write-up by Jaclyn Foster
Placed By: Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, no. 96
GPS Coordinates: N 40º44’021” W 111º51’554”
Historical Marker Text:
Daughters of Utah Pioneers
THE KENNEDY DITCH
The Kennedy Ditch was an early pioneer irrigation canal taken out of Parley’s Canyon stream near 17th East. The construction was achieved as a co-operative work project, and the new channel named after its first Water Master, Charles Kennedy, a Utah pioneer of 1848. The area thus brought under cultivation, covered 864 acres of small farm lands extending west of 13th East from near 21st South northward to 9th South, including this spot on Emerson Avenue.
Emerson Camp Salt Lake County
Early European explorers of Utah referred to the region as the “Great American Desert.” Most explorers believed the region was unsuitable for settlement, despite the fact that it had sustained Ute, Goshute, Paiute, and other tribes for thousands of years. In 1843, however, John Fremont published a report that suggested the western base of the Wasatch Mountains could be colonized by creating an irrigation system from mountain streams.1
When the Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, creating a planned system of irrigation canals was one of their first priorities. Mormon leader Brigham Young sent an advance party of able-bodied men to the Salt Lake Valley in July of 1847, with the goal of planting crops and building shelters before winter. This advance party laid out city blocks, farmland, and irrigation canals. Subsequent waves of Mormon pioneers expanded upon this planned, communal settlement pattern. City lots were divided into wards, which were supervised by bishops. These bishops oversaw the process of creating irrigation ditches for each ward.
Communal ownership of water was an important innovation for the Mormon pioneers. In the East, laws commonly mandated that water could not be taken from streams unless it was returned without a reduction in volume. This was clearly impossible in the Salt Lake Valley’s semi-arid environment. Instead, Brigham Young declared that there would be “no private ownership” of water; dams and ditches were constructed by ward communities, rights to use the water depended on whether the land was being cultivated, and public authorities were appointed to supervise and apportion water use. This public authority was called the Water Master, who was appointed by the high council. One Water Master oversaw multiple wards.2
Charles Kennedy was the Water Master of the Kennedy Ditch and surrounding area. He joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo, Illinois in 1844 and was endowed in 1846. During the migration to Utah, Kennedy served as Commissary for 50 wagons, which meant he was in charge of distributing goods. He was part of the 1848 Brigham Young Company and settled in the Sugar House Ward, where he was appointed Water Master. Sometime between 1860 and 1867, Kennedy left the Mormon Church and moved to Missouri with two of his wives. He died in 1890.3
The Kennedy Ditch no longer exists. The current marker at the site of the Kennedy Ditch is missing. However, an online community called Waymarkers, where users log their visits to local landmarkers as a type of real-life scavenger hunt, provides clues about when this marker disappeared. Waymarkers documented the marker up until June 1, 2011; the next entry, on December 12, 2013, notes that the marker had been removed.4 It may be stored in the LDS chapel that currently occupies the site, but its whereabouts are uncertain.
For Future Reference:
“Charles Kennedy,” Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel 1847-1868, churchofjesuschrist.org
“Charles Kennedy,” Missouri Death Records 1834-1910, 1890.
Arrington, Leonard. Great Basin Kingdom: Economic History of the Latter-day Saints 1830-1900 (Harvard University Press, 1958).
Barlow, Jacob. “The Kennedy Ditch (Missing),” Waymarking.com (September 11, 2007).
Givens, Robert. “Life of Charles Kennedy,” Family Search (2012).
1. Leonard Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom: Economic History of the Latter-day Saints 1830-1900 (Harvard University Press, 1958), 44.
2. Arrington, 45-53.