Ogden • Nestled between the booming Business Depot Ogden industrial park and the bustling Five Points shopping center sits a laid-back slice of northern Utah history.
On Ogden’s west 2nd Street, visitors might be surprised to find working farms, pioneer-era buildings and vast acres of open land. A network of century-old ditches runs through the area, and residents still flood irrigate their lawns and gardens.
“You feel like you’re touching history,” said Anna Keogh, who co-owns a farm in the area with her cousins.
The neighborhood is the oldest in Weber County. A crosswalk marks where the western wall of the old Bingham Fort once stood, built at the behest of Brigham Young. And its use predates settlers with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the Shoshone regularly camped in the area and farmers continue to unearth arrowheads when plowing their fields.
A handful of residents have fought to preserve the area’s character, which isn’t an easy job. All those farms and wide-open acres regularly catch the eye of developers, especially given Ogden is an urban city with a high demand for housing and few opportunities for large-scale construction projects.
“We started in the 1990s when we realized the Business Depot was going in,” said Keogh, who’s become the neighborhood’s unofficial historian, compiling an extensive and detailed record of the area online. “That’s when all of a sudden we started thinking, oh, wait a minute, this isn’t always just going to be here unless we do something.”
Keogh’s home and idyllic farm previously belonged to her grandparents, and she’s a descendant of the Stone family, some of the first farmers to put down roots in the 2nd Street area. In the days before Business Depot Ogden started converting old World War II structures to the west into manufacturing and shipping warehouses, she said, the neighborhood was a backwater.
“It was just farms,” Keogh said. “Nobody cared about it and we loved it.”
As Keogh and her family watched many of the neighboring farms get gobbled up by subdivisions, they opted to put most of their 40 acres under a conservation easement.
She wants to turn the neighborhood into a historic district that rivals the lively downtown 25th Street commercial center or the stately mansions on Eccles Avenue and Jefferson Avenue. West 2nd Street has a unique flavor of its own, Keogh said, noting the neighborhood is also home to seven horses, two cows, many goats and lots of chickens.
“This is the last ‘rural’ and early history neighborhood in Ogden,” she said.
Rick and Tammy Creeger are relative newcomers to the neighborhood — they bought their 2nd Street home 26 years ago. The front looks like a typical 1910s-era brick bungalow, flanked with fluffy clusters of lime green hydrangeas. But the back section of the home is an 1863 rubble rock house built by pioneer Arthur Stone that was recently added to Ogden’s historic registry. It’s one of the oldest inhabited houses in the city, according to the Weber County Heritage Foundation.
“We think it’s really important that we preserve the good things that are left and that we keep some open space,” Tammy Creeger said. “I get in the ditch and play with my granddaughter every day. It’s great fun.”
The Creegers also have a large vegetable garden, but when the 2-acre farm next to them went up for sale last year, they bought it — worried that if a developer snatched up the property and subdivided it, they’d lose their garden, irrigation rights and the last remaining acres of a Pioneer-era farm.
“We took almost our whole life savings, a huge leap of faith and a lot of freaking stress that I can still feel right now because ... it was the right thing to do,” Tammy Creeger said. “It’s worthy.”
One of the few open spaces left to build
But the neighborhood continues to tussle with Ogden’s explosive demand for housing. Developer Shawn Strong is currently building 30 townhomes on an undeveloped lot on the northwest corner of Wall Avenue and 2nd Street. For the last two years, he’s also been working with Ogden City to rezone historic properties to the west, some in disrepair.
The houses sit on several acres of undeveloped pasture, and he has presented plans to build up to 50 more townhomes.
The developer also has garnered the support of several property owners in the neighborhood.
“This would help alleviate the housing needed in Ogden,” wrote one 2nd Street homeowner to the City Council and planning commission. “This is one of the few open spaces in Ogden left to build on.”
Like much of Utah, Ogden’s supply of housing is not keeping up with demand.
“This market is the most challenging I have ever been in,” a real estate agent told the City Council in August, speaking in favor of the townhome development. “We need affordable housing.”
