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

By Ray Boren

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, July 20 2011 5:01 p.m. MDT

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.

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