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Museum buys 92 acres of historic Topaz

WWII internment site to be preserved, may get landmark status

Preservationists now own most of Topaz after a land purchase last week at the central Utah site where as many as 8,300 Japanese Americans were interned during World War II.

The Topaz Museum is now moving forward with other plans, such as applying for designation as a privately owned National Historic Landmark, and raising funds for a museum, said Jane Beckwith, president of the museum's board.

"Conserving the site was foremost on our minds," Beckwith said. "That site is so delicate, so fragile. . . . Now we can relax on that front and move toward making a museum in Delta."

The purchase of 92 acres was finalized last week. It brought the total land owned by the museum to about 615 of the 640 acres of the former camp's living area.

The land, purchased for $172,000, included the property, two houses and the historic Topaz well, Beckwith said.

Beckwith said becoming a national historic landmark would increase the land's prestige and enable the museum board to receive federal grants and consult with the National Park Service on preservation projects.

"We're a volunteer board; we need professional help in making sure (Topaz) is preserved and utilized," she said.

The national nonprofit Conservation Fund assisted with the fund-raising efforts and negotiations with the property owners, Beckwith said. The two organizations split the costs equally, and the Conservation Fund donated its half to the museum.

Beckwith is also optimistic about a federal conservation bill that passed the House of Representatives recently and is pending in the Senate.

If it passes, the bill would appropriate $38 million to be shared by about 60 internment site properties nationwide, Beckwith said.

Utah Republican Reps. Rob Bishop and Chris Cannon, and Democrat Rep. Jim Matheson were all co-sponsors. In the Senate, Utah Republicans Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett are co-sponsoring.

Cannon's spokesman Charles Isom said he didn't know how much of the $38 million would go to Topaz, but he said Cannon recognized its importance to Utah's history.

"We're hopeful it will get done either late this year or early next year," Isom said. "The congressman looks forward to getting this to the president for his signature."

The Topaz Museum started trying to acquire the land at Topaz in 1993, Beckwith said. The first transaction took nearly eight years to complete. Then, two years ago, the museum obtained another 100 acres, she said.

For more information on Topaz visit www.topazmuseum.org.


E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com