Old Deseret is infused with new vitality: new construction, volunteer programs bring renaissance to 'living historic village' at state park

Old Deseret, the "living historic village" illustrating life in pioneer Utah, is undergoing something of a renaissance in connection with the state centennial this year.

The village is located at This Is the Place State Park, which includes This Is the Place Monument. The monument was dedicated in 1947 by President George Albert Smith to honor Brigham Young and the pioneers. The park is located at the mouth of Emigration Canyon, where President Young first viewed the valley.Begun in 1980, Old Deseret is a reconstruction of a typical Utah community of 1847-69, the years between the arrival of the Pioneers and the coming of the railroad. It includes mostly authentic structures with some reconstructions of period buildings. Livestock feed in pastures and pens, and docents dressed in period costume give tours and information during April through the first weekend in October.

Major construction on the village occurred in 1984, but spring flooding that year drained the state's financial coffers, hindering progress on the master plan.

But the park is designated Utah's Centennial Living Legacy Project. That means that by June, another 10 buildings will be located or constructed in the village, with more being planned for 1997.

New additions were explained by Brad Probst, assistant park manager, at a symposium at the park March 6. He said corporations, foundations and family organizations have raised $5 million for construction.

The new buildings are the bowery, Deseret News print shop, Huntsman Hotel, Elsinore Livery Stable, Godbe Pitts Drug Store, Heber East Ward School, Hooper & Eldredge Bank, a barber shop and shaving parlor, and the Anderson House.

Also, a new visitor center, a replica of the old Sugar House sugar factory built in 1853, is being constructed to include a bookstore/gift shop, displays, rest rooms and a theater where a film can be viewed that describes the village and its agricultural and community life.

This Is the Place Monument, completed and dedicated in connection with the Church's pioneer centennial in 1947, is being extensively refurbished.

A grand reopening for the park is scheduled June 29-30. At 9 a.m. June 29, the visitor center will be dedicated and This Is the Place Monument and Old Deseret will be rededicated. The Tabernacle Choir will be featured at the rededication, along with a statewide children's choir and choirs representing the various faiths found in Utah in 1896, the year statehood was granted.

A major component of the effort is the Stitching History Project. Ardeth G. Kapp, former Church Young Women general president, chairs the project, which was introduced with a fashion show of pioneer costumes March 12 at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. She said the project is "an opportunity to revere the past and contribute to the future in ways that will outlive us."

The project was organized to produce, using authentic patterns and fabrics, an estimated 600 costumes to be worn by male and female volunteer docents of all ages at Old Deseret. Participants in the stitching project are being asked to contribute in any of the following ways: make a monetary contribution for costumes, honor an ancestor by making a costume, contribute fabrics and sewing equipment, cut patterns and sew fabrics, sponsor a "sewing bee" as the pioneers did, plan and present a pioneer fashion show, teach others, and volunteer time as a docent or guide at the park.

Among groups participating are the Bountiful Utah Central and West stakes which have held fashion shows to interest Relief Society sisters in participating.

Volunteer opportunities also exist in other capacities, according to Annette Tanner, docent/volunteer coordinator. She said volunteers are needed to give guided tours in historical costume; re-enact historical events and daily pioneer activities; and learn and teach pioneer crafts, skills and games. They must attend approximately 40 hours training in June and volunteer at least one day or evening each week for 15 weeks. Adults, couples, students, retirees, actors and families are needed, she said.

Open houses for volunteers will be held April 11 from 7 to 9 p.m. and April 13 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Historic Social Hall in Old Deseret Village.

More information on the park, Stitching History Project and volunteer opportunities can be obtained from This Is the Place State Park, 2601 Sunnyside Ave., Salt Lake City UT 84108; Tel. (801) 584-8392; Fax (801) 584-8325.

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed