The cotton factory in Washington City is a clear reminder cotton was once a major industry in pioneer Dixie and the reason Brigham Young sent reluctant settlers to build homes and communities here in the southwestern-most corner of Utah. Those hearty early pioneers – many who were originally southerners from such home states as Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee – brought cotton seed with them to this then-remote locale and began raising cotton in 1857, despite facing trials such as heat, thirst, disease and the constant need for repair to irrigation dams. But while their crops thrived, the realities of transporting their heavy bales to northern Utah meant days – even weeks – away from their families, farms and church duties … and the cost, not just in time but in dollars and cents, was prohibitive. Within a short period of time, it became evident the solution and the only effective way to keep cotton growing lucrative, was to build a factory nearer to the crop.
Brother Brigham decided the best way to bring his plan to fruition was to dismantle underutilized woolen milling machinery near Salt Lake City and transport it by wagons to Washington City. Under the direction of Appleton Harmon, “the project was pursued with haste.” The first floor of the factory was completed within a year, despite many of the pioneers who were involved at the time in the construction of the St. George Tabernacle as well as constructing dams, clearing land and building homes for their families.
By 1868, the cotton factory was fully operational and within two years, a second floor was added using donated funds from the people who had plans to buy out Brigham Young, their benefactor. But at the end of the Civil War, cotton flooded the market so growing it in this part of the country no longer made sense. After 30 years, the cotton factory was closed in the spring of 1898.
For decades, the cotton factory sat unused and fell into disrepair until the mid-1980’s when Norma Cannizzaro adopted the property and made its restoration her personal crusade. In her enthusiasm, she invested a considerable sum in repairing the exterior and renovating the interior as an events center, but nearly a decade later she admitted she could no longer support the project.
Hyrum and Gail Smith purchased the grounds in 1993 with plans to create a historical village with the cotton factory as its centerpiece. But, they too, encountered difficulties, forcing them to put the factory back on the market.
In 1998, Star Nursery, a successful local business, purchased the cotton factory to house its second St. George location. Star Nursery adapted the main floor of the building for its garden shop but carefully preserved the building’s pioneer construction, leaving the exterior and upper floors of the factory unchanged. In support of the needs of the community, Star Nursery still makes the second floor available for public use and tours.
As vacationers here in southern Utah, it’s a sure bet you aren’t concerned about gardening, but a walk through the historic cotton factory is a must-do. Another “must do” is to register online today for your beautiful, comfortable and affordable home-away-from-home at St. George Resort Rentals at stgeorgeresortrentals.com or laspalmasresortcondos.com for Five Seasons Vacation condominiums. We look forward to seeing you.