Carl Miller speaks of his beloved town's history like a preacher expounding on the holy goodness and wisdom of The Word.
Standing on the sidewalk of a historic Main Street flush with antique stores and country corner cafes, Miller, clad in a cowboy hat and boots, captivates crowds of history buffs with yarns about Lehi's lore and legends of polygamy, prescription liquor and Porter Rockwell."At the turn of the century, Lehi was the leading city in northern Utah County," says the local historian, who learned the town's stories while teaching fourth-grade classes. "Now, 100 years later, we've returned to that position. We are going to be the destination place."
Miller served as a tour guide at Utah's annual Statehood Day celebration, held Saturday in the sleepy bedroom town that served as a backdrop for the 1984 feature film "Footloose."
Nearly 1,000 people attended tours of the 15,000-resident city, a dinner and a ceremony to commemorate Utah's Jan. 4 birthday, when the land of Deseret became an arm of the Union.
Each year the Utah State Historical Society chooses a city to host the Beehive state's anniversary, said society member Patricia Smith-Mansfield, who browsed shops and marveled at renovated buildings during Miller's tour.
Society Director Max J. Evens, a Lehi native who presented the statehood address, was thrilled to learn Lehi leaders had asked to plan the celebration this year, she said.
There's a reason for the friendly, open-armed invitation.
Miller, like other Lehi denizens, is quick to boast about the city's wealth of historic treasures and hardy pioneer moxie ready for the future.
"We have a history that a lot of people don't know about," he said, fixing a bolo tie around his neck. "Most places don't have original structures like these still standing."
Like that building over yonder, he says, pointing to a brick, box-like building with art-deco architecture. In 1915, during pro-hi-bi-tion, the drugstore here prescribed liquor for medicinal purposes. It later was used as an undertaker's parlor, shoe-repair store and butcher shop.
Or, he said, take a look at Cobblerock Clogger's building, the second-oldest edifice on Main Street. The bar housed here in the 1800s was furnished with posh mirrors, crystal lights and high-backed chairs. The onset of prohibition sent the owners packing, and the building was eventually turned into a library, then a funeral parlor, then a harness shop.
Those stories can't be forgotten, he said. They tie future residents to roots while heading into the high-tech 21st century.
Lehi was settled in 1851 by David Evans, a survivor of the Haun's Mill Massacre, a grim account of 16 brutal deaths of Mormon families by an angry Missouri mob on Oct. 30, 1838.
Evans, who served as the community's spiritual leader, was charged with heading an effort to dig a seven-mile irrigation ditch from the mouth of American Fork Canyon to supplement the town's water supply. By 1854, he reportedly crafted the first blueprints for the city streets using a pocket compass and a carpenter's square.
Polygamists and Indians were welcome to build homes in the city's limits. The railroad soon followed, stopping seven times a day at the original station at Fourth and Main by 1897. Legend has it that Presidents Benjamin Harrison, William Howard Taft and Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed through the town on trains headed to Salt Lake City or Denver.
The city has continued to thrive, especially in the past five years. With the influx of Micron and national food and motel chains, the population and tax base has nearly doubled.
Despite the growth, though, it maintains a quaint, picket-fence appeal.
The rich history of the city enthralled Manhattan resident Bekka Hansen, who is studying for her doctorate degree at New York University. The Salt Lake native is visiting her family, whom she describes as avid students of Utah history.
"This area is vital to the settlement of the west. People in the east don't know what type of history we have. There's a sense of roots, connectedness," she said. "I guess, since living in the east, I appreciate it more when I come back."