From Farm to City Center: THE HOLBROOKS

TOP L-R: Sherman, Joseph, Joseph Ellis “Buck”
BOTTOM L-R: Alice, Nora, Rubie, Elma
Photo from Family Search


“I’ve lived here all my 79 years. I’ve never wanted to move away.”

Joseph Jones Holbrook purchased the farm that would become the center of Syracuse in 1891.

“I don’t know why he bought it,” Lanny Holbrook, his great-grandson admits. “It just sat there for a while.”

The Holbrooks had been living in Bountiful, Utah until that point. This forty-acre farm was at approximately 2000 West and 1700 South. Today, it’s the land where the city museum, police station, library, and town hall are built.

When Joseph Jones’ son, Joseph Holbrook, married Alice Cook in 1908, he and his new bride moved to Syracuse. They moved into his father’s home on 105 North and 100 East. It wasn’t until September 1950 that the city began to be organized. City meetings were held in the Holbrook home. The ‘younger Joseph’ wasn’t any more of a farmer than his father was. Instead, he was Sheriff of Davis County for fifteen years.

The Syracuse Museum, built on the land of the Holbrook’s farm

During World War II, it was up to Sheriff Holbrook to observe and report the goings-on of Japanese families who also lived in the farming community. Thirty to forty families lived on “Barn’s Block” which was around 320 acres of farmland. Many Japanese people throughout Utah were forcefully moved to the Topaz internment camp, near Delta, Utah because they were thought to be enemies. When it came to those living on Barn’s Block, Sheriff Holbrook found them to be loyal people. He sent back positive reports that allowed the families to stay in their homes.

He and Alice had five children together: Alice, Sherman, Elma, Nora and Joseph Ellis, or “Buck” as he was known. All five got a share of the farmland. However, when Buck was young, he had an accident that prevented him from continuing school. He dropped out of school when he was very young, and his father gave him a slightly larger share of the farm to take care of. Buck farmed all his life. On his land he grew sugar beets, tomatoes, peas, wheat, barley, and corn. They also had dairy and beef cattle.

One night, at a church dance Buck met Mildred Burton. She was a first grade teacher. At that time, there were only six teachers in all of Syracuse. They married, and after the marriage, she took a break to raise their four children, Val, Larry, Lanny, and Janet. When the kids were more grown, she began teaching again. She went on to teach over 700 children in thirty years.

Lanny remembers helping on the farm as early as fourth grade. He would wake up at six in the morning to help milk cows; sometimes he was late to class. “In those days, they understood that you might’ve had a problem with the cows,” Lanny said.

The first city hall building was built in 1953 on the Holbrook’s farm property

Rabbit drives were a tradition for the farming community, because rabbits were a real nuisance. The whole town would split up into two teams to compete with each other to see which team could kill the most rabbits. Losers bought the winners an oyster dinner. One year, Wayne Burton, Mildred’s brother, had asked Buck for a rabbit to perform taxidermy on. Buck dumped 150 to 200 rabbits on his lawn following a rabbit drive.

“Didn’t go over too well with his wife,” Lanny said. “She’ll never forgive him that big mess on their front lawn. But my dad said he didn’t know which rabbit [Wayne] wanted.”

Buck’s siblings moved away and sold off their shares of the farm little by little to the city, and it became the city center. Buck himself retired and took up golfing. Lanny followed in his father’s footsteps and bought his own farm. He sold the farm in 2002, without a single rabbit problem. He’s been a fixture for a number of years.

“I’ve lived here all my 79 years,” Lanny said. “I’ve never wanted to move away.”

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