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Moab Historic Happenings September 2004

Historic Shafer Home
has stood for 120 years

by Jeff Richards

A building near 600 South and 400 East, now used by the Youth Garden Project and by the Grand County Historical Preservation Commission, is believed to be the oldest residential building still standing in Moab.

Known as the Shafer House or the Holyoak Farmstead, the building was originally built 120 years ago in 1884 by John Henry Shafer (1851-1931). According to a Grand County tax card, Shafer obtained a patent from the U.S. government on an 80-acre piece of property on Feb. 6, 1889, about five years after Shafer and his first wife, the former Mary Deliverance Forbush (1865-1889), built the house on it. Shafer had first settled the Moab area in the fall of 1878, and was married to Mary in October of 1881. Mary died May 14, 1889, five days after giving birth to the couple’s fourth child, a girl who died at birth. Several months later, on Nov. 9, 1889, Shafer then married his second wife, the former Sariah Eveline (Essie) Johnson (1872-1952), and they had three children together. Essie delivered many babies as a midwife to the community, and was also known for her “green thumb” as a gardener.


John Henry Shafer was born in Salt Lake City, the son of Mormon pioneer parents. During his youth, he helped pack supplies for Major John Wesley Powell’s expedition from the Virgin River. Before moving to Moab, he had also helped quarry granite for the construction of the Salt Lake LDS Temple. He also helped build grade for Utah’s first railroad, and hauled poles and supplies for the first telegraph line between Denver and Cheyenne. When Shafer first arrived in the Moab area in 1878 with other settlers (including Judge L.B. Bartlett and Fred Powell), they colonized an area south of Moab, near modern-day Spanish Valley, and a short-lived settlement called Plainsfield was established.

In March, 1880, the town of Moab received its name when the post office was established, a key stop on the mail route between Salina, Utah and Ouray, Colo. Moab’s city blocks were first platted around 1884, and the Shafer home was built just south of the platted area at about that time.

John Shafer also helped form and organize the local government, and served as a Grand County commissioner. In the early 1890s, he was named a school board trustee, and was instrumental in getting the first schoolhouse built in Moab, including lending the needed funds to the school board interest-free. In his 1931 obituary, he was referred to as the “Father of (Grand) County’s School System.”

The Shafer family resided in the home until 1891, when they deeded it to John Tangren (1859-1912) and his wife Ester Tangren (1859-1924). John, a native of Sweden, was a farmer and rancher who had moved to Moab in 1890. The Tangrens lived in this home until John’s death in 1912. Four years later, in 1916, the property was purchased from Ester Tangren by Dale Martin Parriott (1885-1958). Parriott, a native of Iowa, had moved to Utah in 1890 and to Moab in 1904. In 1914, he leased this land while he operated one of the first motor coach stage lines in the area. Two years later, he sold his interest in the stage line to Moab Garage Company and returned to farming. Parriott married Ruth Cartwright of Delta, Colorado in 1920. Several other people are listed on the title records as having owned, leased, or lived in the home during the following two decades. Owners of the home during that period include Mathias Martin (1919) and D.M. Perkins (1930).

In March 1941, the building and land were purchased by lifelong Moab resident Richard Leroy Holyoak (1898-1975) and his wife Sarah Victoria Schofield Holyoak (1897-1979). They lived in the home for over 30 years, and the property became widely known as the Holyoak Farmstead, the name by which many members of the community today remember it. Many of the Holyoaks’ descendants still reside in the Moab area, as do many descendants of the Shafers, Tangrens, Parriotts, and other inhabitants of the house.

Richard Holyoak (known as “Roy”) was well-known locally as a skilled outdoor guide and camp cook. A farmer and rancher, he had a knack for treating both people and animals who were sick. Sarah Holyoak, a native of Manassa, Colorado, taught school there briefly prior to marrying Richard in 1922. After moving to Moab, she served as president of the Relief Society for the local LDS ward, sang with the Singing Mothers group, and was a member of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. After the Holyoaks passed away, the home went unoccupied for many years, and its condition deteriorated.

In 1993, the property was purchased by Grand County School District for more than $400,000, with an additional $25,000 for water rights. The new Grand County High School was built just west of the home four years later, in 1997. On May 2, 2001, the John Henry Shafer House was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service.

The home itself is a one and a half story vernacular version of a Victorian Eclectic style building with a cross-wing plan. It was constructed from adobe brick with a stucco finish. It has a relatively steep cross-gable roof with open eaves. The roof originally had wood shingles, which were later covered with asphalt ones. Two brick chimneys extend from the ridge of the roof. The building features single-hung, two-over-two sash windows with simple details such as brick segmental relieving arches. The house’s outside entrances are all similar, having segmental arches and transoms. There were two major additions to the house, a kitchen (at the southeast corner) built in the 1920s, and a bathroom (in the east center portion) built in 1972. Both of these add-on portions were removed during the restoration project, which was completed in June of 2002 at a cost of $118,000. Although the interior of the building features modern amenities like air conditioning, the outward appearance is much the same as it was in 1884, with nearly all of the exterior adobe brick walls preserved intact.

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