Old Deseret being readied for rededication, reopening

Like a colony of Utah bees, workers are feverishly hammering nails and planting flowers in preparation for the rededication ceremony and grand reopening June 29 of the newly expanded Old Deseret Village at This Is the Place State Park.

A "living history facility" intended to recreate the setting and feel of a pioneer village in pre-railroad Utah, Old Deseret will be rededicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley at the 10 a.m. ceremony.The Tabernacle Choir will be among several choirs representing the religious denominations that were in Utah at the time statehood was granted 100 years ago. About 2,000 sixth-grade students representing each of Utah's communities will comprise a children's choir.

The dedication is open to the public, and admission to the village will be free all weekend.

This Is the Place Monument, adjacent to Old Deseret, is undergoing extensive refurbishment as well and will be part of the rededication. The monument, sculpted by Mahonri Young, was dedicated in 1947 by President George Albert Smith to commemorate the centennial of the arrival of the Pioneers. The most prominent feature of the monument is a statue of Brigham Young on the occasion when he identified the Salt Lake Valley as the destination of the exiled Saints.

"It [the monument] was in danger of actually falling down," said Courtland Nelson, director of the Utah State Division of Parks and Recreation. He and others hosted a media conference June 18, at which news reporters and other guests were given a preview of the village. Thirteen new structures are expected to be completed and opened before the re-dedication, augmenting the 14 existing buildings in the village. The goal is to have a total of 20 new buildings open before the end of the year.

Old Deseret Village was designated about three years ago as the state's 1996 Centennial "Living Legacy Project," said Stephen M. Studdert, chairman of the Utah State Centennial Commission. That meant dusting off plans for the village initiated in 1973.

"The commission said, `Let's leave a legacy that will not be a cost burden to the taxpayers and that will keep alive the history and heritage of Utah,' " he explained.

Accordingly, businesses and individuals were asked for donations to construct period buildings in the village. All responded willingly, some asking to do more than was requested of them, said Brother Studdert, who is president of the Highland Utah Stake.

Prominent among the new features is a visitors center that replicates the original 1853 sugar factory in Sugar House, Utah. It includes a mural depicting the Pioneers' trek, a museum store, displays and a small theater.

Other additions include a replica of the Pine Valley LDS meetinghouse in Washington County; a replica of the Heber East Ward schoolhouse, where lessons will be taught every half-hour; a re-creation of the original Deseret News building with a working printing press; and a re-creation of the Huntsman Hotel in Fillmore, which will include a restaurant on the first floor.

To support the park, artisans will make wares for sale using 19th century techniques. At the re-created Hooper, Eldredge & Co. Bank, visitors will be able to purchase script that can be spent at village concessions.

More than 250 volunteers have gone through a 16-hour training course and, dressed in period costume, will fill various roles in the village as docents and guides, director Nelson explained. Volunteers are still needed to be hosts at the monument and in the visitors center, the director said.

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