Fact or fiction? Exploring the rumors and myths of Hobbitville
Oct 20, 2023, 3:49 PM | Updated: Oct 31, 2023, 5:55 pm
(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah natives may have heard of “Hobbitville.” A mythical place full of mystical creatures and strangely protective little people who hated trespassers.
Hobbitville, a title given to Allen Park, sits almost directly across from Westminster College, along bustling 1300 East. Although the park lies at the heart of Sugar House, it feels a world apart from the busy world outside its gates. Park-goers enter a winding walkway into a nature solace with small homes and public art.
The park has been shrouded in myths since it closed to the public for 50 years- neglected and overgrown with unknown residents. The area, which is open now and owned by Salt Lake City, remains a strange landmark for those interested in Urban Legends.
Kat Maus is the Public Lands Planner for Salt Lake City. She too, knew of the legends of “Hobbitville.”
Rumors circulated that “small people” inhabited the overgrown community and were abrasive toward anyone who trespassed to see them. It’s unclear how the rumors started, but the myth was perpetuated by teenagers who would attempt to enter the property claiming to get a glimpse or be chased off by the small people living there.
“I also grew up in Salt Lake City so when I was in high school, I feel like it was like a right of passage to drive to Hobbitville,” Maus said.
It’s possible the beliefs began because of the mythical nature of some of the artwork and structures in the park. The overgrown trees and shrubbery along with old structures and niche artwork may have contributed to the sense that mythical creatures resided.
“In terms of the mythical side… there are pretty weird sculptures. There’s art mosaics intermingled throughout the whole site, there are like light posts that are really artistic but definitely give this air and mystique to the site, so probably a lot of that lends itself to some of those mysterious ideas,” Maus said.
The other possible explanation is the size of the buildings in Allen Park. The architecture of the homes and other buildings is small when compared to modern-day structures.
“I guess my perception as a high school student was just that it was a mysterious place and not being able to access it freely kind of made it a more exciting atmosphere,” Maus said.
Another aspect of the mystical park that remains today, is the unique wildlife that calls the park home.
“There’s a lot of wildlife in there too, so that definitely could have contributed something. There’s deer all the time, lots of raccoons, tons of cool birds.”
Fact or Fiction?
It’s unclear where the name “Hobbitville” originated or what exactly prompted the urban legend.
In order to understand, it’s helpful to know a bit about the original creators and owners. Here’s some of the facts:
The Allen Family owned Allen Park it was a private residence. Dr. George A. Allen was a doctor in SLC and lived there with his wife and his children.
Allen was very passionate about zoology and helped to start the Hogle Zoo.
“There is a rumor that he walked a tiger down Main Street to promote folks going to Hogle Zoo,” Maus said. “He had a lot of super exotic animals on the property, also rumored there was a hippo there at one point, he had tons of exotic birds, lots of weird animals and things like that.”
Allen’s wife, Ruth Larson Allen, was an artist and a writer. Together, they published a gazette on zoology and created Allen Park.
“He also built like kind of these cottages that you can still find there today as kind of communal living space. He was a professor at the University of Utah and so …he offered discounted rent or free room and board for students of his or those studying medicine at the University of Utah,” Maus said.
It was some of these interesting facts that may have led to rumors later on.
“I think his goal the whole time, which is kind of where I think the “Hobbitville” rumor began, was like this whole communal living space — like an oasis where you could like all work together. They used to cook for all the residents that lived there and share meals and things like that and I think that was his intention the whole time with all the structures,” Allen said.
As far as the little people that were said to inhabit the area, Maus said there’s no evidence little people ever lived in the area. The first mention of Hobbitville in text was in a 1994 article in the Daily Utah Chronicle, “Students, not hobbits, live in unique S.L. apartments.”
An article in the Salt Lake Community College Student Newspapers in 2005 suggests that the name “hobbitville” evolved from the name “hippieville” because of the transient people that lived there.
