachers and overseeing its operation. In 1876 work was completed on the South Jordan Canal which took water out of the Jordan River in Bluffdale and bought it above the river bluffs for the first time. This canal parallels 1300 West and in time joined the North Jordan Canal in Taylorsville and Granger. As a result, most of the families moved up away from the river onto the "flats" above the river which they could now irrigate. Several homes along 1300 South which were built during this time can still be seen. A new school was built on the corner of 10400 South and 1300 West (the Lower Road) closer to where people were living. Across the street was the Bishop's Tithing Yard. 1881 brought a diphtheria epidemic to the Salt Lake Valley. Many families lost children or spent time in quarantine until the illness passed. The Utah and Salt Lake Canal brought water near Redwood Road that same year.
Competition between neighboring towns took many forms. In 1882 a rabbit hunt competition was held between South Jordan and Riverton followed by a dance. Riverton lost by nine rabbits and the dance was held at the South Jordan meetinghouse two days later. Baseball was popular spectator sport and the Red Gales made up of players from the south part of the county played for many years in their red uniforms. Later a baseball league was established in the valley which sponsored regular seasons for wagon loads of spectators. Riverton, which was founded after South Jordan, quickly outgrew South Jordan and its business district at Redwood and 126000 South attracted customers from South Jordan on a regualr basis. Midvale was the next closest business district and occasional trips to the bank or stores on dusty or muddy roads took a long time. Sandy was for the most part a bustling mining town with too many "gentiles".
South Jordan had its own post office from 1877 to 1887 when it became the Gale Post Office until 1901 when all mail was handled out of Sandy. A single postman carried all the mail for South Jordan, West Jordan, Riverton, Bluffdale and Draper. Route 2, Sandy Utah included all of the cities on the west side of Jordan River and Draper until the 1940s when house numbers were assigned. Mail was handled from West Jordan and then from Riverton until the new South Jordan Post Office was built.
Roads in the area were poor. In wet weather wagons could be mired up the "bellies" of the wagons. In dry weather the mixture of dust and horse manure clung to everything. The roads were rutted and rough. Horse teams occasionally graded the worst of the ruts, but the next rainstorm started the process all over again. In the 1890s two new crops were introduced which changed farming in South Jordan. Alfalfa hay took the place of the tougher native grasses which had been used up to that point for feed for livestock. Alfalfa had to be irrigated and in good years three crops could be cut and stored. The other crop was sugar beets. Farmer liked sugar beets because they could be sold for cash at the Utah-Idaho sugar factory in Lehi. Older residents can remember the beet dump at Redwood and 10400 South where the beets were weighed and then taken to the "new" sugar factory in West Jordan.
The turn of the century saw the establishment of the first businesses in South Jordan. Joseph Holt opened the Jordan Mercantile near the school on 1300 West and 10400 South in 1894. He cut ice and stored it in an ice house for use during the summer. It had a hall upstairs that was used for dances, plays and the first talking pictures when they came along. The South Jordan Milling Company opened in 1895, but burned down in 1902. It was replaced by the White Fawn Flour Mill was built on the Beckstead Ditch on Mill Road (10400 South). South Jordan's first telephone was installed at the mill. In 1903 the enlarged Utah and Salt Lake Canal was completed which brought land even farther west into cultivation. This canal parallels Redwood Road. But 1901-1903 brought such a severe drought that there wasn't enough water in the Jordan to fill the canals. Plans were made for adding larger pumps to pull water out of Utah Lake into the Jordan River, but for financial reasons the pumps weren't installed and functioning until August 1903. Perhaps as many as one-quarter of families in southern Salt Lake County packed up and left. Farms wouldn't sell even at half-price; reportedly one farm was sold for a single good milk cow. The town built a baseball diamond and grandstand in 1909 for baseball games. It was torn down during World War I and planted in wheat as part of a patriotic garden effort. The ball diamond was rebuilt for a time and then the land was turned into a LDS ward welfare farm. With the passage of compulsory education laws in 1890 and the establishment of the Jordan School District in 1904, a new school was constructed at 10400 South and 1300 West. It was a tall red brick building with four rooms on each level and a large staricase in the middle. 1907 saw construction of the white brick school at 10400 South and 1300 West.
In 1914 the Salt Lake Interurban was constructed which made it possible to travel to Salt Lake or as far south as Payson. It was an electric narrow-gauge line and was a huge success. It was nicknamed "the Red Heifer". A tiny yellow station called at first the "Gale Station" and later the "Redwood Station". That year also saw the first water system. It was a subscription service with the South Jordan Pipeline Company which meant that people who wanted to be connected paid a fee for installation and water. The pipes were made of long wooden strips and wrapped in thin steel cables. 1914 saw the advent of electricity in South Jordan, however, not everyone saw the immedaite benefits. The "Highline" Canal was completed in 1914 promising to change 12,000 acres (49 km2) of dry farms into irrigated farmland. But the amount of water was so small as it was a secondary canal and the pumps were too small to lift the amount of water required. 1914 also saw the completion of Jordan High School on State Street in Sandy. Students were taken to school in horse drawn 'busses'. 1918 brought the ravages of the Spanish Flu epidemic. In October 2,300 cases of influenza were diagnosed and 125 people died of it in Salt Lake County. The epidemic continued into November causing the election that year to be held out of doors in large tents. The County Commission ordered the wearing of gauze masks when shopping or doing business. Schools and churches were ordered closed and people avoided contact with individuals who were infected. The courageous women who nursed the sick going house to house despite the danger were an inspiration to many people at that time. The epidemic gradually subsided by the spring of 1919.
1920 saw the reconstruction of Redwood Road with a cement base. People were excited about the new "Macadam" road. The 1920s were very hard times for farmers. Prices for all fram products crashed in 1922 and remained low for the next twenty years. Families who had borrowed money to cultivate new acreage or boy farm equipment were unable to pay the loans and foreclosures haunted many families. The Jordan School district built a rectangular gymnasium next to the South Jordan elementary at the intersection of 10400 South and 1300 West in 1929. It was used by the school and the community until 2006 when it was torn down. The Depression hit South Jordan residents hard. There were bank runs and bank failures at the Sandy Bank and at the Jordan Valley Bank in Riverton where many people had their life savings. People helped each other as much as possible but families were forced off their farms when the banks foreclosed on outstanding loans. Bottling and canning came back into common use as people tried to store food they grew on the farms. Children wore hand-me-down clothing and shoes to save money. A severe drought in 1933 and 1934 put many farm families out of business. Many temperature records for hottest daytime temperatures were set in 1933 and have yet to be broken.
Now with TRAX and Daybreak, and a fresh water lake put in named LAKE OQUIRRH ('o-qirr') for small boats and fishing by Kennecott land, West Jordan is becoming the most popular destination for new home owners and builders in the State of Utah.