Area: 603 square miles; population: 5,528 (in 1990); county seat: Morgan City; origin of county name: after LDS leader Jedediah Morgan Grant; principal cities/towns: Morgan City (2,023); economy: livestock, manufacturing; points of interest: East Canyon State Park, Lost Creek State Park, Mountain Green trappers’ confrontation site.
Located in a high valley of the Wasatch Mountains, Morgan County is divided by the Weber River. The many streams that feed into the Weber made the valley attractive to fur trappers in the 1820s and to prehistoric Plains Indians and historic Shoshone and Ute Indians. In 1825, near present Mountain Green, trappers of the British Hudson’s Bay Company under Peter Skene Ogden came dangerously close to fighting competing American trappers, but Ogden kept the situation from becoming a major international incident.
The county was created in 1862. During the Utah War (1857-58) settlers in the town of Milton supplied feed for the horses of Mormon troops stationed in canyon passes watching for Johnston’s Army. Lot Smith of Stoddard blocked Echo Canyon, burned U.S. Army supply trains, and stampeded government horses and cattle. Despite such incidents, the “war” was settled peacefully.
Morgan has more privately owned land than any other county in Utah. Much of it is used for stock raising–especially beef and dairy cattle and sheep–and for hay and other field crops. Lumber was a major industry from 1860 to 1875 in Hardscrabble Canyon. Thousands of railroad ties were furnished to build the Union Pacific Railroad line, and charcoal was shipped to Bingham for use in smelting. During the building of the railroad in 1868 a number of businesses opened in Morgan City, and it became the county’s trade center.
In 1904 the Morgan Canning Company was founded to can peas. The business grew and a second factory was built in Smithfield, Cache County. The company was sold to the California Packing Corporation in 1935. The manufacturing of Portland cement is a major local industry. This important industrial product has been produced at the Devil’s Slide plant for more than eighty years. In addition to limestone–the main ingredient in cement–silver, lead, copper, coal, iron, sulphur, and mica have been found in Morgan County, but most mining has been on a small scale. Agriculture, manufacturing, and trade do not provide enough jobs for county residents, and in recent years more than half of those employed–the largest percentage in any Utah county–have worked outside Morgan, mostly in the greater Ogden area.
The county has benefited from the Weber Basin Reclamation Project. Beginning in 1952 federal funds were used to construct dams and power plants. The Lost Creek and East Canyon reservoirs constructed as part of the project, are popular recreation sites for people throughout northern Utah.
Miriam B. Murphy