Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Morgan Farm of Nibley, Utah

The original lean-to barn, octagonal silo, barn addition, Morgan home, and out-buildings still stand on the property.
Starting from scratch in 1903, Ernest Morgan with his new family, established a farm at 2800 South 800 West in what is now Nibley, Utah. The farm began while the family lived out of a tent on the property, until the first room could be raised. Eventually the land was cleared, a home built, and the farm begun. When first establishing the farm, Ernest was not willing to go into debt for the construction of a barn, and began by building a lean-to that would eventually become the east side of his barn.

While operating the farm in 1909, and raising his young family, Ernest developed appendicitis, and was rushed to Salt Lake City for an operation. It was touch-and-go for quite some time, and appeared in all likelihood he would not survive. Under this trying circumstance Elizabeth gave birth to the couple’s first daughter, my wife's grandmother, Zelda Josephine Morgan, on April 19th. Ernest recovered, and resumed his work on the farm.

Besides running a dairy, the Morgans raised beets, onions, potatoes, cabbages, hay and grain. The farm supplied all the little local grocery stores with onions, cabbage and potatoes for years. In time, Ernest became known throughout the Valley as an agricultural leader and a progressive farmer. In an interview at his childhood farm, Austin Morgan said of his father’s standards, “they’d put it in the paper once in a while—‘The Morgan farm—You’ll never see a weed!’ If dad seen two or three weeds and that, why he’d make us go all over the potato patch and get them… We had to take two rows at a time, down the full length and back, to get maybe a handful of weeds.” Ernest operated the first large potato cellar, was secretary of the Clear Creek Irrigation Company, was a past President of the Nibley Farm Bureau Federation, and served as a Cache County road supervisor in the south district.

Around 1919, or possibly earlier, as the farm became progressively more productive, an eight-sided wooden silo was completed on the northwest end of the lean-to barn. The silo was unusual because of its wooden construction using 2X4’s stacked on their sides. It was built entirely from the inside and up with no sealant on the wood. It is speculated that juices from the fermenting corn stored inside leached into the lumber and seal the seams.

Between 1924-26, during a time of economic hardship, the owner of Anderson Lumber approached Ernest and offered to finance the finishing of the main bay of the barn. Isaac Smith was hired as the builder. The barn has an English aspect to it with its simple rectangular shape and side drive doors. When it was first built, the barn was a small lean-to. The wall that now faces the inside of the barn is has a trough on opposite side. Instead of solid plank walls, this wall has slots that are designed for the cattle to slip their heads through. Each slot, or stanch, is made up of two boards: one that is anchored and the second that hinges on a bolt. This single, rough-cut board is the hinged upright that locks them into place. The handmade features of this barn make it one of the valley’s most outstanding historical buildings. It was designed entirely with the requirements of manual labor in mind. A system for the removal of waste in the manger is basic — a window on the east provided the exit for hand shoveled manure. 

Loose hay was brought into the barn from large sliding doors on the west side. Three doors allowed the first, second, and third crops of hay to be put inside as they were harvested. Hay grows quickly and needs to be harvested a few times a season. To harvest the hay a cutter would cut the tall, leafy blades and leave them lying in the field allowing the hay to cure. Then two men working with pitchforks would walk side by side and fold the hay into rows and then back again making piles. Finally a wagon would be driven between the rows and those same men would stab long pitchforks into the hay and toss it over their heads. The wagon would then pull up to the side of the barn and a pulley would slide out on a track and lower a hinged device with interlocking curved hooks (Jackson Fork), it is almost like salad tongs, and the fork would grasps the hay and pull it up out of the wagon.[1]

It would then slide the fork with the hay along a track that runs along the roof of the barn. A man inside would pull a small trip rope and the fork would open and dump the hay in a pile in the center of the barn. After having spread out this hay the cycle would continue until the hay reach almost two storied completely filling the large room. Most of the barn was devoted to storage for the hay with only a small coral for calves and the area that was once a lean to for the milking.

Ernest was always heard to say, “Nothing is nicer than a full barn and a full cellar with row upon row of bottled fruit, cured hams and bacon, honey and molasses, potatoes, carrots, apples, etc.”[2] When the hogs reached the right size, fires were stoked, water boiled, and after scalding, and skinning the pigs, the butchering would begin. The family would put up their own hams, bacon, and sausage. Though considered foul in today’s climate, the kids thrilled at the slaughtering season, not for the blood of the scene, but for the opportunity to “have the bladder to blow up into a balloon to kick about.”[3] They marveled too that “death had been transformed into food for the family.”[4]

Christmas on the farm was a special time for the Morgans. Ernest and Elizabeth would give each of the children a dollar, from which they were to purchase presents for all eleven members of the family. Chickens were picked, singed, plucked, and cleaned. Dressing was made, and apple and mincemeat pies lined the shelves. Large sleigh bells, heard in the distance, ushered the children off to bed in preparation for Santa’s arrival. At 5 a.m., the children would scramble through the dark house feeling for their stockings, which had previously been hung on chairs.

Ernest and Elizabeth made their way downstairs, and in great acts of astonishment, which filled each child with considerable joy, appeared beside themselves as to the previous night’s events which now brought presents to their home. The girls would often find fine dolls with china heads, wooden cribs, skates, new shoes, and best of all books.

Ernest and Elizabeth ensured there was always food on the table and in the pantry. Clothes and some of the finer things may have been lacking as the children grew, but food was never in want. Breakfast was always served on the large wooden kitchen table, covered with a white damask tablecloth. Plates of bacon, ham, sausage, headcheese, eggs, cereal, cracked wheat, and corn meal covered the table, mixed with biscuits, corn bread, fresh wheat bread, honey, syrup and molasses.

Ernest Morgan operated the farm until 1937 when son Elwood took over the operation. Elwood managed the farm until 1981 when Dee Gibbons purchased the property. He operated it until 2007 when it was purchased by the City of Nibley, designated as open space and given an historical landmark status. The barn has been a prominent fixture in the history of Cache Valley, and appears in RV guides, books, and photo-journals.

Today, Ernest Morgan's one hundred year old barn hosts the annual Cache Valley Live Nativity each December.


The former milking parlor is transformed into a Bethlehem stable, complete with sheep, braying donkeys, and a camel. A shepherd's hut and goats fill the adjacent pasture, while the soft glow of light leads visitors into a reverent corner of the barn where wise men, shepherds, Mary, and Joseph gather around baby Jesus. With the live nativity integrated with the century-old history of the barn, "It almost feels like a holy place."[5]


[1] Moving loose hay from a wagon required the use of a sling or Jackson fork (below) attached by cable or rope to the boom. A Jackson Fork's wooden frame has four metal tines. When the fork was closed the tines were pushed into the loose hay and the frame clamped down. Once secured, a harnessed horse was walked a set distance away, pulling the cable through a system of pulleys on the derrick frame. The derrick arm would be swung, and then by tripping the dump rope the fork released to dump the hay. 

[2] Zelda Morgan Eliason. Personal History.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] The Herald Journal,. 2014. 'Live Nativity At Nibley Farm Draws Visitors To ‘Bethlehem’'. Accessed December 16 2014. http://news.hjnews.com/allaccess/live-nativity-at-nibley-farm-draws-visitors-to-bethlehem/article_0fc84840-643d-11e3-bb77-0019bb2963f4.html.

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