The Hooper Canal

An old photo from the 1800s reveals many hard workers and farmers plowing and digging their way to what would eventually become the 17-mile Hooper canal, which extended into South Hooper, now known as Syracuse.

How Water Brought Syracuse to Life


In the 1800s, the area that is now known as Syracuse was arid and windswept, with a sandy bluff that divided the terrain. The Homestead Act of 1862 proclaimed that any U.S. Citizen who had never borne arms against the United States could claim 160 acres of government land on the agreement they would live on, improve, and cultivate their claimed property. Encouraged by the Homestead Act, resolute and hearty settlers arrived in the Syracuse area around 1868. They built homes, bought livestock, and prepared the land for planting and farming. They knew the presence of water would mean survival.

Early homesteaders tried to utilize existing streams and springs, digging ditches, and creating small dams wherever necessary to move water to crops, livestock, and homes. But, in dryer years, especially as the population of the community slowly became bigger, it was clear that a more significant water source would be necessary.

In Hooper, early settlers had faced the daunting job of moving water from the Weber River into their city, also in need of irrigation for farming and homesteading. In December of 1866, the government granted permission to build a canal to move water south to western Weber County. The project began on May 20, 1872. The project was named the Hooper Canal.

In 1875, farmers in the “South Hooper” area, now known as Syracuse, made an agreement to extend the canal to serve the inhabited land south of the original waterway. Digging began on the 17-mile-long canal, which would eventually branch into 26 separate miles of ditches to serve individual homesteads in the community. The work was dirty and arduous with the workers relying on primitive tools such as shovels, picks, and hand plows. Local farmers worked to complete the canal, earning shares of stock for their labor: $3.00 per day or $6.00 per day with a team. In total, the project cost $75,452 to complete, an amount that equates to nearly two million dollars today.

By 1875, 5,000 acres of Syracuse were being irrigated as a result of the man-made waterway, and within 20 years of the Homestead Act, the Weber-Davis canal, built in the 1880s to move water from the Weber River to Fruit Heights, was also sourced to irrigate the growing community. Most of Syracuse land was being farmed, and homesteaders utilized the irrigation sources to plant several hundred acres of fruit orchards. By the year 1900, Syracuse was known as the largest produce supplier in Davis County.

If it weren’t for the waters from the Weber River, driven by hand with the fortitude and strength of early settlers through the Hooper Canal and its extension south, the city of Syracuse could not have grown into the thriving community it has become today.

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