This Day in Jewish History / Jews Lay Roots in Utah

A century ago, not far from Salt Lake City, 12 Jewish settlers at the agricultural colony of Clarion, Utah, began to tackle the land.

On September 10, 1911, the first 12 settlers of the Jewish agricultural colony of Clarion, Utah, set down stakes at the site. This independent community, the initiative of a 26-year-old Ukraine-born immigrant named Benjamin Brown, was one of some 40 such farming settlements created in the United States between 1881 and 1915. The site of Clarion Colony, 6,000 acres situated some 220 km southwest of Salt Lake City, was chosen because of its location along the planned course of a state-sponsored irrigation canal, and the message purveyed by Brown drew both secular and Orthodox, and socialist, anarchist and Zionist Jews.

Relations with their Mormon neighbors were generally positive, as the veterans saw the arriving Jews as sharing common biblical ancestry, and viewed Utah as a “New Zion.” A year after its founding, the Yiddish-speaking colony had 150 families, and it was announced that another 50 planned to head to Utah from eastern United States to join them. Unfortunately, the canal’s construction was delayed and its design faulty, so that Clarion suffered from both flooding and a lack of water; it was also plagued by financial difficulties.

The heterogeneous character of the populace led to frequent disagreements about the character of life there, and within a year, the communal ownership of the colony had been replaced with the distribution of individual plots to each family. By 1916, unpaid debts had led to the cancellation by the state of the community’s title to the land, and the residents of Clarion began to make arrangements to resettle elsewhere. The last family departed in the late 1920s. Most moved to other parts of the U.S., not wanting to see their children intermarry with non-Jews, but Benjamin Brown remained in Utah, and later founded the Central Utah Poultry Exchange.