BY JENNY GOLDSBERRY
“One thing in Roy’s favor was that Indians left it alone; it was too barren for them to bother.”
Of all of Weber County, Roy was one of the last major settlements. The geography alone scared most people off. Here’s a description of what Roy looked like as recorded by Emma Russell’s book “Footprints of Roy:”
“[Roy is a] forbidden, forsaken piece of land without a name or settler. The acreage was mostly blowing sand covered with sandburrs [sic], prickly pears, rabbit brush, sage brush and bisquit [sic] root. It had its inhabitants, but they were not human. It provided a habitat for snakes, lizards, coyotes, and even a wolf or two, but worst of all, there was no water and no trees. One thing in its favor was that Indians left it alone; it was too barren for them to bother.”
In the beginning, much like their neighbors across Weber County had done before them, the settlers took up dryland farming. This was a tactic of growing crops resistant to droughts. The most successful crop in the beginning was wheat.
Roy’s first settlers, William Evans Baker, Justin Grover, Henry Fields, Edward Bell, Samuel Fowler, and Richard Jones raised livestock on their eighty acres of land. These acres were given to them by the Homestead Act of 1862. The U.S. government was encouraging citizens to move out of crowded cities and onto public lands to improve those areas. For these first families in Roy, they were tasked with uprooting sage brush and prickly pears, just to make room to build their homes.
William Baker was an immigrant from England who crossed the plains with the pioneers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He met his wife Esther Celestia Cole in Riverdale, Utah. She was fifteen years his junior. They had their first child, Diana, in Riverdale and moved to 6000 South and about 2700 West, where they had their second daughter, Julia, who was the first white child born in the city. At some time around 1874, William dug a well so that he and his neighbors could have their own water source. He had to line the hole with 40-gallon-sized barrels to keep the well from caving in on itself.
One of the easiest plants to grow at the time was the tomato. Anyone with a small home garden could grow their own, and so many did. In 1881, almost ten years after Roy saw its first settlers, a plan was made to dig a 16-mile canal across Roy. It would still take many years to finish, but once it was done, the Bakers finally had the resources to grow peaches, apples, strawberries, and potatoes.
Stevens Cannery, then known as the Jones Canning Company, was built in 1920, years after both William and Esther died. At first, it processed solely tomatoes, mirroring the time in Roy history when tomatoes were the only fruit settlers could grow. Eventually, the cannery processed all crops local farmers could grow. According to Dr. Katie Nelson of the Weber Heritage Foundation and also descendant of the Stevens family, in the 1960s, they even started canning Hawaiian punch until juice boxes took over the market. Just as Roy was the last major settlement, the Stevens Cannery was the last independently operating cannery in the county. Do you recognize any of the names above?
Do you have more stories to tell about them? We want to hear from you! Call Jenny Goldsberry at 801-624-9652.