A couple of years ago I was driving from Ogden to the small town of Spring City, Utah to pick up a puppy. After passing through Spanish Fork Canyon, and taking a right onto US-89, I drove around a curve and saw the strangest sight. On the side of the road was a decaying house, mostly submerged in water, and partially hidden by tall grass. It’s not an easy area to stop in, and I was in a hurry to pick up my pup, so I was not able to stop that day and explore the area. It wasn’t until I recently found myself back in the area that I realized the submerged house was one of the few remaining hints of the town of Thistle, Utah
While a few people began to settle in Thistle as far back as the late 1840’s, it wasn’t until it became an important railroad junction around 1890 that town began to grow. By 1920, 417 people were living in Thistle, and the town boasted a large depot and roundhouse, stores, a saloon, a post office, and a schoolhouse.1)http://www.uen.org/utah_history_encyclopedia/t/THISTLE.html
As rail travel became less popular the town’s population slowly dwindled and by the early 1970’s the depot was moved to a nearby town and converted into a house, various shops and the post office were demolished. By 1983, only 50 families remained in Thistle.
So what caused those few remaining families to leave town and why is there an old house mostly submerged in water? The answer is a massive landslide that occurred in April of 1983.
Heavy rains and fast melting snowpack were too much for the nearby mountain to handle. Authorities were aware that this area was prone to slides and knew that it was a possibility, but it doesn’t appear anyone expected such a massive slide to happen so quickly, or to be so devastating.
By the 15th of April, 1983 the highway and the railroad tracks had become buckled and unusable. So much mud had made its way down the mountain it eventually created an enormous earthen dam that blocked the Spanish Fork River. While the Utah Department of Transportation worked feverishly to try and siphon and divert the water to save the railroad (and Thistle), it was to no avail. By Sunday, April 17th, Thistle and the surrounding area was completely flooded. People had barely enough time to get what few things they could carry and leave the area. They never returned.
When all was said and done the landslide measured 1,000 feet wide, 200 feet thick, and a mile long. To this day, it remains Utah’s largest and most costly landslide and was also Utah’s first presidential disaster declaration.
All that remains of the town are a few foundations and ruins of buildings that are unrecognizable compared to before the flood. The ruins of the Thistle School have not handled time or vandals well and are reduced to not much more than a pile of rubble.
It seems the house in the water has held up better than the other structures and serves as a strange reminder of the town and people who called Thistle home.
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