Gazing on the Salt Lake Valley vista the other day from just above This Is the Place Monument, with a flurry of construction equipment in motion around the monument, Stephen M. Studdert was meditative.
"It was absolutely fascinating," he exclaimed. "I counted 21 pieces of heavy equipment operating simultaneously, just like a ballet performing. You could see the progress, you could see the monument and all that it means."
And he could see in the valley below the realization of President Brigham Young's vision as he stood near there in 1847 and reportedly uttered the now famous words: "This is the right place."
This Is the Place Heritage Park these days is indeed a remarkable mingling of history and progress.
Most prominent right now is a $2.5 million infrastructure and beautification project commenced near the monument at the entrance to Old Deseret Village, the park's living-history component, and being constructed with donated funds. The undertaking includes an entrance plaza with a replica of the wall that surrounded President Young's downtown Salt Lake City estate, complete with an Eagle Gate recreation. A memorial grove dedicated to the memory of Joseph F. Smith, Utah pioneer and sixth president of the Church, is to be dedicated this year by President Gordon B. Hinckley. And the goal of the park foundation is to complete 20 new structures in the village this year.
"This is all part of the evolution that's been occurring here," said President Studdert, foundation chairman and president of the Highland Utah East Stake, whose past accomplishments include chairmanship of the Utah State Centennial Commission in 1996.
The evolution stems back to 1947, the centennial of the Pioneers' coming to the valley, when President George Albert Smith dedicated the huge monument, which is topped with a statue of President Young and his companions and pays homage as well to the mountain men and Spanish explorers who earlier came to the valley.
In 1980, the village was begun to exemplify components of a typical Utah community between the coming of the Pioneers in 1847 and the railroad in 1869. In 1994, the state Centennial Commission adopted the facility, then a state park, as it's "Legacy Project" preparatory to the centennial in 1996. A score of buildings were added to the village, including a new visitors center that replicates the Sugar House sugar factory on the exterior. And the monument itself, in dire need of attention, was refurbished. President Gordon B. Hinckley rededicated the monument and park at a reopening ceremony on June 29, 1996.
In 1997, the park was the destination point for the world-famous Pioneer Sesquicentennial wagon train that made its way to the park from Winter Quarters in Nebraska that year.
"And then, the state Legislature, in 1998, transferred this park from the state park system to a non-profit civic foundation that was created solely for the purpose of managing and blossoming this park," President Studdert explained. He was named chair with Ardeth G. Kapp, former Young Women general president, as vice chair of the 21-member board of trustees.
A professional planning group was retained and representatives visited 20 major historic parks around the United States, such as Colonial Williamsburg, to learn "how best to preserve heritage and history and to give the best and most meaningful experience to those who visit here," President Studdert said. "As a result of that, a master plan was produced."
Meanwhile other features have been added, including the national Pony Express monument two years ago and the "Journey's End" handcart sculpture last July 24. Both were dedicated by President Hinckley.
Within nine days in April 2000, heavy equipment operators had lowered a portion of the terrain near the park entrance 12 feet in preparation for the new entrance plaza and to improve the view of the monument.
"The board's view is that when President George Albert Smith and his commission created the monument in 1947, they intended for it to be very viewable," Brother Studdert said. "And the way the parking lot and the terrain have been heretofore, you couldn't see it from here [on the west end of the park]."
When the plaza is finished, red-brick paving will cover the area around the visitors center with tracks in the bricks suggesting wagon ruts. Parking areas have been relocated to the east side of the entrance, and a garden area will grace the plaza.
A 6-foot river-rock wall replicating the one that stood around President Young's Beehive House will divide the village from the entrance plaza and will extend east and west. (A fee is charged for entrance to the village, which is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day except Sundays, but the monument is available to visit year-round, seven days a week, at no charge.) The entrance gate to the village will be a replica of the Eagle Gate that once formed the entrance to President Young's estate at the Beehive House and is now memorialized with a recreation that spans State Street in downtown Salt Lake City.
The Journey's End Monument handcart sculpture will be repositioned to the west of the new plaza.
One of the most peaceful settlements in the park will be the new Joseph F. Smith Memorial Grove being readied near a duck pond east of the village and funded by his descendants.
The son of the Prophet Joseph Smith's brother, Hyrum, Joseph F. Smith "was one of Utah's stalwart young pioneers, a 9-year-old boy when he walked across the plains with his mother, his sister and his step-siblings," Brother Studdert noted. "We chose to honor him because of his courageous pioneer boyhood, so representative of many pioneer children, and his lifetime of service to the people of Utah."
