History of West Valley (“E” Center)

Jami Balls

In the fall of 1848, not long after the Mormons settled Salt Lake Valley, Joseph Harker ventured west across the Jordan River. He established the first settlement on the west side of the valley and within a year seven other families joined him. The land was considered best suited for grazing since alkali and other mineral deposits tainted much of the land and it held no constantly flowing streams. However as acreage on the east side filled, more settlers trickled over to the west side. Some farmers settled far beyond the Jordan River, digging wells, piping water from scarce natural springs, or hauling the water from the river in barrels. In the 1870s, three major canals were built, but lack of drinking and irrigation water continued to discourage major settlement.

During the1890s a considerable population increase was seen, but conditions persisted to be arduous. The water flowing through the canals perpetuated salts and other minerals to leach to the surface, causing fields and orchards to perish. Some of the low-lying farms were flooded by runoff from saturated lands and created alkali lakes. Regardless of how strenuously farmers worked to modify farming techniques or drain the excess minerals, most had to work several jobs to sustain their families. For example, resident Willard Jones taught school, sold insurance, edited a newspaper, served as road supervisor, and worked as a copper mill mechanic in addition to farming.

Land speculators attempted to establish major permanent settlements, but to no avail. In 1889, the El Dorado subdivision housed eighteen families along with services such as a mercantile, post office, and school. However, only six years later the conditions proved too hard for the families and the development faced abandonment in 1895. In 1914, the Kimball & Richards Company launched the small town of Chesterfield near the 2100 South depot, but the project died with the recession of 1920. Another notable attempt surfaced during the Great Depression when 110 families purchased lots and built houses with the help of the County Welfare Department. Though this settlement didn’t fail, the conditions there were extremely destitute with most dwellings consisting of only two rooms and lacking both central heat and a bathtub.

Conditions improved with the boom following World War II. In 1952 the Salt Lake County Water Conservancy District was created and contracted to buy water from the newly built Deer Creek Reservoir. The area experienced a greater population growth in the next twelve months than it had in the previous one hundred years. Throughout the 1960s development progressed rapidly and indiscriminately. Subdivisions went up hastily without gutters, sidewalks, or landscaping. By the late 1970s, increasing problems with services instigated a move towards incorporation. On February 26, 1980, an incorporation vote passed by a mere ninety-vote margin and West Valley instantly became Utah’s third largest city by incorporating portions of Granger, Hunter, and Chesterfield.

Today, West Valley City is Utah’s second largest city, drawing not only new residents but also business and industry. In 1997 the E Center opened its doors. HOK, one of the world’s premiere arena architects, designed this state-of-the-art facility, which can be modified to accommodate audiences from 3,700 to 12,000.  The E Center is home to the International Hockey League’s Utah Grizzlies and will house some of the ice hockey events of the 2002 Olympics Games.

Sources: Patricia Lyn Scott, “West Valley City” Utah History Encyclopedia; Becky Bartholomew, History Blazer; The E Center Website.