A 2020 city analysis found that while the median income in the city has risen 44% since the year 2000, the median home price has risen by 69%. And Ogden ranks third in the nation for its overvalued housing stock, according to a recent study from Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University.
Ogden’s houses also are old, the city’s analysis found, with 90% of homes built before 2000 and the majority built between 50 and 140 years ago. Many of those aging structures are in rough shape, or are challenging to update, and the homes on 2nd Street are no exception.
Danna Petersen lives in an 1877 adobe brick farmhouse on 1.5 acres, accessed by the original pioneer fort road, that’s been in her family for generations — she even has the original deed showing her great-grandfather bought the home for $1,700 in 1938. She was shocked to learn her family had decided to sell the property to the developer, she said.
“I just have a strong connection to it,” Petersen said. “I grew up going there my whole life ... flooding the pastures, playing in them and floating zucchini boats down.”
Petersen’s family members cited the hassle of maintaining such an old house as their reason for wanting to let it go, and she admits living there isn’t for everyone. She still has a sign her great-grandparents made referring to the property as the family’s “back acres” — a play on words about the home’s setback from the street as well as the back-aching labor it takes to keep the pastures mowed.
Petersen once had to disassemble a section of the house, brick by brick, to evict a hive of bees. But she said the tranquility of her home, surrounded by open land, makes the work worthwhile.
“There are a lot of quirks,” she said. “But the good things definitely outweigh the quirks.”
Saving ‘Chief Little Soldier Way’
Partly fueled by looming development plans, residents hoping to preserve west 2nd Street’s quirks worked with Ogden City and the Weber County Heritage Foundation to highlight the area’s history, culminating in a busy summer.
They asked the City Council and Diversity Commission to give their stretch of the road an honorary name, “Chief Little Soldier Way,” in memory of the leader of a band of about 400 Shoshone who sometimes camped with the pioneers at Bingham Fort. They petitioned to have a 1870 granary placed on Ogden’s register of historic places.
Last August was particularly lively. The neighborhood hosted a “Meet the Shoshone” night to share the significance of indigenous people in the area. Keogh and the Heritage Foundation installed 17 signs commemorating historic homes on the street. Community members also successfully convinced the City Council to deny the rezone request to build more townhomes.
“That was the biggest relief,” Keogh said. “For two years, I feel like I haven’t slept over that zoning issue.”
Petersen is now working with her family to purchase the old farmhouse, since their contract with the developer hinged on getting the rezone approved. “We were definitely nervous,” she said.
Council member Richard Hyer, who represents the north side of west 2nd Street, was one of five members who voted to deny the rezone request. He said the burden of high-density housing is largely falling to the north end of the city. Areas like Five Points have seen new multistory apartment complexes in recent years, and dense housing projects have also gone up a few blocks away on 7th and 12th streets.
“The residents are noticing it’s not happening across the city, it’s just happening up here,” Hyer said. “They’re concerned the identity they’ve come to appreciate and grown to love is fading away.”
While he recognized Ogden City is experiencing a housing crunch, he said plans for future building need to be careful and strategic instead of reactive.
“There is interest from individuals wanting to buy and restore some of those historic properties down there,” Hyer said. “They’re not building historic properties anymore.”
Marcia White, who also represents the 2nd Street community as an at-large council member, was one of two votes that supported rezoning the area for denser development.
“I am a proponent of trying to figure out what I call ‘broad spectrum’ housing,” White said. “Gone are the days that we’re going to see a lot of those single family dwellings. Townhomes are probably going to be the norm.”
Construction costs are going up, White said, and townhomes are a more efficient use of building materials. The councilwoman added that 2nd Street is a wide road that can handle denser development and it has good proximity to transit — a future Utah Transit Authority FrontRunner station is in the works for the neighborhood.
Still, she said she applauded the community residents who rallied to preserve 2nd Street’s history.
“The hard part is, yes, Ogden is going to grow and we do have such limited space,” White said. “One of the things we have to grapple with is, those are the same people whose kids and grandkids are going to grow up and not be able to find anyplace [to live] in Ogden.”