Maybe Thomas Wolfe was right when he said you can't go home again, but you can always carry that home with you in your heart.
I've called a few cities home: Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Pocatello, Midway, Orem and now Bountiful, but Pleasant Grove holds a spot in my heart more dear than Tony Bennett could imagine.Growing up in Pleasant Grove in the '50s and '60s meant lazy summer days floating down the Murdock canal in an inner tube and counting the seconds left on a cherry bomb fuse just before you dropped it in the covered irrigation ditch - the explosion timed to go off before the firecracker hit the water - lifting and clanking metal lids for blocks. (Thank you, Lord, for my undamaged hands.)
It meant restless fall days walking to school through drifts of autumn leaves with the pungent aroma of chili sauce wafting from the town cannery. It was "truth notes" in Miss Conder's class, slumber parties, Mutual Dell girls camp up American Fork Canyon and working in the ward stand on Strawberry Days.
Small town no more, Pleasant Grove is the fastest growing city in Utah County, 13th in the state. At 13,200, the population continues to grow as new homes sprout on every hill and byway.
As with Tevye of "Fiddler on the Roof," tradition is everything in this town. When strawberry production was among the largest in the United States, what could be more fitting than a festival featuring the red, juicy berries swimming in fresh cream? Strawberry Days is the oldest continuous festival celebrated in the United States. Along with the rodeo, this celebration has been going strong since 1921.
Settled in 1850 by Mormon pioneers, Pleasant Grove is a treasure trove of architectural styles. The Old Bell School was built in 1852 with adobe bricks fashioned by Mormon Battalion veterans who mastered the craft in California. It is believed to be the oldest school building still standing in Utah.
The structure was taken down and rebuilt inside the fort the settlers were building only to suffer a fire that destroyed everything in it. But the fire only strengthened the adobes and in 1864 the school was rebuilt again. When a room was added in 1880, a bell tower was also built. The bell rang out not only to call students to school but as a curfew for children at 9 p.m. and a call for the volunteer firemen. It is rumored the bell also rang to warn local polygamists of arriving marshals.
While fully restored and open as a museum today, the old building was once nearly ruined when sprinklers left on overnight caused an entire corner of adobes to disintegrate and cave in.
A tour down Main Street will find the old Mason/Clark Clothing Store dating from 1908 and the WPA-built old city hall constructed in the late '30s. But continue around the block and you'll see the new city offices and a spacious new library and senior citizen's center. The old is carefully preserved as the new takes its place.
The Ben Franklin store is gone but from the same office, the Pleasant Grove Review still comes out each week, no story more intriguing than the one that ran in 1963 about local girls caught toilet papering.
Across the street from where the old high school used to stand is a stately soft rock pioneer home. Dr. and Mrs. Richard Nimer have lived in the old Ashton/Driggs home for 11 years. "It's very simple," Mrs. Nimer said. "The square windows aren't perfect and the glass wavers but that just adds to the house." The Nimers are adding a railing to the upper story on the immaculately kept home. The old house was built by William Ashton in 1865 for his 16-year-old bride, Elizabeth Croxford Ashton. When the Ashtons moved to Vernal the home was bought by Benjamin W. Driggs for his wife, Parley P. Pratt's daughter, Olivia Pratt Driggs.
Great-grandson Ralph S. Driggs, descendant of Drigg's plural wife Rosalie Cox Driggs, remembers a family story about his polygamous great-grandfather. "Federal marshals grabbed a man going in the back door of the old home. They told him they'd be guarding him all night and he said that was fine. In the morning the man said, `Well, I guess I'll be going now.' The marshals cried, `Oh, no you won't, Benjamin Driggs.' The man replied, `Oh yes I will, because I'm not Benjamin Driggs!' "
The former Pleasant Grove resident also recalled how the oldest daughter of Olivia Pratt had been engaged to the territorial senator William King when Mrs. Pratt was pregnant with her 12th child. King suddenly died so the new baby was named for him, which gave William King Driggs the terrific stage name his singing daughters would adopt: The King Sisters.
Howard and Ruby Warnick, owners of the Frederick C. Shoell house on Second South and Fourth East built in about 1870, were hosts to three generations of Christiansen neighbors for the Strawberry Days parade. This year when the kids and grandkids and the great-grandkids gather on the Warnick lawn to watch the Pleasant Grove firetruck spray the crowd, Howard won't be there. Along with three widows, only Harold Bullock remains of the old neighbors on this block.
Thursday morning at parade time, children will perch on the curb of Second South waiting for the clowns who throw candy. Two sisters who used to stand and watch the Tilt O'Whirl for the fastest car in 1957 will take their daughters on the yearly carnival ride. Soon it will be time to go home and kids will whine and cry for one more ride. The block "G" will be lit on the mountain and laughter will float across the evening. Everything is still right in Pleasant Grove. (And Jess Walker, I'm still writing.)