Ogden Central Bench Historic District
The Ogden Central Bench Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
The Ogden Central Bench Historic District is an 80-block residential area developed between the 1860s and 1940s, comprising of nearly 3300 buildings. On all sides, the Ogden Central Bench Historic District differs noticeably from the neighboring areas. It includes the area between 20th and 30th Streets, from Harrison Boulevard to Adams Avenue, and encompasses both the Eccles Avenue and Jefferson Avenue Historic districts. It is bounded on the north by the Ogden City Cemetery, which blankets the north side of 20th Street. To the west lies Adams Avenue, the beginning of the residential neighborhood that sits one block east of the commercial sector of town and the largest commercial street in Ogden, Washington Boulevard. To the east lies Harrison Boulevard, which is one of Ogden's more highly used roads, and separates the district from the more modern homes that lie above the boulevard. To the south lies 30th Street, which provides a good boundary for the variety and concentration of historic architecture found in the Ogden Central Bench District.
Important to the development was the streetcar system. As the district had grown throughout the late 1800s and into the 1900s, transportation to the commercial and industrial sector of town became an important issue. Street railroads started in 1883 with a mule-powered rail line, and by the turn-of-the-century prominent businessmen Thomas Dee and David Eccles created the Ogden Electric Railway Company, which continued to grow and expand over the next couple decades making an impact in the district and influencing development. Rail lines served the Central Bench District until the early-1930s, when they started to be replaced by gasoline buses. The last tracks of the old rail lines were taken out in the early-1940s.
The first European-American settler of Ogden, Miles Goodyear, built a fur trading post in 1845 on an attractive spot of the Weber River, not far from where the Weber and Ogden Rivers converge. In 1847 he sold the property to Captain James Brown, a one-time leader of the Mormon Battalion. Soon after, numerous Mormon families started to migrate to the area. In 1850 Brigham Young, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, established the basic plan for the city. More Mormon families were sent to settle the area, and in 1851 Deseret incorporated the city of Ogden, with Lorin Farr being called to serve as its first mayor. Later in 1851, Henry Sherwood surveyed the streets, blocks, and lots as planned by Brigham Young. An early Ogden journalist noted, "Those who planned the future of Ogden intended that the city should be a mile square; that they made the blocks to contain 10 acres, divided into 10 lots of one acre each; the blocks were 660 feet square and the streets were 99 feet wide excepting Main Street (Washington Boulevard) which was 132 feet wide; the first plat provided for 56 blocks, arranged in seven rows of eight blocks each." A large portion of that original plat included part of the Central Bench Historic District, the area between 21st and 28th Streets.
By 1860 limited building and settlement had started to take place in the district. A Deseret News article described the gradual movement of families to the area in 1863, "A few of the settlers, preferring to dwell on more sightly [sic] ground and where the streets, with slight grading, would be passable most of the year, have located themselves on the upland, or bench, as it is usually called, where the houses generally, as in further witness of their good taste, if not superior judgment, are of a neat and comfortable appearance and, so far as I could learn, fully occupied by an eminently practical and enterprising class of citizens." The term "bench" was fittingly designated early on for the area because of its unique geographical position to the rest of the city, lying on a small hill looking down on the rest of Ogden."
It is clear that by 1887 the Central Bench had started to establish itself as the dominant residential sector in Ogden. Located on the bench, it was a place where families could move to escape the more bustling and busy area of town west of the district. The bench area slowly became a destination for a wide variety of people, including railroad employees, merchants, laborers, and businessmen. As was noted in a publication of the University of Utah Graduate School of Architecture, "After becoming a railroad hub in the 1870s and 1880s, Ogden slowly developed something of a split personality. A schism emerged between the residential and commercial area running east from Washington Boulevard, and the western industrial district, located near the rail yard." And of the Central Bench they concluded that it was an attractive sector of the city with tree-lined, middle-class neighborhoods and represented stability, refinement, and peacefulness. Indeed, this sentiment of a need for a stable and peaceful neighborhood only grew as Ogden was approaching a new, more rapidly changing turn to greater growth and development.
By 1893 Ogden had sunken into a major economic depression. The Panic of 1893 that had hit the rest of the nation also took its toll on Utah, and especially Ogden. During the Cleveland Depression an unprecedented 15,200 American businesses went into receivership, 18 percent of the national work force did not have a job, and those who remained employed saw their wages cut on an average of 10 percent. Utah was facing a severe winter in January and February, which put a hold on the building in Ogden. Due to this and the economic and financial problems facing the nation, the city never quite regained its strength. Many people lost their homes, and those who moved to the city in hopes of building a home and starting their lives in the city put those plans on hold. A good indicator of the troubling times occurred with a newly built Ogden Hospital (demolished), located on 28th Street between Madison and Monroe Avenues. In 1892 the hospital was constructed at a cost of $25,000, and the following year the hospital had to shut its doors because of a lack of funds. The hospital eventually reopened in 1897, and was the primary Ogden hospital until 1910, when the Dee Memorial Hospital opened.
