Ranger Kathryn's Arches

August 29, 2010

Ghost town of Sego, UT

Could this have been the company store?

I could almost hear the clank of train car couplings in this deserted canyon. Old trestles from the early 20th century, heavy with their massive lumber legs and horizontal supports, stood in various states of washed-out-ness along the creek bed. Scrap metal lay in odd places, rusting silently. Dollops of blackened ancient coal were draped on ridges, giving a tough and dirty feeling to the site.

Almost a Bonnie-&-Clyde shot

A good-sized collapsed wooden structure invited guesses about its original use — hotel? boarding house? brothel? Rusted-out automobiles riddled with bullet holes taunted my imagination.

Sturdy rock buildings scattered about the area for a couple miles — dwellings with fireplaces and even rude bedframes built into them — helped me connect with residents from a hundred years ago as I photographed a large rock-and-mud oven outside and wondered what they had roasted. Throughout this area, cattle were grazing and mooing as I walked and pondered. Cowpies paved the landscape of old Sego Town.

All that remains is the shell of this once-fine building

The biggest mystery was a HUGE sandstone block building that looked for all practical purposes like a former community center or church or civic building. For a town whose population peaked in the 1920 census at 198 persons, it was entirely out of proportion. In contrast to the lower levels, its topmost tiers of stone were so expertly dressed, so beautifully laid, that it made me wonder if a skilled stonemason had moved to town most of the way through the project. Massive openings on the front suggested a grand entrance. An ancient boiler sat forlornly encased in the crawlspace mud. What could this have been???

Humble abode near a spring and towering cottonwoods

I went to our little Arches National Park reference library and found A History of Grand County, by Richard Firmage. The notations about Sego read like a soap opera. The various mining companies that had coal and manganese claims in the area were not financially sound, and left their workers holding empty promises for five months’ back wages. Employees were forced to buy from a company store, whose prices were double those of the general store in Thompson, six miles south. They were fired if they complained, and no other jobs were available in the area. Even the company doctor quit over the utter mismanagement and heavy-handed control.

This grave is fortunate to be marked with whitewashed rocks. No inscriptions, no names, no dates.

The town eventually died in the 1950s. Some houses were moved to Moab — to aid in the housing shortage caused by the uranium boom. A small untended graveyard with barbed-wire fence and unmarked headstones hides mute histories of past inhabitants.

I still wonder about this beautiful stone building. I hear that one of our employees who works in the entrance booth lived in Sego as a small child; I need to interview her. There are stories — colorful, emotion-laden stories — waiting to be told.

==============

Addendum: my supervisor found further details and photos at this site. Check it out for more back-story. http://www.legendsofamerica.com/ut-segocanyon2.html

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7 Comments »

  1. Sounds like you could write some good historical fiction about this town. Wonder about the name and its connection to Utah’s state flower.

    Comment by Ed Oak — August 29, 2010 @ 9:48 am | Reply

    • The town was originally named Ballard, after a mine owner, and then changed to Neslen, another mine man. After yet another turnover, the new mine superintendent’s wife saw “SEGO” as a brand of condensed milk on the grocery shelf, and thought it was a good name for the town. Since it was also the Utah state flower, it seemed a good fit and it stuck.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — August 29, 2010 @ 1:22 pm | Reply

  2. needs to be confirmed but http://www.legendsofamerica.com/ut-segocanyon2.html refers to it as the American Fuel Company Store

    Comment by lee — August 29, 2010 @ 8:17 pm | Reply

    • Lee: this is the best info I’ve yet read in all my research attempts. It gives fascinating details that break my heart, as well as photos that confirm my “boarding house” guess and company store guess. A thousand thanks.

      Comment by kath56ryn — August 30, 2010 @ 7:20 am | Reply

  3. Is it better to have left our footprints on the sands of time (where the tide is always coming in) or to have piled quarried stones against the elements – or passed invisibly across the strata of life? One way or the other, transience is the name of the game . . .

    Comment by leroque — August 31, 2010 @ 7:13 am | Reply

  4. Hi! I am fascinated with your history on the ghost town of Sego. My grandfather and grandmother lived in Sego for a few years. Their oldest 4 children were born there. They came to the states in 1909 from Austria/Italy. My grandfather worked in the mines/railroads while my grandmother cooked food for the miners. They moved there in 1909 and left for St Louis in 1922. Their third child, a girl, was buried there. She would have been around 8 to 16 mos old. I cannot remember. Only, my mom kept saying that the town no longer exists.

    We plan to visit Moab this summer, the week of June 12-19.

    Comment by Joanne Simpson — February 28, 2011 @ 8:22 pm | Reply

    • Thanks for writing, Joanne! What wonderful information you add! Everything you write corroborates the info I dug up — dates, nationalities, even the little cemetery nearby in which that infant may be buried. (Headstones, where even present, don’t have names on them — could be difficult to find.) I love it when pieces fit together like this! It is a most colorful and tragic story, when all the parts are brought together. Look me up when you come to Arches — ask at the Visitor Center desk if I’m around. Would love to chat with you! Or email me for more info — kath56ryn@gmail.com

      Comment by kath56ryn — February 28, 2011 @ 9:29 pm | Reply


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