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Life in 'Old Deseret' — This Is the Place Heritage Park carries on LDS pioneer traditions

Late in the morning, a relentless mid-summer sun has begun to broil the hillside pioneer village. Nevertheless, a woman under a broad-brimmed hat tends to a small garden outside the Godbe-Pitts Drug Store. The foliage is bright with violet blossoms, so she is mindful of bees.

"Flies and bugs don't like lavender," Vicki Rich says, a hand at her brow. "Bees do." Because the plant is said to repel insects, "we hang it at doors and windows to keep them out of homes and buildings."

Rich is among the employees and volunteers, of all ages, who enliven the walkways, streets and 50 historic buildings and reconstructions assembled at 450-acre This Is the Place Heritage Park, near the mouth of Emigration Canyon above Salt Lake City, notes program director Cliff Harris.

All wear Old West attire, and most portray Mormon settlers, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They often speak with diction and phrasing reminiscent of a century and a half ago, and generally help make the Western-themed park a delightful — and eye-opening — experience.

The first Mormon pioneers wanted to establish the "State of Deseret," proposed in 1849 as the name for what became the territory, and then state, of Utah. The park's village makes it seem as if Deseret harbored a New World twin of the magical, mythical, lost-in-time Scottish village of Brigadoon.

It seems apt to ask Vicki Rich, as apothecary of what has been called "Old Deseret," about potential cures for a summertime headache.

"May I suggest you put your feet up in the shade and drink cold water?" she says, before stepping into the cooler confines of her shop.

Willow bark, she resumes, can also be effective, as are other white tree barks, such as poplar and aspen. Their ingredients are related to what we today call aspirin.

And she points to a large bottle — colored a cautionary blue — among the battalion of medicines in ranks along the shop's eastern wall. The bold label says "LAUDANUM," and Rich assumes you've heard of this opiate-derivative's pain-masking properties.

Suddenly, a well-dressed gentleman steps into the store, introduces himself as Dr. Lorenzo Quackenbush, and instantly begins hawking small notion bottles. He attended esteemed Harvard University, the man claims in an insistent braggadocio, has traveled the world, "and in South America I actually found the Fountain of Youth!"

He is, the alleged doctor says, 47 years old, but most people take him for 23 or so.

"You have the audacity to walk into my store to sell your wares?" a shocked and perturbed Vicki Rich manages to insert.

Dr. Quackenbush is unfazed. "All cures are intended to induce vomit, sweat — or out through the other end," he says. "I have cures for everything."

Something that will help one write a story, perhaps?

Without a beat, he pulls from a wrap upon his arm a bottle he says would certainly help. "Memory enhancer," it reads. "It is regularly four-ninety-eight per bottle; for you, one dollar."

"That's a week's wages!" the displeased apothecary exclaims.

Dr. Quackenbush (really J. Scott Crapo) realizes no sale is imminent, but notes he will be around town. Rich says he's headed for trouble (and in fact a trial is expected later in the day).

"I'm simply trying to improve the lives of the community," the wandering salesman says, before he heads toward the door.

The living past

Such scenes and exchanges are evocatively routine throughout the Old Deseret, or Heritage Village, compound, which is scattered with real, relocated buildings and replicas from throughout Utah, Harris says.

The drug store nestles in a small commercial district around the intersection of the village's Main and First North streets — though rural-seeming campfire smoke filters into the neighborhood from a mountain man camp to the rear.

The handsome Huntsman Hotel, a replica of a Fillmore landmark on a corner to the west, offers food, beverage and ice cream. Goods and goodies are also available on a second corner, at the Deseret Village ZCMI Store, originally Tuttle & Fox's general store, a building imported lock, stock and barrel from Manti.

Farther down First North is a one-story adobe building that houses replicated offices of the Deseret News, the pioneer newspaper founded in 1850. Inside is a hand-operated press, which prints one sheet at a time. As is appropriate for July, freshly inked copies of the Declaration of Independence dry on a countertop; other sheets hang like limp laundry from overhead lines.

East of the drug store, inside the Dinwoody Cabinet and Chair Shop, cabinetmaker Alex Stromberg is beveling a chunky length of rounded wood into what is to become a cane. His young apprentice, Ammon Gleason, cranks a large wheel that provides the power needed to turn the lathe for Stromberg to shave his piece of lumber.

Elsewhere, Stromberg points to an unfinished cradle being built by the shop's master carpenter. A casket leans against a nearby wall.

"We can take care of you from cradle to grave," he observes, matter-of-factly.

Lilting strains of "In the Good Old Summertime" drift over the avenue as one of the park's tourist trains rattles by. The voices belong to men lollygagging in B.F. Johnson's saddlery. The bank and a barbershop are just to the west, on Main Street.

"Diamond Jim" Davis is holding informal court inside the leatherworks. He wears a badge. "I'm the tanner, town marshal … and charlatan," he says, in a surprisingly forthcoming manner. "Oh, did I say that out loud?" he chuckles.

He shows off pieces of leather being shaped into a bucket. The shop manufactures everything from saddles, of course, to artificial limbs and straight jackets. The French, he adds, perhaps to highlight his erudition, call the latter a "camisole de force."

