Brief History of Oakley, Utah and the William Stevens Family
compiled by Lin Floyd



Early Settlement of Oakley, Utah

The area where Oakley, Utah (see photo above of Oakley in 1902 from Pat Cone) is now located in Summit County is along the river bottoms and lower foothills by the Weber River. It was first explored in 1850 by Parley P. Pratt who was sent there by Brigham Young to check out possibilities for future colonization. During the 1850's a few early settlers came, made pastures to raise hay and graze herds of cattle. Thomas Rhoades came to Oakley in 1853 and claimed a parcel of land for grazing his herd of cattle.(2) Photo on left of Oakley taken in 1903, from Stevens family CD made by Pat Cone.

The town was first called "Oak Creek" as the stream coming from the canyon ran through land covered with scrub oak brush. When application was made to the government for an official name it came back "Oakley". Thus the town was named Oakley about 1886-7. Oakley was near water and wood and offered some protection from the cold wind but it had a harsh climate. There were many challenges to just eek out a living. In 1867 the grasshoppers took almost all the crops and in 1868 most of the wheat was too badly shrunken by frost to be usable. (1)

The earliest settlers came with their cattle and lived temporarily the first winter in crude dwellings dug out of the banks of the Weber River called "dugouts" A description of an early dugout by Zilphia Franson: "It was made by digging a hole in the ground about 14'X14'. This was lined with logs, and willows were placed over the top. There was one door but no window, and to get inside one had to go down hill. A bunk bed was built on one side and in one end was a large fire place. The only light was a rag dipped in a dish of grease." Photos below were taken at Jarvis Park in Uintah County of an old dugout.

 The dugout is built into the side of a hill with a door and no windows  Inside is very dark with a room for sleeping and eating.  This dugout has two rooms, an outer one for storage and washing.

The Stevens Family Moves to Oakley

The first permanent settlers were William Stevens and his wife Emma Crowden. They moved to Oakley in 1868 and through their influence some of their grown children came in the early 1870's to make their homes here also. The William Stevens family built a four room house south and west of the first school house. Their home had two rooms upstairs and two rooms below in a basement which had a rock floor. Years later William Stevens moved to Brigham City and this home was left in charge of his son Percival whose sister Emelina Agusta Stevens Neel came and kept house.(1)

William Henry Stevens, the oldest son of William Stevens came in 1870 and took up a homestead where the old Stevens house how stands. He married Eliza Horton in 1870. Their first 4 children were born in Wanship but their fifth child William Ward Stevens was the first white child born in Oakley. The Stevens families really formed the nucleus of this little farming community.(1)

When Marion and Nancy Frazier moved to Oakley, some of the earlier families had left to put their children in school. Nancy was the only white woman in Oakley that winter. The only white man she saw except her husband was Percival Stevens as they lived in part of the Stevens home while they built their own home. She said that year was the longest and loneliest of her life.(1)

Elijah Horten, brother to Eliza Horten who married Wm. Henry Stevens-son of Wm. Stevens moved to Oakley in 1884 and lived in a log house across the street from them. Many people in the community found work (farming or stock raising) with W.H. Stevens. W.H. Stevens' brother Thomas Stevens and his wife Emma Wooley were married in 1884 and also lived in Oakley. (1)

Third Generations of the Stevens Family in Oakley

The W. H. Stevens house was built in 1885, the finest brick house in Oakley at that time (see photo on right), before he built it they lived in a small log house just south under the hill. Mr. W.H. Stevens and his wife Eliza raised a large family in this home. About 1907 or 1908 they moved to SLC and sold the place to George Stevens their son who lived there until 1919 when they sold it to Mark and Marie Peterson and moved to SLC. Later it was sold to Lee Stevens.(1)

Reed Stevens-one of Wm Henry Stevens' sons owned a home across the river directly south of the main part of town. This home was a big brick house owned by Ben Mitchell who sold it to Reed Stevens. It was later owned by the Lee Stevens family and then by Bill Stevens (Lee's son.) Bill built a new house on some of the property and had a big dairy herd and the largest dairy in Oakley as well as a creamery. (1)

George Geroy Stevens another son of Wm. Henry Stevens built a brick house across the road from Ben Mitchell. Later this house was sold to Rob Young. George and his brother Horace Stevens both built houses and lived in Oakley until they sold and moved to SLC. George's house has since been owned by Reed and Myrtle Stevens, Jode and Helen Phillips and then Wendell Wilds. The Horace Stevens home was sold to Alfred Stembridge and then to Emery and Bernice Wilde.

