Our Desert Island Home

Write-up by Schyler Fox

Placed by: Syracuse Historical Society

GPS Coordinates: 40° 57.9′ N, 112° 11.385′ W

Historical Marker Text: OUR DESERT ISLAND HOME

Photograph by Schyler Fox

In 1891 George Frary built a house on this 160-acre homestead. Six years later his wife Alice died and lies at rest in this burial site.

FRARY FAMILY

Father- George Isaac Frary B. Nov. 18, 1854 in Madison, Wisconsin

Mother- Alice Eliza Philips B. July 21, 1859 in New York Died Sept. 3, 1897

Children- Guy Prentis B. 1881    Grace May B. 1883    Lotti Ada B. 1886    Edgar Philips B. 1888    Dora Ide B. 1892 Frank Marvin B.    1894 Florence    Hope B. 1897

George was stocky and extremely strong. Alice was frail, 5’2” with blue eyes, and very dark hair. Because of Alice’s ill health and George’s interest in sailing, this Desert Isle was chosen. The children were happy with many things to do, hiking the peaks, swimming in the lake and picking wild flowers. Their mother taught them well and precious times came when she played the organ and the family sang their favorite songs.

Every year a garden was planted and irrigated by a fresh spring. The barn and chicken coop were built in the gully. The house was rustic, gabled and built upon natural stone with one room. Soon a kitchen and bedroom were attached to the back. Every morning a flag waved in the breeze.

Alice’s health deteriorated. George went to the mainland for medicine. Upon returning about midnight, a storm capsized his boat and dawn found him half drowned, laying on the beach. The next day Alice died. She previously requested burial on the Island. This hallowed place was chosen at the edge of their orchard near the grain field. A small pink stone marks the grave. In autumn a shadow from Frary’s Peak touches this lonely spot and when a gentle breeze whispers through the sunflowers, you can almost hear the organ playing, while the family softly sings, “This is Our Desert Island Home So Dear.”

Extended Research:

This marker honors the memory of the Frary family who called Antelope Island home. George Frary moved to Utah from Wisconsin. It was in Wisconsin that George developed a passion for sailing while living close to Lake Superior. The ability to sail on the Great Salt Lake is what drew the Frary family to the area.[1] They built their 3-room cabin at the base of the highest peak on Antelope Island; this peak is now called Frary peak to honor the family.[2] George and Alice’s six children would play on and around the peak during the summer months.

Almost fifty years before the Frary family lived on the island, explorers were drawn to the Great Salt Lake and its islands. Determined to find where the Great Salt Lake emptied out into the Pacific Ocean, John C. Fremont explored the lake as well as its islands in 1843.[3] However, it was not until 1845 when he returned that Antelope Island got its name. Antelope Island was named for the animals that were found on the island.

Fremont and his crew searched in vain for a drainage outlet to the ocean and he rightly concluded that there wasn’t one. In 1843, they camped on what Fremont named Disappointment Island. Fremont and his crew were expecting to find resources, but they didn’t find anything on the Island, which is why Fremont named it Disappointment Island. In John Fremont’s narrative of his time on the Great Salt Lake, he goes into great detail about the vegetation and wildlife that lived on the various islands, but he never found any resources of significance to promote any kind of settlements on the lake islands.[4] It wasn’t the natural resources that drew the Frary family to the lake, it was the water levels that made it possible for George to sail and enjoy one of his favorite pastimes.

According to the signs that are posted around this marker, when the Frary family settled on Antelope Island, they established a small farm on which they grew wheat to sustain themselves. Besides wheat they had a tough time getting anything else to grow. The water conditions as well as grasshoppers made it difficult to grow fruits and vegetables. Aside from the few crops that they were able to grow, the roaming antelope that they were able to hunt for meat, there were also cattle during this time that roamed free on the island. George was able to make a living by herding the cattle that were living on Antelope Island.[5] When the family needed provisions, they would have to sail to Syracuse, the closest town. In 1891 Syracuse was just a small farming village which had a small general store as well as a post office, both of which offered the Frary family a chance to resupply and to stay connected to the outside world.

