Adapted from Linda King Newell and Vivian Lindford Talbot, A History of Garfield County. Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, 1998; “Ruby’s dream? Creation of Bryce Canyon City elicits cheers and jeers.” Deseret News. Accessed April 11, 2020; “In Utah, a ‘Company Town’ Means Just That.” New York Times. . Accessed April 11, 2020; “Bryce Canyon City.” Accessed April 11, 2020
Bryce Canyon City was only incorporated as a town in 2007. Its incorporation was surrounded by a great deal of criticism and controversy. The town has a much older history, one that was largely shaped by Reuben “Ruby” and Clara “Minnie” Syrett. The couple left Panguitch in the 1910s to homestead near Bryce Canyon, a move which many locals thought foolish as that area was desolate. A rancher from Tropic, Claude Sudweeks, mentioned to the Syretts that they ought to take a trip to see Bryce Canyon.
The Syretts followed Sudweeks’s advice and, upon arriving at Bryce Canyon, were stunned by what they saw, and began to invite their friends to come see the canyon. In 1919, a group from Salt Lake City came to see Bryce Canyon, and the Syretts set up a camp for the visitors near Sunset Point.
This was the beginning of the Syretts’ long involvement in the tourist industry. In 1920, they set up a locale known as Tourist’s Rest, which consisted initially of several tent houses for tourists, and later a log lodge, several cabins, and a dance platform. Tourist’s Rest was short lived, as the Union Pacific Railroad bought the land from the Syretts in September of 1923, and the Syretts went back to their ranch.
As friends continued to visit the Syretts at their ranch, Ruby decided to make their stays more comfortable. He convinced the engineers working on finding the best route to Bryce Canyon that the best route was through his ranch. He then began construction on Ruby’s Inn there. The inn prospered, burned down in 1984, and was rebuilt to the tune of $1.3 million dollars. Even today, Ruby’s Inn is the largest employer in Garfield County. In the 1990s, Ruby’s Inn hosted 369 rooms and 200 campsites.
Ruby’s Inn became Bryce Canyon City through a controversial law, HB466. The law (now modified) required counties to grant incorporation of unincorporated settlements of between one hundred and one thousand residents, if 50% of the landowners and residents favored incorporating. Rod Syrett at Ruby’s Inn was able to prove that there were 138 permanent residents in Ruby’s Inn, including 73 family members. The rest were employed by Ruby’s Inn. The area petitioned for incorporation.
Garfield county understandably balked at the incorporation request, as it meant that the county would lose a significant tax source from sales tax at Ruby’s Inn (about $300,000 annually), and have to fund services in Ruby’s Inn. Under the law, however, they were forced to grant the incorporation.
Today, Bryce Canyon City’s population is still under 200, but on any given day the town may host more visitors than the total number of permanent residents in Garfield county. The town has 694 rooms for visitors, as well as a number of restaurants, campgrounds and services.