Although times were tough for residents living in the Central Bench during the mid-1890s, by the turn-of-the-century the neighborhood started to regain vitality. Business had been steadily improving during the late-1890s, albeit times would not be as they were during the era that made Ogden a "modern" city (1888-1892). Ogden had reaffirmed itself as the railroading, manufacturing and industrial center of the Intermountain West, and construction of new structures was on the rise. Many looked to Ogden as the place to live in 1900. Turn-of-the-century Ogden was becoming the center for sheep and cattlemen who had been prosperous throughout the United States, to build their homes. The railroad, with its distribution possibilities, made it possible to bring them here permanently. For example in 1902 one of the successful sheep raisers, P.M. Mattson, sought to create a subdivision and have several cottages constructed within the Central Bench District. The land to be platted was to lie between 28th and 29th Streets and Jefferson and Madison Avenues. Although the plans never actualized, serious talk of platting land was being discussed for the first time since the boom days of 1890.
By the time the 1920s rolled around Ogden was doing comfortably well in terms of industry and business, and the Central Bench District was witness to more development than it had seen in years. As many enjoyed good times throughout the rest of the United States, those in Ogden were no different. And in terms of house construction in the bench area, the 1920s were very important, as the district started to fill up and fill in with a "bonanza" of bungalows and period revival homes, for which the district is well known. It was the decade that really focused on the district, as it was the time in which the area became a new home to many. It was also the era just before the city expanded every direction surrounding the Central Bench. As the economy was burgeoning because of the impact felt by the railroad and related businesses, the working class in Ogden welcomed the comfortable and affordable appeal of the bungalow. The bungalow found its way into the American mainstream in the early 1900s, and from 1905 to 1925 it became by far the most popular house type in Utah. Ogden was no different, and many builders, architects, contractors, and construction companies began to surface in the city during this era to provide this highly popular housing style, especially in the early 1920s. The Taylor Building Company, and the work they produced, is a perfect example of the building craze that hit the district in the 1920s.
The years of great expansion were quickly brought to an end shortly after the stock market crash in October of 1929. Even the most successful building company during the twenties, the Taylor Building Company, could not keep its business going, closing down in late 1930. Many families lost their homes in the district due to unpaid mortgages and taxes, as was the case with the David H. Peery's house, known as the "Virginia House." Mr. Peery was heavily involved in Ogden politics, business, and real estate, and in 1893 he had the home built at 24th Street and Adams Avenue. Resembling a Victorian castle, at the time the home was one of the largest and most magnificent mansions in the state. Mr. Peery had the home built in such great size partly in order to provide work for many men who were unemployed during the 1893 depression. The Peery family continued to own and occupy the home until the 1930s; they also owned over forty other properties in the city they used as rentals. While hard times continued during the 1930s, the Peerys had a difficult time collecting money from the other forty-plus rentals they had throughout the city. As the family started to accumulate debt due to the loss of income of the other properties, they were unable to pay the taxes on the Virginia House and turned it over by the late-1930s. It was soon thereafter demolished.
The district played a vital role in Ogden's history during the 1940s. The district became the first destination for many of the defense workers who landed jobs in the area during the war years. Old Victorian homes and , apartments were altered to rent to singles and new home were built to house families. The renaissance in residential life also revitalized the other areas in the district as well, making this one of the most popular places to live, not only in Ogden, but in all of Northern Utah.
The Crouch Subdivision was the last to be developed in the Central Bench District, being recorded in 1951. The subdivision is located on the site of the old brickyard that used to be situated near 29th Street and Jefferson Avenue. Plans for the subdivision originated in 1947, the year the 179-foot smokestack, standing since 1916, was demolished. After the demolition of the tower the then current owner of the site, Essie Crouch Auffhammer, decided that she would have a subdivision developed, titling it after her maiden name. The tower that had been razed contained over one-million bricks, and many of those bricks were salvaged and used on the homes that J.E. Lichfield constructed in the late 1940s, on the 2900 block of Madison Avenue-just above the Crouch Subdivision and where the old brickyard and tower once stood. The Crouch subdivision contains 25 lots and at the time was modern in every aspect, particularly in regards to the two small cul-de-sacs contained within it. The developer, Mrs. Auffhammer (who also resided in the district at 735 23rd Street), was the only female building contractor in Weber County during the time the homes in the subdivision were constructed.
† Chris Hansen, Preservation Intern and Staff, Utah State Historic Preservation Office, Ogden Central Bench Historic District, Ogden, Weber County, Utah, nomination document, 2002, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.