A treasured ‘secret’

Pioneer Memorial Museum preserves history of early Utahns

Visitors to Pioneer Memorial Museum often leave feeling they've made a discovery of sorts.

"This is the best keep secret in Salt Lake City," they tell museum volunteers. The workers likely smile and nod. They've heard it countless times.

Indeed, the stately, six-floor museum near Utah's State Capitol Building remains a mystery to many — including a few lifelong Salt Lake City residents. Pioneer Memorial Museum was opened more than 50 years by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. Yet the museum's two-block distance from, say, Temple Square and other familiar Salt Lake City landmarks means visitors may have to search to find it.

It's a search worth making, says Mary Johnson, president of the International Society of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers. Anyone with an ache to learn more of Utah's early history and the Mormon pioneer experience can find something of interest.

Some visitors take in the museum in about an hour, "while others come and end up staying all day," Sister Johnson said.

The museum boasts one of the world's largest collections of Utah pioneer artifacts. Museum displays and collections include frontier memorabilia such as guns, quilts, flags and furniture from the time the earliest settlers entered the Valley of the Great Salt Lake in 1847 until the joining of the railroads at Promontory, Utah, in 1869.

Colorful stained glass window in museum was designed to honor pioneer mothers. The window was taken from a sketch by Utah artist Avard Fairbanks and built by The Church Art Glass Studio of San Francisco.
Colorful stained glass window in museum was designed to honor pioneer mothers. The window was taken from a sketch by Utah artist Avard Fairbanks and built by The Church Art Glass Studio of San Francisco. Credit: Photo by Stuart Johnson

The museum's main floor includes a permanent exhibit capturing the lives of Brigham Young and his fellow apostle, Heber C. Kimball. Other floors include displays of pioneer-era dolls and china, 19th century clocks and an entire floor largely dedicated to historic military apparel, rifles and railroad history.

The museum's Carriage House is actually a separate building from the museum proper, but can be reached via an underground passageway. The Carriage House is filled with an original pioneer wagon, sleighs, handcarts, bicycles, a blacksmith shop and a street car that was once drawn by mules.

Sister Johnson said 2001 is the ideal time to visit Pioneer Memorial Museum. The DUP is celebrating its 100th birthday. The group — with its current membership of 20,000 — was formed in 1901 to help preserve the history and artifacts of Utah's pioneers.

Pioneer Memorial Museum is located at 300 N. Main St. and is free to the public. The museum is open year-round from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Visitors are also welcome on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in June, July and August.

Docents are available for free tours daily — although reservations are needed for groups of more than 10 people. Self-guided tour sheets are also available in English, Spanish, Japanese, French and German. Free parking is available on the east side of the museum, just west of the State Capitol on a designated parking strip.

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