Place of many peoples

This Is the Place Heritage Park's mission is to represent all of Utah's forebears, Harris notes during a tour through various sections. Area Indian tribes, for instance, are represented at the Native American Village, with the Wasatch Mountains as a backdrop. Shoshone teepee lodges and Navajo hogans grace the scene. The park hopes to add memorials to Utah's Ute, Goshute and Paiute peoples, as well.

Nearby, a small land-stranded craft representing the ship Brooklyn helps recall the expeditions of those pioneers who came to the American West around Cape Horn to what we know as San Francisco, and thence, in most cases, to the Salt Lake Valley. Nearby, children can pan for precious metal along a stream.

"We tell the story of those who were in the Gold Rush here," Harris explains. The rivulet is salted with fool's gold, of course, "which we buy for pennies" – and which the children can exchange for candy, if they wish.

A small train circumnavigates a large pond, portraying the transcontinental railroad's role in the history of Utah and Deseret. A small but very real cemetery is on the hillside, too. The graves are mostly those of children who died early in Salt Lake's settlement. They were re-interred here after the original gravesites were discovered during development projects.

The park tries to honor all setters and historic contributors, Harris says, but it notably includes, and takes its name from, This Is the Place Monument. The iconic tribute, hailing the entry of leader Brigham Young and the pioneer vanguard into the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847, recalls President Young's famous utterance, "This is the right place; drive on."

The heritage park is popular among youth groups, which often participate in handcart treks; children's day camps; family outings, and single-adult groups, Harris says.

The new Garden Place at Heritage Park can host conventions and meetings within its multipurpose hall, and on its outdoor lawns. The spacious facility, on the park's western fringes near buildings in the University of Utah's Research Park, was funded by private donations. It is, Harris adds, one of the recent projects of Utah developer Ellis Ivory, now the park's executive director, as well as chairman of its board of trustees.

Ivory is not living in the past, in this haven of another time. "He's bringing the past into the future," Harris says.

On the wood and timber hall's south side is another new addition, the Walk of Pioneer Faiths. Here 10 large stone markers remember the legacies of various pioneer religious groups, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant.

And every day seems to bring a wedding to the village. Preparations are under way at the New England-white replica of the Pine Valley Chapel. But, Harris says, other settings are equally popular, from the porch-lined Kimball Home on First North to the 1862 stuccoed Brigham Young Forest Farmhouse on the far west side. Garden Place will be another ideal venue for such gatherings, Harris says.

Sounds and symbols

History rings throughout This Is the Place. The clang of hammer upon metal resounds from the blacksmith's shop. Children in pioneer dress chatter and stroll along the walkways. Other children, in modern togs and identical T-shirts, do, too, in little tour groups. Some thrill to rides on real ponies, not a make-believe carousel, under a gazebo at the Savage Livery Stable.

On Main Street, Robin Bromley is twirling thick yarn thread on the porch of the Jewkes home, her pumping foot making a spinning wheel spin. She manipulates clean wool (from Lottie, the sheep out back), using a "lazy kate" to wind new thread onto a spool. Inside, she has been at work creating red-and-white dish towel cloth on an 1885 loom.

Yes, she is a "spinster," Bromley says, "although I am married and have two children — and am on grandbaby alert right now!"

Meanwhile, Sarah Durtschi is alone in the replicated sandstone Heber East Ward Schoolhouse, though she's expecting students to arrive shortly.

Slate boards and chalk repose upon the desks. On the walls hang portraits of famous men, such as Brigham Young. A large chart presents squiggly letters of the Mormon pioneers' Deseret alphabet, some characters of which are also on the teacher's blackboard at the head of the schoolroom.

On the north wall is an 1865 map of the United States and the nation's territories. A rose-tinted section much larger than the then-square-ish territory of Utah, demarcates the expansive hopes of the would-be State of Deseret.

"People are interested in it," the teacher says. After all, the proposed Deseret "was bigger than Texas," the big state (and former nation) outlined a little farther to the southeast on the map.

The map's Deseret covers much of the West, from what is today Colorado, down into New Mexico and Arizona, and stretching into southern California. It would have included ports like Los Angeles and San Diego. But San Francisco and Sacramento, to the north, where the Gold Rush of '49 stirred things up, are not within Deseret's suggested boundaries.

However, Harris and Durtschi, a California native, agree that Deseret would have included a happy modern-day southern California attraction:


This Is the Place Heritage Park

Where: This Is the Place Heritage Park, 2601 E. Sunnyside Ave.

Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.

Cost: $10 adults; $7 seniors (55 and over); $7 children (12 and under); children 2 and under enter for free. On Sunday, fees are $5 for adults; $3 for seniors; $3 for children.

Telephone: 801-582-1847


This is "Heritage Season" at This Is the Place Heritage Park. "Pioneer Days" are under way July 23-25.

"Brother Brigham's Ball" is planned on Saturday, July 23, 6-8 p.m., in the new Garden Place hall. Tickets are $5. Information is on the website, or call 801-924-7502.

Additional articles in the Rediscovering Deseret series:

Old age among myths of Daughters of Utah Pioneers membership

Pioneer Memorial Museum: Salt Lake's treasure house of artifacts and stories is a 'secret' everyone can share

The area of Deseret started huge, got smaller as it became Utah

Shifting shape: Salt Lake City is a living metropolis

Hotel Utah, 100 years of history

Living history: The past comes to life at Antelope Island's Fielding Garr Ranch

Escape to another time at Lagoon's Pioneer Village