clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

LIVING HISTORY ANCHORS TOWN WHIRLING IN CHANGE

While the winds of technological and economic change sweep through the rest of this once-dusty frontier town, the John Hutchings Museum of Natural History is sinking roots deep into the heart of Lehi and its residents.

The Hutchings Museum reopened in February after moving thousands of historical artifacts six blocks south along Center Street to the Veterans Memorial Building. In about the time it took for museum employees to complete the move, Lehi went from a quiet rest stop along I-15 to an economic boom town exploding with growth.Since museum curator Harold Hutchings and his staff began removing displays from the building, which had housed the museum since 1965, Lehi has undergone changes perhaps more sweeping than at any other time in its 146-year history. In 18 months, the city learned it would be the site for a billion-dollar computer chip plant; added a huge combination gas station-restaurant on Main Street; saw Best Western build a 60-room inn; authorized the construction of Thanksgiving Point, a mammoth outdoor recreation project spread over 400 acres; and razed one of its oldest remaining public buildings.

Even the arrival of the Pony Express in 1860 didn't cause a stir like the one among Lehi residents now. Amid all the goings-on, the Hutchings Museum remains as perhaps the city's greatest tangible link to its storied past.

John Hutchings was born in Lehi in 1889. By the time he was five years old, Hutchings was already collecting American Indian relics and whatever else caught his eye. Hutchings passed that passion for collecting and chronicling things to his four children as well.

"I was encouraged to collect anything and everything I was interested in," said John's son, Harold, who now spends his days showing museum visitors what his family gathered during decades of exploring the area around Lehi. "That's the first thing I remember: collecting things."

The Hutchings Museum includes displays ranging from dinosaur bones and reptile eggs to pistols used by Johnston's Army and Butch Cassidy's rifle. What links nearly all the artifacts together is they were discovered in Utah.

Harold Hutchings says about 92 percent of the relics on display were found by the Hutchings family inside the Beehive State. The family collected another 6 percent outside Utah, and just 2 percent of the items were donated by persons not connected with the state. What that means for the rapidly developing city of Lehi - and the state of Utah - is a wide-ranging and detailed record of its past.

"The thing I like is there is much of it that is local," Harold said. "We live in a paradise for collecting. There's still a lot more out there to collect."

The museum includes several items which belonged to Lehi's most famous resident, Orrin Porter Rockwell. One of the few well-known gunfighters of the American West who didn't die in a shower of bullets left his handcuffs, saddle and pistol here. For Harold Hutchings, such leftovers from an earlier era are far from obsolete.

"Everything has a story behind it," Harold said. "We are just about the only ones preserving history. For me, this has been a lifetime of fun."

While thousands of travelers from around the world visit the museum each year, Lehi residents especially enjoy the Hutchings Museum for its Pioneer Room, which houses such local relics as Lehi's first fire engine, memorabilia from the Lehi Tabernacle's cornerstone, and furniture, tools and various household items used by the pioneers who first settled here in 1850.

In his 1990 history "Lehi: Portraits of a Utah Town," Lehi historian Richard VanWagoner writes about John Hutchings' contribution to the local historic record: "Throughout his lifetime he discovered thousands of finely crafted arrow and spear points, grinding stones, grass and willow baskets, and pottery shards - most of them within a few miles of Lehi."

For Lehi, all of this living history adds a bit of perspective to a community currently caught up in the volatile world of computer microchips, residential development and automobile traffic. VanWagoner, in his official Lehi history, says historical perspective is just the legacy Hutchings wanted to leave for his hometown.

"John Hutchings believed we should `never let go out of Utah, that which belongs in Utah.' He meant the same for our own community as well. The Hutchings Museum belongs to the people of Lehi."