Hurricane History and Information
Visitors traveling through Hurricane might wonder why a town in southern Utah shares its name with a tropical cyclone – a type of storm that never has and never will make “landfall” in the inland desert. The curious name dates back to the early 1860s, when a whirlwind blew off the top of a buggy carrying a group of surveyors led by Mormon leader Erastus Snow. “Well, that was a Hurricane,” exclaimed Snow. “We’ll name this the Hurricane Hill.” The nearby fault, mesa, and, later on, the town, took the same moniker. How residents say the name might catch many off guard. Locals pronounce it “Her-ah-kun,” which is the British pronunciation. Coincidentally, a town in West Virginia shares the same name and pronunciation. True to its name, the town has a reputation for being windy and slightly colder than St. George.
Hurricane’s first residents, the Paiute Indians, called the area Timpoweap, meaning “Rock Canyon.” In 1776, the Dominguez and Escalante expedition passed through the region, stopping at the confluence of Ash Creek, LaVerkin Creek and the Virgin River and noting the signs of irrigation left by the Paiutes. Some speculate that mountain men such as Jedediah Smith and George C. Yount also passed through the area. A group led by Mormon Apostle Parley P. Pratt in 1849-50 and another exploring party led by John Steele in 1852 came through Hurricane, both using the river junction as a landmark and a crossing point.
Compared to other communities in Washington County, Hurricane arrived late on the scene. Mormon settlers realized the potential of Hurricane’s 2,000 fertile acres as early as 1867, when the idea to build irrigation system was born. Unfortunately, they had to delay the project until there was enough funding, equipment and engineering capability to complete it. In 1893, James Jepson of Virgin and John Steele of Toquerville, came up with a way to get water onto the Hurricane Bench from the Virgin River – by building a dam 7.5 miles upriver from what is now known as Pah Tempe Hot Springs and diverting the water into a canal. Soon after, 53 area men signed the articles of incorporation for the Hurricane Canal Company. Work on the project commenced the following winter. Problems plagued construction from the beginning, including having to rebuild the dam twice and a shortage of capital. Thankfully, the LDS Church stepped in and purchased $5,000 worth of shares, allowing the work to continue. Canal construction took 11 years to complete, due to the rudimentary nature of the labor, which was done with picks, shovels, wheelbarrows and hand-driven drills, and because the work took place largely during the winter months to enable laborers to work their farms and support their families. Finally, on August 6, 1904, water flowed through the canal for the first time, to the jubilation of area residents.
The canal paved the way for the establishment of the town. Settled in 1906, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Hinton became Hurricane’s first residents. True to what the pioneers thought in 1867, once irrigated, Hurricane’s 2,000 acres became excellent farmland, producing fine orchards and vineyards, as well as fields of alfalfa, grain, and sugar beets. It later earned the nickname “The Fruit Basket of Southern Utah.” In 1917, the town’s population was approximately 800 and by 1930, it grew to 1,197.
Today, Hurricane boasts a population of nearly 11,000 and continues to grow at a rapid pace with new residents attracted by the area’s pleasant climate, favorable economy, and close proximity to recreation havens such as Zion National Park, Lake Powell and Grand Canyon National Park. Located 18 miles east of St. George, Hurricane also lies within minutes of Quail Creek and Sand Hollow reservoirs, popular spots for boating, water skiing and fishing. The city hosts Peach Days each Labor Day Weekend, which commemorates its fruit-growing heritage. The festival includes a parade, agricultural displays, live entertainment, food and craft vendors, a variety of contests, and children’s games, among other activities. Hurricane exudes extreme civic pride, which has produced the Heritage Park and Pioneer Museum, housed in the former library, in the center of town. The museum recounts the history of the town’s settlers and the construction of the canal. Though no longer in use, a trail along part of its former route and the museum’s exhibits preserve the canal’s memory, a testament to the ingenuity, determination and longsuffering of Hurricane’s pioneers.