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Pioneer Happenings January 2003

Moab City First Incorporated 100 Years Ago
by Jeff Richards

One hundred years ago, during a landmark two-day Grand County Board of Commissioners meeting held Dec. 29-30, 1902, the city of Moab, Utah (population 300) was officially incorporated. The event was announced with a two-word banner headline “MOAB INCORPORATED” on the front page of the Friday, Jan. 3, 1903 Grand Valley Times weekly newspaper, which later became known as The Times-Independent.

Beneath the headline were listed the names of the five councilmen who were appointed to serve as the trustees for the fledgling city until the first town election could be held. They were: V.P. Martin (a local merchant), Henry Grimm (a blacksmith whose name was spelled as ‘Grim’ in the headline and in various other places throughout the newspaper), D.A. Johnson, a local church bishop, Dr. J.W. Williams, the town’s first physician, and Harry Green (the board’s president), who had spearheaded the petition to incorporate the town.

For some time, the Grand Valley Times had been steadfastly campaigning in favor of the town’s incorporation, which came more than two decades after Moab was first named and settled by ranchers and miners (Moab had had a post office as early as 1880). One of the key issues for those in support of incorporation was that it would allow for the hiring of a town marshal “to bring public carousing to a halt.” Apparently, raucous (and often drunken) celebrations among cowboys and the like were commonplace, and many citizens were reportedly concerned for their own safety.

According to the Dec. 26, 1902 edition of the Times, a petition to incorporate the town had been circulated in late December by J.N. Corbin, who managed to get over 60 signatures in a short time. The petition was then reportedly given to Mrs. Harry Green “to be taken around to some of the women for their names.” Apparently, 90 signatures of registered voters were needed, and ultimately 120 names were collected.
“The town will undoubtedly be incorporated, as the petition is meeting with very little opposition,” the newspaper said with optimism three days before the historic meeting.

The county commissioners then met on Monday and Tuesday of the following week. The newspaper opined that the New Year was “an opportune time and the town will turn over a new leaf.” During the meeting, Corbin and Mr. and Mrs. Green then presented the list of signatures to the county commission, which then approved the petition at some unknown point during the two-day session ending Dec. 30, and Moab officially became incorporated.

Then, later in the week, on Friday, Jan. 3, 1903, the five-member Board of Trustees of the Town of Moab met for the first time and unanimously approved the first four laws to enter the town’s books:

• Ordinance No. 1 established the official seal of the Town of Moab as “a circle impress with the words, ‘Town of Moab, State of Utah, Seal.’”

• Ordinance No. 2 set the salaries of town officials as follows: the four trustees and the president of the board were each to receive $10 per year, payable in quarterly installments. The clerk was to receive $100 per year, and the treasurer $40 per year, also payable quarterly. And, the much-needed town marshal was to receive a whopping $50 per month, or $600 per year.

• Ordinance No. 3 set the bond rates for the town officers ($500 each for the clerk and marshal and $1,000 for the treasurer).

• Ordinance No. 4 established a schedule of fees for licenses for people and companies doing business within the town limits. Business activities specifically mentioned in the ordinance were “selling intoxicating liquors, general merchandise, stores, markets, and peddling and hawking.” The liquor license fee was the most expensive, at $400 per year. General business licenses were $10 per year, and peddlers had to pay $100 for an annual license. Professional entertainers were to be charged a $2 fee for each 24 hours they were in town.

One of the first key issues for the new town in 1903 was the construction of the Grand County Courthouse. Moab had just beaten out rival Castleton in a battle to remain the county seat. Thanks to its many mining camps and oil drilling operations throughout the La Sal Mountains and other areas, Grand County was the richest county per capita in Utah at the time, yet it was the only county in the state with a railroad but no courthouse building.

Grand County officials had been leasing for $900 per year an existing building to serve as the courthouse, but desperately wanted to construct a new building. However, the public had balked at the $10,000 price tag estimated by the architect. Then, the Times’ editor jumped into the fray. The week before the bond election, the newspaper made its final unabashed plea: “We let it to the public now to decide whether they will belong to the intelligent, progressive and up-to-date class, or the class of ignoramuses.” The bond passed 110-14.

At the abovementioned Dec. 29-30, 1902 meeting of the board of county commissioners, the site for the courthouse was debated, and the decision was made to put it up for bid. Soon afterward, a site was approved (125 E. Center Street, which is also where the present-day courthouse is located). Ground was broken later that year (in October, 1903). The original courthouse lasted until 1937, when a newer one (which still serves Grand County today) was then built at the same location.

“The people of Moab, as a still further evidence of the spirit that is now prevailing, have incorporated and start out the new year bent on improvements over the old,” a front-page Times editorial commented as it heralded the new year a century ago on Jan. 3, 1903 .


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