One of the only academy buildings left standing that was constructed by the LDS Church during the 19th century, the building has been at the core of preservation efforts for years. Locals have long been divided over whether saving the old building was actually viable, and many advocated demolishing it. Situated only 10 feet from the current Preston High School, it had fallen into disrepair, and the site was needed to expand the high school.
But believers paired their efforts several months ago with those of Linton and the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation. With the wrecking ball looming in the background, they publicized the preservation quest outside tiny Franklin County and raised more than $1.3 million by last summer's deadline with major contributions from Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller and his wife, Gail, along with the Eccles Foundation to move it.
The academies were forerunners to the Church Educational System and seminary program, designed to provide students with both a spiritual foundation and secular training.
Until 1922, the Oneida Academy served as a combination high school and church academy for hundreds of students. Two of its graduates later served as presidents of the LDS Church: Harold B. Lee and Ezra Taft Benson, the latter of whom was U.S. secretary of agriculture under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Benson's hometown of Whitney is just southwest of Preston.Noting the area's rich LDS history, preservationists are pleased the building will be relocated to a site just a block north of the stone home where Elder Matthew Cowley, an apostle of the LDS Church, was born in 1897.
Once the building is moved, it will come to rest two blocks north and one block west of its present location, on land donated by the LDS Church in Benson Park, which is named after the former church president.
The site has been excavated, the footings poured and rebar protrudes from the concrete, awaiting the day when the building will crawl over the hole for its new foundation. Columns of concrete and reinforcing steel will be poured around the rebar before a new foundation is formed up from the ground to the base of the building, Linton said.
Plans call for restoring the building to become a self-supporting community cultural center. The local chamber of commerce has signed a letter of intent to inhabit the building and help arrange for community functions and tourist promotion.
Both Linton and Hampton agree the entire project is something of a "miracle" for them.
"There were actually bets going on with people in the city over whether it would ever be moved," Linton grinned. "But a lot of those who won those bets put the money into a pot to help move it."
With every little donation a step closer to restoring the building, Hampton said restoration officials are considering holding a fund-raising contest to see who can pick the exact day and time the building will come to rest over its new foundation spot.
"We don't know if that's legal yet, but we'd like to do it," Hampton said.And they're keeping their fingers crossed that Dodge will want to hook on to the massive load and pull.
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