W.W. Hortin (related to Eliza Hortin who married W.H. Stevens) came to Oakley to work for Mr. Stevens in 1882. During the 10 years he worked for him, he built fences, cut poles, grubbed sages and willows, helped farm and worked in the (W.H. Stevens) grist mill. In 1893 he married Ella Malin, In 1894 they built across from Mr. Stevens' garden. Hortin house was later owned by their daughter Alice and her husband Alden Pitt. Elijah Hortin's home where his wife died, was replaced by a brick home and he raised his family there. Later he moved to SLC and sold the house to E.E. Hortin then to Paul Hortin.(1)

Thomas and Emma Stevens built a house later owned by their son Dean and his son DeLynn. All families at this time raised a big vegetable garden with a row of black and red currants on each side.(1)

Commerce and industries develop in Oakley

Several families chose to make their homes up Weber Canyon where there was lots of lumber to build with and fuel. They staked a claim and farmed what fertile land they could clear. The men were involved in log drives, floating huge logs down river to used for railroad ties and building and fuel. Two local railroad lines were building in 1880 which helped with this process. Numerous sawmills were located in nearby canyons. Mormon leader John Taylor built a sawmill in 1870 near the mouth of South Fork in Weber Canyon. In 1882 William Stevens built a sawmill and grist mill in Oakley with a millpond and millrace to furnish power. (See photo on left provided by Pat Cone.) A local brickmaking industry was begun by old Rasmussen and a blacksmith shop and dairy farm were all being used in 1880's.

Soon a number of stores were opened up in local homes. The first one was in the old Sampson House. Then W.H. Stevens had one in his house before he erected a little brick store. Elijah Hortin also had a two room store.(2)

Cattle ranches were the big business along the river valley. The town developed in a scattered and gradual way with homesteading throughout the valley. Thus a feeling of unity as a town was hard coming. In 1877 a heated discussion was held about where to hold the first school. They agreed to compromise and it was located halfway between Oakley and New Field. During the 1800's Oakley was part of the Peoa LDS Ward.(2)

Creameries were started in Oakley in 1900 and thrived because of the proximity of Salt Lake City, Ogden and Park City and also the branch of the Denver and Rio Grande railroad that ran from Snyderville to SLC and could deliver fresh milk, butter and cream quickly. The Oakley creamery was started by Wm. Henry Stevens. At first it ran on a part-time basis, making butter two or three days a week. But as business prospered, they added cheese making along with the butter. The Stevens family went on to open new creameries in SLC and Evanston Wyoming. (2)

Working at the dairy was demanding as William Ward Stevens described in this interview: "We started milking about 4:15 or 4:30 am After the cows were milked we would clean the barn and equipment, then feed the small calves their milk. We would then fed the cows their hay. After breakfast we would have the sheds to clean and the other livestock to feed. During the summer, some of us would go to the fields to put up the hay or take a stream of water to irrigate. We would start milking again about 4 pm. After the milking, we would have to feed the calves, and often after supper we would have some more irrigation to do or repair some of the machinery. One of the first things that I learned on the farm was that you never run out of work. (2)



(1) The Falling Leaves: a history of Oakley, Utah compiled by May Sorenson, 1964

(2) The History of Summit County by David Hampshire, Utah Sesquicentennial Project, 1997-98, p. 76-82, 263-264.

© 2003 Lin Floyd, to contact me for more information, sign my guest book on my Main page