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Huntsman puts Fillmore back in the spotlight

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At the turn of the century, Fillmore's Territorial Statehouse was just another run-down old building among newer, better structures in the central Utah town.

Deseret Morning News graphicDNews graphicFillmore Territorial StatehouseRequires Adobe Acrobat.

"As new city buildings were constructed, the old statehouse fell into disuse and decay," the Deseret News reported in 1980, looking back several decades. "Vandals kicked out the basement windows, and kids crawled through to play in the basement."

Eventually, the old statehouse became so blighted there was a movement to tear down the eyesore.

The Utah State Department of Parks and Recreation noted: "The building had fallen into disrepair and was threatened with demolition."

But the East Millard Daughters of the Utah Pioneers pushed for legislation to fund restoration, and the building was saved, becoming Utah's first state park in 1930.

Today the old statehouse will take another step in its phoenix-like rise from the ashes as Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. delivers his first State of the State address there.

It is believed to be the first such speech given at the statehouse since territorial Gov. Brigham Young delivered a speech to the territorial Legislature in 1855, the only full year a Legislature met at the statehouse.

Originally, the building was supposed to be Utah's Capitol, designed as a Roman cross with a Moorish dome in the middle.

But the federal funding that came from Mormon-friendly President Millard Fillmore dried up after Fillmore was defeated in the early 1850s, and only the southern wing of the structure was ever built.

While Brigham Young had picked the site for the Capitol because it was centrally located in the Pauvan Valley near Chalk Creek, legislators wanted to have meetings in Salt Lake City. By 1858 a new, non-Mormon governor, Albert Cummings, was appointed by President James Buchanan and the official state Capitol moved to Salt Lake City.

In the decades between 1860 and 1930, before the house became a museum, the building served as an LDS school, a Presbyterian school, a public school, a library, a dentist shop and even housed the Deseret News, which moved presses there in 1858 to escape Johnston's Army.

Today, the building is visited by roughly 40,000 to 50,000 people yearly, said Gordon Chatland, park ranger with the Utah Territorial House Museum.

Roughly 40 percent of those visitors come on a sort of family history quest, Chatland said. The house is home to volumes of portraits and other artifacts belonging to early area pioneers.

Of course, Chatland expects an increase in attendance after the governor's speech.

"Oh, everybody's excited," he said. "We're going to do very well now."

State of the State address

Live TV coverage begins 6:30 p.m. today on KSL Ch. 5, KSTU Ch. 13, KTVX Ch. 4, KUTV Ch. 2.

E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com