“What I’ve heard is we opened a survey right when we purchased the property, and we actually made a lot of connections with folks that used to live in Allen Park,” Maus said. “The story about having little people there was not the case…It was just regular people, anybody could live there.”
No evidence of little people in Hobbitville, so at least that portion is fiction.
“I also think because it was private property there was not a lot of information about it — the public couldn’t really go in there — there was just like a lot of questions as to what it was, especially being this kind of oasis still in the middle of the city surrounded by really dense development,” Maus said. “It was definitely kind of mysterious about what was going on. I think it was an easy opportunity for people to tell their own story about the space as well.”
The history, then and now
The Allen family moved to a farm on the property where Allen Park sits now, in 1931. They lived in a large Scandinavian log home and raised their children there.
By 1949, the area became open to the public on Sundays. The Deseret News wrote:
“Dr. George A. Allen has built a nature lover’s Arcadia where once was only an ugly abandoned weed patch. It took thousands of loads of dirt to fill up the deep canyon. And when it was filled Dr. Allen planted 35 different varieties of trees and dug deep wells, built bridges to ford the creek, made fountains and planted flower and fixed lily ponds. And he didn’t forget to include playhouses and treehouses for the children, and a pond for them to skate on in the winter and swim in the summer. He made mysterious trails along which small Lone Ranger could hunt spies. And he named each children’s house after a youngster who lived there. And so, on every gate you read of Camp George or Camp Sally.”
Over the years, other structures were built on the property.
“A lot of the architecture was built on site so he used a lot of carpenters and artists to kind of create the space in exchange for either discounted or free room and board. There are depending on your definition, 12-15 structures on site.”
Other structures were moved into the park from other areas.
“Pretty much the remainder of the structures are old mining cottages from Kennecott and Park City that were moved in fully constructed and placed on the site,” Maus said.
Maus said that the area became communal housing for a number of years.
“I believe it was 2018 when the last resident moved out and the property went up for sale. SLC bid on it in 2018 but it was purchased by a developer who tried to develop condos and it didn’t end up being able to go through,” Maus said. “So it went back up for sale and that’s when the city purchased it in 2020.”
Maus said that when the property was reopened to the public in 2020, they had over 1,000 people come to see it on the first day.
“Now we’re in the process of an adaptive reuse and management plan which will rethink the future of the park based on the information from the cultural landscape report and preferences we hear from the community,” Maus said.
The city had a historical architect analyze the conditions of the buildings, and for now, it’s recommended they keep people out.
“A few of them are in good shape and would not require a lot of resources to get back up to a place where people could visit, so that’s kind of our goal with this plan is to determine which ones we want to rehabilitate for use,” Maus said. “There are definitely some that would take a very significant amount of resources to get back up to where they needed to be. The main Allen lodge is our number one priority for restoration so we can get people in there.”
The city took public input for many months on what they should do with the property and then created three concept alternatives: or three visions for the future of the park for the public to choose from.
“There’s a public engagement opportunity right now until Oct. 27. We’re asking the public to give their opinions on these three concept plans,” Maus said. “They kind of highlight different ways to accentuate immigration creek and the natural areas, how we’ll reutilize the structures, [and] how many of the structures we want rehabilitated and then levels of programming in the park.”
She said the end product will likely not be one concept, but a puzzle piecing together multiple elements.
“Each of the concepts honor the info in the cultural landscape report and everything that’s historically significant about the park,” Maus said. “From then until early 2024, the city and the design team will be working to come up with this final concept as well as writing recommendations and plans for how to operate the site into the future.”
Allen Park does remain full of its quaint buildings and quirky artwork available to the public. You can take a survey or submit your public comment on the future of the park here.
“I think that there is definitely a mystique to the site that we are hoping to preserve through future planning processes,” Maus said.
Throughout October, KSL TV will be exploring haunts and legends around Salt Lake County. We’ll share with you what we learn – what’s fact and what’s fiction. Other stories include: The Rio Grande Depot, The Old Mill , Ted Bundy’s cabin/cellar, and Sugar House Park.