Hyrum dam historic

Townspeople gather to celebrate the opening of Hyrum Dam in 1934.

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Editor’s Note: This article is reproduced from The Beehive Archive, an ongoing series of historic essays collected by Utah Humanities. Today’s installment was prepared by the Hyrum Museum.

What is it about a body of water that brings people together? An infrastructure project on the Little Bear River helped the Cache Valley community of Hyrum to flourish — in more ways than one.

Flowing through an area of Hyrum called Paradise Hollow in southern Cache Valley, the Little Bear River not only provided essential irrigation water to early farmers, but its hydraulic power also operated a sawmill, electric light plant, cheese factory, and slaughterhouse by the early 20th century.

Such facilities made Hyrum one of the most modern towns in Cache Valley. In 1918, however, water shortages prompted residents to work with the federal government to sacrifice the industrial and agricultural opportunities of Paradise Hollow to construct a dam and fill the area with the waters of the Little Bear. Although originally built for the simple purpose of storing water, the Hyrum Dam — and the reservoir it created — grew to be a major part of community life.

Residents formed the South Cache Water Users Association and sold enough water shares by 1934 to build the Hyrum Dam. A joint effort between the association, the federal Works Progress Administration, and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the project provided much needed jobs for residents still suffering the effects of the Great Depression. Its construction required 43,000 dump-truck-loads of cement, with the completed dam stretching 540 feet long, 600 feet wide, and 100 feet high — that’s about two football fields long and two across!

Over time, residents viewed the dam and reservoir less as an agricultural project, and more as a recreational asset to the community. The flow of the water created a natural beach for launching boats or taking a dip. Local residents worked with the city, Chamber of Commerce, and Lions Club to flatten the beach and get rid of sudden drop-offs to make the water safer for swimming, fishing, boating, ice skating, and lakeside picnics.

Hyrum City also held local celebrations at the dam, including professional boat races, water carnivals, and 4th-of-July festivities. People from all over Cache Valley came to watch the fireworks flash and sparkle over the water.

Beyond its practical purpose, the Hyrum Dam became an essential part of the community and was protected as a State Park in 1959. Like many Utah reservoirs, it shows how a utilitarian project can become a recreation hot-spot and an important place for community gathering.

Image: Hyrum Dam Celebration, 1934. The Hyrum Dam started as a federal project in the 1930s, but by the 1950s was a core part of the community as a recreation and pleasure spot. After it was designated as a state park in 1959, yearly visitation steadily increased from about 7,000 visitors per year in 1966 to around 150,000 today. Image courtesy Utah State Historical Society.

The Beehive Archive is a production of Utah Humanities. Find sources and the whole collection of past episodes at www.utahhumanities.org/stories.

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