Fabulous Story of Utah’s Pioneer Village Stable and Show Ring Made into Far-Famed Museum

This article originally appeared in the May/June 1970 issue of Pioneer Magazine

by Horace A. Sorenson, Founder-Director

The history of the West comes alive when thousands of visitors, mostly school children, tourists and others visit Utah’s Pioneer Village located at 2998 Connor Street, 2150 East, East Mill Creek, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Little did we know that our stables and show ring for American Fine Harness and saddle horses would some day be a Pioneer Village. Through the efforts of our mothers, both daughters of Utah Pioneers, we were inducted and persuaded to assemble many buggies, sleighs, wagons, harnesses, antique  furniture, statues, etc., because we had the sheds, buildings and barn to store them for protection before it was too late to save them.

Pioneer Village today.

Like many couples we had come from the country to the city, and met at the University of Utah, and after getting married worked hard to accumulate enough to return to the country which we naturally loved.

Most of our grandparents had come across the plains before the coming of the railroad with oxen hitched to covered wagons that brought all their worldly possessions from their native lands.

As we collected the many articles of antiquity, we found that they were not so many old things but silent witnesses of the great past. What stories they told! Little did we know just why we assembled them in our backyard. This went on for a number of years. In the meantime we took many trips to historical places in the East and overseas.

We saw the open air museums in Europe and also Williamsburg, Sturbridge and many others in this country. Williamsburg, a fabulous Colonial Village, costing the Rockefellers a hundred million, was too expensive and did not fit into our locale. Starbridge Village, 50 miles southwest of Boston, Massachusetts was more our type.

So, finally in 1947 during the centennial of the Mormon pioneer trek from Nauvoo, Illinois to the territory of Utah, we felt more fully the importance of both our pioneer and American heritage.

Becomes a Museum

We converted the round house which had been built to train horses indoors during the winter into a museum where we assembled some of the collection. On October 28, 1948, we dedicated it with church and civic leaders present as the guests of the Sugar House Chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers as a museum.

In the meantime a gun enthusiast and collector of firearms had on display in a Sugar House show window his guns. This was Moroni Schindler, who sold me his collection and then went to work with me as a curator. I soon discovered that he had a European museum background and with the German traits to carry through, he was a good man to follow the long hours and years of endless research that came. So, Moroni has been with the project ever since.

Moroni is also the sheriff of the Village. He proudly wears a deputy star on his chest and a revolver in a holster strapped to his belt. One day while on his watchful tour of duty, he heard some yells from the Towne Hall. Upon checking he found two girl teenagers that had been locked in the jail by their boyfriends. This is only one of many instances where young visitors participated in the life of the Village.

Views National Exhibits

On an eastern trip I visited many points of interest in search of American artifacts. Everywhere I went, I told them that I would like some things to teach the people, and especially the children, who visited the museum. In Philadelphia, the cradle of American independence, my plea resulted in a hand-painted copy of the great painting that hands at Valley Forge of General George Washington on his white horse reviewing the bedraggled troops in 1776 when our independence hung by a thread. The results were surprising. I brought back many old historical etchings and documents. Also an unsigned portrait of Washington by the country’s leading painter. Also many Lincoln-era treasures were added to the collection. Later on, a statue of Washington was also added, done by Loundin, a French sculptor who modeled him while he was yet alive. The original is in the State Capitol at Richmond, Virginia. Also is shown the desk and chair used by W.H. Hooper as our first representative of the territory and under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, who received it when he retired from office. The desk and chair is an exact copy of that used by Lincoln as president, which is now in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. These and countless other items honor our American heritage at Pioneer Village.

Early plot plan drawing of buildings at Pioneer Village, 1973
Early plot plan drawing of buildings at Pioneer Village, 1973 (via Salt Lake County Archives)

The Main Building is the former horse barn of the Edgemont Stables, which is in the center of about three acres at the end of a tree-lined road leading in from Connor Street to a paved parking lot for about a hundred cars. The entrance is the old Union Pacific Railroad Station moved there from Kaysville, Utah. It is joined on the east side by a narrow gauge freight train and caboose from the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad.

For Expenses Only

For several years we did not charge for entrance to the Village and usually served refreshments to the visitors. In 1953, the property and some 30 buildings were deeded to the National Society of Sons of the Sons of Utah Pioneers comprising a complete Pioneer Village, and they suggested that an entrance charge be made to help defray the expenses of operation, with no charge for children under six years of age, 25 cents for children 14 and under, and 75 cents for adults.

The National Society of the Sons of Utah Pioneers has continued with myself as director of museums, Milton V. Blackman as assistant director and judge advocate and Ronald L. Kingsbury as accountant and treasurer. We are dollar-a-year men. Our wives have faithfully served in assisting us in administration capacities and as special guides. Thanks to Florence Blackman, Ilene Kingsbury and Ethel Sorensen. Thanks to my family and the South East Furniture Company for all they have done to make it possible.

