Escape to another time at Lagoon's Pioneer Village

Pioneer Village preserves history in Lagoon's quiet 'suburb'

By Ray Boren

For The Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Aug. 18 2011 4:00 p.m. MDT

The circus has come to town in Pioneer Village. Tapestry-draped miniature elephants on parade, tents and scores of tiny circus performers, employees and patrons inhabit a world of their own, lovingly created in miniature by David Ogden and on display at Lagoon.

Ray Boren

FARMINGTON — Amid the midway crowds, scattered screams, mechanical clatter, and sundry bells and whistles at Lagoon, a more peaceful reminder of another time reposes in a tree-canopied corner of the popular amusement park.

Pioneer Village, a bit of early Utah, thrives in one of the region's favorite 20th- and 21st-century playgrounds.

The reconfigured "Old West" neighborhood and all of the knick-knacks, goods and antiques inside it seem like a time capsule lifted from Utah's past, when settlers hoped to become residents of the state of Deseret, because its ingredients truly are the past preserved. The structures generally hail from local streets, rural homesteads and a few locations now submerged beneath Utah reservoirs.

In fact, most of the "village" itself was first brought together not here, in Farmington, but on the Salt Lake Valley's east side, says Howard Freed, the village's curator.

Horace Sorensen, who owned the old Southeast Furniture in Sugar House, began by collecting discarded household items other people deemed worn and worthless, Freed said. A plaque in Lagoon's Pioneer Village dates this effort to 1936. It was a time before "antiquated" possessions became "antiques," and therefore a valuable commodity.

"The whole thing just snowballed and kept on going," Freed says.

Sorensen acquired more and more artifacts — chairs, divans, china, pie safes, musical instruments and such — then moved up to entire buildings, from log houses to a stone church.

Pioneer Village originally sat on 2.54 acres that Horace and Ethel Sorensen owned in East Millcreek, says Orson Wright, former national president of the Sons of Utah Pioneers. Sorensen, also a former SUP president, eventually turned the whole shebang over to the SUP, which had offices on the site.

The problem was, Wright says, Pioneer Village as it was then was virtually invisible to the general public.

"I was a guide on Temple Square from 1958 to 1978, and people would say, 'Where is the Pioneer Village?' We'd tell them, and they would ask, 'Is there anything closer?' " Even passersby hardly knew it was there.

With Sorensen's permission, the SUP decided to try to move the village. There were discussions with the state about it going to This Is the Place Monument at the mouth of Emigration Canyon, a state park that has evolved into the broadly similar This Is the Place Heritage Park. But the monument commission in the 1970s believed some of the collection should be kept and some pieces sold to other collectors, Wright says.

Sorensen and the SUP wanted the village and all of its household and other collections preserved intact, he says. It was all or nothing. Out of the blue, he says, Wright got a call from Boyd Jensen, Lagoon's general manager, for he and Peter Freed, the park's managing partner, thought Pioneer Village would be a good fit there.

After more than two years of negotiation, Wright says, Lagoon bought the SUP's Pioneer Village buildings and moved the project to Farmington, incorporating the structures, antiques and other collectibles into the park's fabric the next year, while keeping it slightly separated from the hurly-burly midway.

Wright likes the result and the fact that funds from the sale contributed to build a new Sons of Utah Pioneers headquarters building near the mouth of Parley's Canyon, giving both the village and the organization a stronger physical presence in the community.

Today, the Log Flume and Rattlesnake Rapids rides splash near Pioneer Village. People at Lagoon-A-Beach play and soak in the sun next door. The shooting gallery is at the village's center. And food stalls — including a popular ice cream shop — can be found among the village's antique buildings and a few new Old West replicas.

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