"It's about as beautiful a place as you can find," he said of the setting. "And the thing that strikes me is how peaceful and quiet it is. The only sound you hear is wildlife and the sound of water coming out of the stream and flowing into the pond. To the north you can see Ensign Peak, which is where Brigham Young stood when he surveyed the whole valley. And a short distance away, you can see the actual restored home of Joseph F.'s mother, Mary Fielding Smith, which she built in about 1850. We are putting the adobe back on it, much of the adobe that was there originally. There is a picture of it in the manual currently being studied by the priesthood quorums and Relief Society.
"And a building now under construction is a carriage shed, and the carriage that Joseph F. Smith used as an adult will be in that carriage shed."
A small amphitheater at the grove will be available for groups to reserve. "What a wonderful place to have a family gathering," Brother Studdert said.
He added that President Hinckley is scheduled to dedicate the grove July 24 Pioneer Day this year, that Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt will speak and that the public is invited.
Brother Studdert emphasized that voluntary donations and labor are the lifeblood of the park.
An example of how it benefits from the generosity of many people is the "Heritage Trees" undertaking, in which families, for a $400 gift to the park, can have one of 400 Colorado Blue Spruce trees planted at the new entrance plaza in honor of a pioneer ancestor, whose name will be memorialized on a plaque on the tree. All the trees will be planted June 17, and some of the donor families will be planting the trees they have donated. (For information, contact Jennifer Gregerson at (801) 584-8392, ext. 413.)
And on June 24, a major sod-planting project involving members of many Church stakes in the area and other volunteers will occur at the new entrance plaza. "We hope to have several thousand people here on that Saturday to plant this grass," Brother Studdert said.
Voluntarism on a corporate or philanthropic level is manifest by the historic period structures in the village. They comprise three sections: the agricultural section with authentic animals and crops from the pioneer period; an 1847-69 section, when the area was settled; and a section representing 1869-96, book-ended by the coming of the railroad and the attainment of statehood for Utah.
"There's a lot under way here this year," Brother Studdert said. "And it's heartening to see how it's all unfolding, through private generosity."
Here are a few of the projects scheduled to be commenced and/or completed this year:
- A replica of Lewis Hall, a two-story brick building that became Timpanogos Academy and later Brigham Young Academy in Provo, forerunner to BYU. Funded in part by attenders at this year's BYU Women's Conference (See article on page 3), it will feature a large open space on the first floor for ongoing women's humanitarian projects, while the second floor will house a large collection of books on Utah and Western settlement. Ground is to be broken July 15 for the hall.
- A replica of the Cedar City tithing office, a white stone building with surrounding features that would have been associated with such a Church facility in the 19th Century, including a granary, haystack and shed. "Tithing offices and bishops' storehouses were something unique to LDS settlements," Brother Studdert noted.
- A replica of the Atkin home, a large home that stood in Atkinville, a former town south of St. George, Utah. President Wilford Woodruff stayed in the home when he wintered there. In Old Deseret Village, the home will be placed behind the tithing office.
- A large amphitheater that will take advantage of the natural lay of the land and will be a location where summertime musical performances and pageants can be staged. (The "Deseret Dramatic Association," formed in Brigham Young's day in anticipation of the completion of the Social Hall in Salt Lake City, is being reorganized at the park as a community theater group to perform at the amphitheater.)
- Beautification of an authentic cemetery, now at the village, wherein are interred the remains of 33 pioneers who died in 1847 and which were discovered in the late 1980s at a construction site in downtown Salt Lake City. An LDS stake is taking on the project.
- A recreation of the Deseret Hospital, forerunner to today's LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City. Deseret Hospital was opened in 1884 with Eliza R. Snow as its first superintendent and dedicated by President John Taylor. It will house the antique quilt collection of the Utah Quilt Guild. Directly behind it will be a replica of the home of Ellis Reynolds Shipp, who obtained a medical degree in the East at the behest of Brigham Young; she delivered many babies and trained many midwifes in the pioneer era.
- A replica of two-story stone building that housed the Deseret Telegraph organized by Brigham Young to serve the settlements to the north and south. Construction of the replica building commenced May 1.
You can reach R. Scott Lloyd by E-mail at [email protected]