In 1956, a Mr. Peterson, engineer for the government, came to me with his troubles. A dam was proposed to impound the waters of the Weber River at Wanship. Considerable resistance was being had from the inhabitants of the little pioneer community of Rockport. He thought if several of the buildings could be moved into the Village that the heat would be off the Reclamation Department, and so he asked me if I would and could move them. This was a colossal task but it made the Museum a Village and the people of Rockport felt reconciled that the buildings were saved.

Pioneer Village, 1973 (via Salt Lake County Archives)

Old Log Schoolhouse

Among the buildings was the old one-room log schoolhouse. The logs were hand-hewn and plastered together; the seating was missing but we procured the graduated size desks, first to eighth grades, from the Catholic St. Ann’s School. An assortment of primers, slates, school hand bells and toys are shown here. A plaque to Mary Jane Dilworth is displayed on the wall as the first school teacher in Utah. A school bell hangs in the tower above. A dunce stool and cap occupy the corner and a rod is handy on the teacher’s desk. The children love to see how times have changed in schools as well as other things.

Pioneer Village School House
Pioneer Village school house, 1973. (via Salt Lake County Archives)

Buffalo in the corral, horses hitched to vehicles and oxen pulling covered wagons add life to the village and give the children rides, which is a stellar attraction. Chickens are in the barnyard; pigeons are in the loft and fly overhead; the village dog is a friend to everyone. The animals are all, of course, gentle and love the attention of the children in this rural location beautifully landscaped with the Wasatch Mountains on the east and the White Canal to the west.

Pony Express Quarters

In 1961 the Village served as the national headquarters for the Pony Express Centennial. In 1968, in quest of other properties, I had contacted Joel Priest, public relations executive for the Union Pacific Railroad, for a train for the Village. It was to honor the passing of steam. However, not thinking that the wide gauge was too large for the Village, I found that we had a giant steam locomotive with passenger, baggage and caboose cars. They placed it on a siding awaiting our acceptance and there it was for almost a year. They kept urging me to move it and I was in a quandary.

Finally, on another trip to Washington, I happened to go into the offices of the Bureau of the Interior where, among others, I contacted a very fine historian by the name of Roy Appleman. I found that he was not only a student of the Pony Express but a railroad historian as well. I asked him about the coming centennial of the First Continental Railroad and he classified it as one of the ten greatest events in our history.

“Well,” I exclaimed, “if it is so important why aren’t we doing something about it?” He said the reason was that there was a lack of interest to cause them to do something about it. I said that there had been a lot written about the joining of the rails connecting east and west, and the importance of it. He added that a museum should be established out here to show historical engines, cars, stations, buildings and railroad equipment of the steam age.

I told him about the train I had acquired but could not use in the Pioneer Village, and [explained that] it was impossible to move it to Promontory Summit. “Well,” he said, “you do not want to move it out there. There are still tracks into Corinne, the pioneer railroad settlement where it ought to be.” He felt quite sure the Union Pacific would give us a location and the train could be moved in on its own power.

New R.R. Museum

Well, this was great news. It was just 90 days until the 90th anniversary of the first continental railroad [and] the site was right here in Utah. I came back and went to work fencing 500 feet along the state highway, with an additional 500 feet provided by the Union Pacific Railroad, and the National Society of the Sons of Utah Pioneers had a railroad museum which has further developed since then. It has been visited by thousands of school children, tourists and local interest since its dedication May 10, 1959.

The coming of the first transcontinental railroad was important because it ended the pioneer era. The freight trains of wagons, drawn by oxen, horses and mules gradually gave way to rail shipments. The stage coach gave way to passenger and mail rail transportation, just as the Pony Express had been replaced by the Telegraph. The importance of Corinne became a thing of history. Corinne, once the second largest city in Utah next to Salt Lake City, is located seven miles west of Brigham City on the main highway to Promontory Summit just 25 miles further west connected by a paved road that will be much busier now that it is a historical monument backed by a half million dollar government project.

Children surrounding ox cart and wagon in Pioneer Village, 1973. (via Salt Lake County archives)

We have almost dispensed with guide service at the Village. Most teachers and bus drivers have been there before. They are admitted without charge as excellent guides. School children often return with their families and friends and make good guides. We have had up to 1500 school children a day in the spring and fall. The conduct has been beyond reproach. The main question is “What’s it?” The Village opens up a new world of surprises showing thousands of things never known by an inquisitive younger generation. Many teachers have said that it does more for the students in third and fourth grades and any text books can do.

We must keep alive our appreciation of our Pioneer and American heritage. We have found out over the last 20 years that much has been accomplished to arouse a deeper appreciation at Utah’s Pioneer Village, where history of the west comes alive.

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