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Sugar beets and smelters — Murray City Museum brings the past into focus

SHARE Sugar beets and smelters — Murray City Museum brings the past into focus

For the past two years the Murray City Museum has helped hundreds of children and adults capture a glimpse of what it was like to live in the city when smelters were the skyscrapers and sugar beets covered the land.

The museum's experience begins with a tour starting from prehistoric times when Lake Bonneville covered the land to vegetable gardens and ending with pictures of the modern city. The museum closely focuses on the time period of 1870 through 1950, illustrating how Murray grew from an agricultural beginning to a booming smelter town.

As the tour proceeds, dedicated volunteers and employees like Judson Callaway, volunteer, and Michael Pemberton, museum assistant, relate stories of people like Harry Haynes, who once walked the streets of Murray.

Haynes is not only remembered by Callaway, Pemberton and other historians as a merchant, a saloon keeper, a politician and a postmaster, but he is also remembered for helping Murray establish its name.

It was the early 1880s when part of the area then known as South Cottonwood first heard its current name of Murray. As the postmaster, Haynes sent a petition to the United States Congress suggesting the post office, which was located on State Street across from the present Murray City Hall, be named after Gen. George Armstrong Custer or Eli H. Murray, the territorial governor, Callaway said.

"The decision was in favor of Governor Murray, and so we are now Murray and not Custer," Callaway said, noting that in 1903 the town was incorporated, officially becoming the city of Murray.

Established in March 2003, the historic museum is located in Room 100 at the City Hall. The vision of the museum originally came from longtime Murray resident Arlette Day. In the early 1970s, Day began collecting photographs and artifacts such as dresses and drills that are now displayed in the museum.

Most of the museum's visitors are students and local Scout groups, Callaway noted.

"The physical evidence of the town's history is (disappearing) as buildings come down and as the cityscape changes," Callaway said, adding the smelter stacks that were a large part of Murray's history came down in 2000.

"A place like this is about the only way some of these kids are going to come acquainted with the (history) of the town they live in," Callaway said.

Pemberton said he enjoys hearing stories from old-times who come to remember the history they lived. Pemberton related one of the stories he heard recently. The visitor remembered how the firemen would drop whatever they were doing when they heard the fire siren. The visitor shared that he was getting a haircut when the fire siren went off one day.

"The barber just dropped his clippers right in the middle of the haircut. He got half a haircut because the guy ran out to the fire," Pemberton said. "It is always little human stories like that that I like to tell."

Another story, Callaway noted, occurred in the early 1900s after Murray was incorporated. There was a robbery at the post office, located across the street from Arlington School, which is now where City Hall is located, he said.

"The town marshal chased the robber across the street and around the school firing his gun," Callaway said. "Now the newspaper account doesn't say if the school was in session, but that is kind of a novel experience. You are sitting in class and all of a sudden law and order is going on outside."

Callaway noted that volunteering at the museum is also a way for him to develop his interest in the city's history.

"I also get to meet people from Murray, and they often have interesting stories, which adds to the museum," Callaway said, noting he especially enjoys giving tours to school-age children. "If you are interested in having some influence on the next generation and you are not a teacher, this is probably as good as a place as any to (volunteer)."

If you go

The Murray City Museum is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m.-1 p.m., from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday evenings or by appointment. For more information, call 264-2589.