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Murray Journal

Remnants of Murray’s agricultural past quickly disappearing

Mar 02, 2018 03:07PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

A resident near the Costello farm is representative of a bygone era. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)

By Shaun Delliskave   |   [email protected]


Another slice of Murray’s bygone era of agricultural farms has been slated for residential development. Economic developers are operating in high gear as large swaths of Murray’s open space are slated for development. During the Feb. 20 Murray City Council meeting, approval was given for the Planning Commission’s recommendation to rezone the Costello farm at 1222 West Bullion from agricultural to low-density residential.

While no development plans have been formally announced for the property, many residents attended the planning meeting with concerns about future use, since it borders the Jordan River Parkway. The Jan. 4 planning commission meeting brought many out to comment on the disappearing open space. Lori Nickerson, who lives near the Costello farm, commented that “the land keeps developing, and the wildlife diminishing, and I’m saddened the open space is leaving.”

Indeed, many of Murray’s legacy farms are fading as long-term farming families, such as the Costellos, have moved or passed on, leaving their descendants with decisions on how to dispose of the property. As these farms are now islands among residential developments, the ability to run livestock or plow fields seems to generate more neighbor complaints than produce.

Recently, Murray was approached by several citizens about purchasing the former Di Sera farm in east Murray and possibly making it a park. The Di Seras were among a large group of Italian farmers who forsook the smelters and mines of early Murray and set up numerous farms along Vine Street, from Van Winkle Expressway to State Street. These immigrants from Roman Catholic Italy were one reason that St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church was established in Murray.

The remaining large farm plots in Murray, some with orchards left unattended due to the aging farmer population, became accidental nature preserves. Because many farms, like the Costello’s, bordered rivers, creeks, canals, and ditches, they became ideal stomping grounds for migrating birds. Charles Horton, who lives near the Costello farm, noted at the meeting, “This area can only be used for wetland use and I seek assurance that the new properties won’t consume all the wetland area.”

Today’s land use disagreements are comparatively different from when Murray was first incorporated. Murray was unique then, as it had a huge industrial core with several smelters surrounded by farmland. At times, this made for an uneasy relationship between to the two industries, and some Murray crops failed because of the smelter’s emissions. This resulted in a first-of-its-kind environmental lawsuit against the smelters, and the farmers were awarded damages. The tall former landmark smelter stacks of Murray were a direct result of the farmers forcing the rich mining interests to better disperse their smoke.

Farmland may also well be the victor as the last-man-standing, as the last smelter-era building was recently made a redevelopment zone. The Utah Ore Sampling Company mill, a blighted property, was approved by the City Council to be a reinvestment area.

On the other hand, Salt Lake County’s Wheeler Farm is as popular as ever, as residents are attracted to its open rangeland and historic farming structures preserved in a park-like setting. Both Wheeler Farm and Murray Park host popular farmer’s markets in the summer.

For the remaining Murray farmland, their use appears less to support agricultural livelihood and more recreation, such as equestrian pursuits. In their book about Murray titled “Sunset of the Farmer” Ethel Bradford and Beverly Wheeler Mastrium note, “Complete life-changes usually evolve slowly over the centuries, but there was nothing slow about this valley’s change, for within ten years it catapulted far beyond evolution.”