Area: 4,439 square miles; population: 10,332; county seat: Castle Dale; origin of county name: after territorial governor George W. Emery; principal cities/towns: Huntington (1,875), Castle Dale (1,704), Ferron (1,606), Orangeville (1,459), Green River (866) economy: electric power generating, coal mining, livestock; points of interest: Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, The Green River, Green River State Park, Goblin Valley State Park, Huntington State Park, San Rafael Swell, Joes Valley Reservoir, Emery County Museum in Castle Dale.
Emery County in southeastern Utah is bordered on the north by Carbon County (which was created from Emery in l894), on the west by the Wasatch Plateau and the original settlements in Sanpete and Sevier counties from which most Emery County settlers came, on the south by the remote artificial boundary with Wayne County, and on the east by the Green River–the natural boundary with Grand County (which was created from Emery county in l890). Emery County includes three geographical areas: the mountains of the Wasatch Plateau; Castle Valley, where the major settlements are located; and the desert of the San Rafael Swell, the San Rafael Reef, Cedar Mountain, and the remote stretches of land west of the Green River.
The San Rafael River, the life blood of the county, originates in the Wasatch Plateau where the headwaters are stored in several reservoirs for agricultural and industrial use. It flows into Castle Valley in three branches–Huntington Creek, Cottonwood Creek, and Ferron Creek–which unite to form the San Rafael River after they pass the communities and adjacent farm land. It then twists its way through the rock and desert to its junction with the Green River.
Occupation of the San Rafael region dates back thousands of years to include people of the Desert Archaic Culture who were followed by those of the Fremont Culture who inhabited present-day Emery County from about A.D. 500 to about A.D. l300. Evidence of these people can still be found in numerous pictograph and petroglyph panels, such as those in Temple Mountain Wash, Muddy Creek, Ferron Box, Black Dragon Canyon, and Buckhorn Wash-all sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In historic times Ute Indians occupied sites in Castle Valley, and travelers along the Old Spanish trail also passed through the present county.
In l875 livestock growers from Sanpete County brought cattle and sheep into Castle Valley to graze, and several recognized the settlement potential of the region. With a shortage of sufficient land and water in Sanpete County and a strong desire by Mormon church leaders to acquire unoccupied land in the region before non-Mormons did, young families began moving into Castle Valley in the fall of l877 to take up homesteads in what would become the settlements of Huntington, Ferron, Castle Dale, and Orangeville.
Although livestock and farming remained the mainstay of the county’s economy throughout most of its history, two related events affected the region’s economic stability: the completion of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad through Emery County in l883, and the development of the coal mines at Scofield, Castle Gate, and Sunnyside in Carbon County by l895. The railroad provided transportation for produce and livestock, while the mines provided a nearby market for animals and vegetables and an opportunity for some Emery residents to work in the mines during the winter and farm during the summer. The D&RG also led to the establishment of the town of Green River, although the site had been an important part of the Old Spanish Trail and a mail station had been established there before completion of the railroad. During the l970s Emery County’s population grew significantly because of the construction by Utah Power and Light Company of large power plants in Castle Dale and Huntington and the opening of large coal mines to fuel the power plants.
Allan Kent Powell