Photo by Schyler Fox

Before coming to Antelope Island, Alice Frary was not in the best health. It’s said that salt air surrounding the Great Salt Lake improved her health. After giving birth to their youngest child, Hope, Alice’s health started to deteriorate. When Hope was just 2 months old, Alice started having heart troubles. Determined to help, George sailed into town and made the trip to Ogden as this was the closet town that had a doctor. On the way back a wind kicked up and capsized his boat. He recounted that the only thing that kept him going was the thought of Alice being sick and needing to help her. Unfortunately, she passed away the next day. Her dying wish was to be buried on the island.[6] The reason for her passing is not known.

After the passing of Alice, George started venturing outside of his homestead. While never fully able to leave the island, he took his sailboat and started exploring more.[7] Aside from farming, there was also gold and copper ore to be found on Antelope Island. George Frary, along with three other prospectors started mining. At the height of this mining, they were getting four tons of copper ore to sell. In 1899, Frary and his partners incorporated their mining claims on the island. Many of the men had land claims that when right down to the waterfront.[8] With the land claims going down so far, they were able to take the ore straight to their boats and load up to be sold. This improved their profit since they owned everything and didn’t have to pay someone to move the ore and load it to be sold. George and his family stayed on the island until George’s passing in 1942 at the age of 88.[9]

Photo credit: Marriot Library (accessed on 04.04.2022)

The lake that the Frary family encountered looked quite different than the lake that we can visit today. The water level was higher than it is today. In the 1860s the Great Salt Lake was at its highest point of 4,211 feet above sea level.[10] This means that the shoreline would come right up to the road that the Frary family would travel to get to their homestead. Current Great Salt Lake water levels as of August 2021 are 4191 feet above sea level; the lake has shrunk by about 11 feet since the time that the Frary family built their home there.[11]

Further Reference

Primary Sources

Antelope Island, Great Salt Lake, Characteristic View Photo Number. Photograph. Salt Lake City. Marriott Library. Accessed March 3, 2022.

“Death on the Island.” Salt Lake Tribune, September 7, 1897.

“Syracuse Seepings.” Davis County Clipper, May 19, 1899.

Secondary Sources:

Arnow, Ted, Water-Level and Water-Quality Changes in Great Salt Lake, Utah, 1847-1983 § (n.d.).

Carlowitz, Micheal. “Record Low for Great Salt Lake.” NASA. NASA. Accessed March 3, 2022.

Morgan, Dale L. The Great Salt Lake (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1973).

Frémont John Charles. Essay. In The Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, Oregon and California, 198–208. Buffalo: G.H. Derby, 1849.

Holt, Clayton J. “Syracuse.” In Utah History Encyclopedia. Accessed March 3, 2022. .


[1] Dale L. Morgan, The Great Salt Lake (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1973), 326.

[2] “Homestead Family Left Lasting Legacy on Island,” Deseret News, October 29, 1992.

[3] Morgan, The Great Salt Lake, 141.

[4] John Charles Fremont, in The Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, Oregon and California (Buffalo: G.H. Derby, 1849), pp. 198-208.

[5] Morgan, The Great Salt Lake, 328.

[6] “Death on the Island,” Salt Lake Tribune, September 7, 1897, p. 8, .

[7] Morgan, The Great Salt Lake, 329.

[8] “Syracuse Seepings,” Davis County Clipper, May 19, 1899.

[9] “Homestead Family Left Lasting Legacy on Island,” Deseret News, October 29, 1992.

[10] Ted Arnow, “Water-Level and Water-Quality Changes in Great Salt Lake, Utah, 1847-1983,” Water-Level and Water-Quality Changes in Great Salt Lake, Utah, 1847-1983 § (n.d.).

[11] Micheal Carlowitz, “Record Low for Great Salt Lake,” NASA (NASA), accessed March 3, 2022.

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