Facebook Twitter

Sorensen Home Museum

Draper house serves as a portrait of what life in the 1890s was like

SHARE Sorensen Home Museum

The home of Peter and Martina Sorensen has always been a gathering place for Draper residents.

The Sorensens, who were some of the first pioneers in Draper, used to host social gatherings, church meetings and, occasionally, LDS Church leaders in their home.

Today, the house continues to attract visitors as the Sorensen Home Museum.

After a nine-month renovation and being moved down the block from its original location, the house serves as a portrait of what life in the 1890s was like. It includes a renovated parlor, kitchen and candy store plus dozens of artifacts from the time period. Decorations are designed to bring to mind how it might have looked when Martina Sorensen lived there.

An early pioneer home

Martina Thompson Sorensen immigrated to the United States from Denmark with her family. Her parents were converts to the LDS Church and sought to join other Saints living in the Salt Lake Valley. The Thompsons crossed the Plains in 1861 when Martina was only 2 years old. They lived in the Bear River area for a while and eventually moved to Draper.

Martina met her husband, Peter Sorensen, another LDS convert from Denmark, after moving to the city, and the two were married in 1880. By 1882, they moved into a one-bedroom adobe house. As their family grew, more rooms were eventually added on until the home reached its present size. With the Sorensens' large yard, their home became a popular place to hold gatherings. Its proximity to the train station was a draw for visiting general authorities.

Peter Sorensen was killed in a tragic accident in 1914, and Martina was left to support her family. After her son Reuben returned from serving in World War I, he promised to take care of his mother. He and his wife, Ivy, along with their children, all lived in the home with Martina until she died in 1954.

Velora Whetman, one of Reuben's daughters, said she was happy to see the home preserved.

"I just never dreamed it would happen," she said. "It was vacant for a while. It was burned and kind of destroyed a little bit. I ... thought it was old and dilapidated, but they've made it really beautiful."

Renovation and restoration

In the spring of 2001, the owner of the property where the Sorensen house was located indicated he wanted to demolish it, because he had other plans for the property. Katie Shell, a long-time member of the Draper Preservation Commission and now a member of the Sorensen Home Board, had been looking at the home as something she wanted to see preserved. She and Bill Moedl, another preservation commission member, began looking at other options of where the home could be located and what it would take to restore it.

In March of 2002, the home was moved to a plot of ground Velora Whetman and her husband, Phill, had donated to the city. It now sits next to Draper Historic Park.

Hundreds of volunteers worked thousands of hours to restore the home to its original glory. The city of Draper agreed to give $90,000 to the project if the Sorensen Home Board could raise an additional $60,000-$70,000. Businesses and foundations donated money, services and in-kind contributions. Shell said 16 Eagle Scout projects were done on the home as part of the renovation.

The Home Board made an agreement with the city to build a nice set of public restrooms on the back of the home so visitors to Draper Historic Park could use them. The board pays for the utilities on the building, while the city picks up the water bill, Shell said.

The board still has a list of artifacts they would like to find and a few more things they want to do to complete the restoration of the home, but funds only stretch so far, Shell said.

For the enjoyment of the community

Both Shell and Helene Terry, another board member, said it's usually children who are fascinated with learning about life in 1890.

One Cub Scout who toured the museum was so fascinated that he came back two days later with his mother and siblings. He even remembered most of the things he had learned and only looked to Terry for help a few times.

Moedl said the home has become an information station for residents and visitors alike.

"It's such a tangible thing to learn from, especially for children to see and touch and feel and get a perspective," he said. "People who come from out of town to see relatives' grave sites or monuments gravitate to the house to ask questions. It's been a real resource that way."

Moedl said the home is significant because of the history it represents.

"I can't say enough about Katie Shell and her particular vision (for this house)," he said. "It's not the most elegant or largest or the most famous Draper citizens who lived in the home. It's a good representation of what a home at that period had to offer."

Whetman said she feels the home as a museum is a good way to honor her grandparents.

"They were some of the first settlers in Draper.... (The house) has kind of put a name for Sorensen in Draper," she said. "It just makes me feel really proud and happy. Grandma was such a sweet little lady, and she would be proud."

The Sorensen Home Museum, 12597 S. 900 East is open Monday from 6-8 p.m. and Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free. Those wanting to take a group through are encouraged to call ahead.

It is also available to rent out for children's birthday parties, small private gatherings and special tours. Children's birthday parties cost $50 for a two-hour party hosted by a volunteer and include a short tour of the home, a Victorian tea party, party games, handkerchief dolls and a small porcelain doll for the birthday girl. For information about renting the Sorensen home, contact Lesley Goeckeritz at 553-8163.

E-mail: twalquist@desnews.com