This article originally appeared in Vol.55, No.1 (2008) of Pioneer Magazine.
by Susan Lofgren
The concept and reality of a Pioneer Village started early in the heart of Horace A. Sorensen. Originally the site of the village was the pasture and showring for a string of American saddlebred horses. The main museum building was the stable and the round house was the winter training ring. During that time Mr. and Mrs. Horace A. Sorensen, the founders of Pioneer Village, acquired quite a collection of old coaches, wagons, and other vehicles. Being in the retail furniture business they also obtained some beautiful pieces of antique furniture and household equipment.
When World War II made it almost impossible to hold horse shows, the round house was converted into a small museum for the National Society of the Sons of Utah Pioneers, opening October 24, 1948. The project grew, and the large barn was remodeled for the same purpose in 1954.
With the building of the Wanship Dam in the mountains east of Salt Lake City, the little pioneer village of Rockport was to be inundated. A request was made to preserve some of the old buildings erected during pioneer times, and so Sorensen moved them into the pasture, and thus the museum grew into a “Pioneer Village.” Additional old buildings were brought in, restored and furnished according to the period. Two old stores were acquired complete with counters, fixtures, and original stock which had been locked up for nearly 20 years. Included in the village was practically every kind of shop and public building found in pioneer times.
In 1956, Mr. and Mrs. Sorensen deeded the entire collection and the property on which it was situated to the National Society of Sons of Utah Pioneers. With the continued financial and technical assistance of Sorensen and others, additions were made to the village each year. Daily the team of oxen, “Ben” and “Lars,” took hundreds of school-children, tourists, and visitors for a ride in a covered wagon. At the end of the ride the oxen would kneel down and “pray” for the riders. They were the only known praying oxen in the world. There was also a small herd of buffalo, and teams of horses were hitched to a wagon or an old coach on occasions.
Annually on “Pioneer Day,” July 24th, a number of wagons, buggies, or old coaches were entered in the big parade. Several times during the year groups of Indians descended on the village to perform dances, demonstrate crafts, and show their way of life.
In the February 1954 Instructor magazine, Minnie E. Anderson records: “Here the culture of the Pioneers comes to life. The quaint atmosphere of their homes and every detail of living can be seen in this splendid and worthy collection of Pioneer items. Horace A. Sorensen has been the guiding genius in creating the museum which is really a pioneer village.
“Among the village treasures are: the awkward, hand sewn, hand woven clothes they wore—the bed with rope springs and straw filled mattress, the great iron kettles used to cook over the campfire or fireplace, the musical instruments, carriages and sleighs, the old tin bathtub, the weaving loom where the housewife wove the cloth to make their clothes, the great prairie schooners in which the Pioneers crossed the plains and sometimes lived in for a time until they could bring down logs from the canyon to build their homes, a chair that has likenesses of the heads of Joseph and Hyrum carved in the back.“The Indian collection given by Mildred Miles Dillman of Roosevelt, Utah, is outstanding, with items dating back 2000 years Seven national authorities, including Dr. Donald Scott of Peabody Museum, Harvard University… examined [an Indian sandstone] tablet and pronounced it as being from culture that existed 1200-1700 years ago.“You could spend hours in the museum’s old merchandise store with all its stock, moved from Kamas, Utah, and assembled. It is a real education. Do take your Sunday School students out to see these and many other wonderful items of interest.”
The pioneer spirit which built the West was recaptured and preserved there, and a visit to Pioneer Village left one with a lasting impression of the westward movement and a deeper appreciation of our great American heritage.
Recognition received by Pioneer Village
■ “Award of Merit” from American Association of State and Local Histories, Washington D.C., 1954 and 1956.
■ Utah State Historical Society “Award,” 1960.
■ The Gun Collection was featured in Life magazine, April 13,1959.
■ Member of National Trust for Preservation of Historical Sites, Washington D.C.
■ Life member of American Pioneer Trails & Landmarks Association, New York.