Historic Fruita

Capitol Reef National Park protects areas with outstanding natural beauty and great recreational value, and also an area with important historical value. Few national parks in the Western US combine the splendor of nature with man's handiwork like Capitol Reef.

Fruita, the remnant of a 200-acre late frontier settlement, hugs the banks of the Fremont River and Sulphur Creek in what is now Capitol Reef National Park. Mormon pioneers recognized the site's potential as a settlement and so they established homesteads and planted orchards in the 1880s. Some of the historic buildings and fruit trees still stand. Although Fruita today represents only a small area in the park, the small valley, sheltered by soaring cliffs and domes, continues to enchant naturalists, historians and casual visitors alike.

The area is the gateway to the park's Scenic Drive, a century-old road that draws visitors to popular attractions in the heart of Capitol Reef.

In Capitol Reef, and other areas, you can't really understand the land without also considering the human history. The park Visitor Center and website offer guides to the Fruita area. Below we mention some of the notable attractions.

Fremont River

At the foot of rocky Johnson Mesa flows the Fremont River, key to life and agriculture in Fruita. Only a stream by Eastern standards, the Fremont River supplies water to thousands of historic trees.

A gravity-feed irrigation system flood-irrigates the park's historic orchards. Upstream to the left, a settling pond allows the often-muddy water to clear. From there, gravity moves water through a complicated network of pipes and ditches. The irrigation system remains essentially the same as that of a century ago.

Gifford Farm House

The pre-World War I house just south of the river was a family residence for more than half a century. Its frame and stucco construction was popular here. The home, known today as the Gifford House, is open to the public daily during the summer season.

Fruita One-Room Schoolhouse

This structure was built in 1896 by Fruita settlers. Refurnished and appearing much as it did about 1936, the schoolhouse saw its last class in 1941. The Historic Fruita Schoolhouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Tool Shed and Blacksmith Shop

The blacksmith shop was built about 1925; it's interior has been remolded and updated over the years.

Johnson Orchard

This orchard is located on the site of Nels Johnson's original homestead claim. The trees replanted here are antique varieties popular before World War I. The orchard has been planted with many different types of fruit and nut trees, and several varieties of each, as early pioneers would have done.

Fruita Mailbox Tree

Two enormous Fremont Cottonwood trees along the road are more than a century old. The tree nearest the road served as a sturdy living "post" for residents' mailboxes. The mail carrier made the difficult journey to Hanksville over the Blue Dugway, unpaved until 1962. Across the road stood the first permanent structure in Fruita, built by Nels Johnson. Now the site is a picnic area.

Many of the orchards, fields, and pastures in the Fruita Historic District are signed with family names. Land changed hands frequently here from 1880 until the early 1960s, when the National Park Service began acquiring private property in Fruita. The many names represent more than 75 years of private ownership; it is important to remember that only from 8 to 10 families lived here at any given time, even during Fruita's World War I period heyday.

To learn more about Fruita's historic landscape and the people who lived here, consider purchasing a copy of the booklet Red Rock Eden, available from the Capitol Reef Natural History Association.

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