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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 6:13 p.m. MDT

A memorial plaque near the central plaza honors "Horace A. Sorensen and his wife Ethel Melville Sorensen" for their "selfless devotion, personal generosity, imagination and foresight," and their dream of a living museum. "These two people have made the history of Utah and her people a visual reality for present and future generations."

On weekends, some 18,000-20,000 fun-seekers frolic at Lagoon and Pioneer Village, says Adam Leishman with the park's marketing department. During a summer weekday, that figure is closer to 10,000, he says.

The park got its start on the shores of the Great Salt Lake, directly west, when it was called Lake Park. In 1886, commuter railroad magnate Simon Bamberger, a future governor, moved the facilities next to a Farmington pond — and his rail line. The tourist destination was reborn as "Lagoon." The historic resort is celebrating its 125th year, Leishman notes.

Pioneer Village is on Lagoon's southeast corner. The cobbled-together town's residences are on the north, pioneer businesses sit to the south, and ride access and food options are between them, Freed says.

Along the northern stretch are pioneer homes chock-a-block with antique furniture (and make-believe food); a lovely rock chapel; a schoolhouse, lessons for the day (circa 1872) on the chalkboard; impressive firearm and Utah token collections; and, tucked into a shadowy corner, Lagoon's original concrete jail.

On the southern side are a print shop; the ice cream shop (and apothecary museum); a railroad building filled with model trains; a wondrous miniature circus; a carriage house; a multiple-chair barbershop (a framed sign notes: "shave and a haircut six bits"), with a millinery shop one story up, filled with once-stylish hats and frocks; and a dentist's office, along with places to find a bite to eat or slurp.

All of the pioneer-era buildings and collections have stories of their own. Freed has anecdotes ready for the telling.

The concrete jail, for instance, was really used in Lagoon's early days. Miscreants might be arrested on a Friday and would have to stay behind the barred doors and windows until Monday, when they could be brought before a court, Freed says. Their crimes? Usually drunk and disorderly, fighting, and such.

Lagoon a century ago offered rowing on the pond, dancing, shooting, games, lawn bowling and a tavern.

Several buildings were rescued from Rockport, near Coalville, much of the area now under or beside Echo Reservoir, while others came from Nephi, Charleston and Davis County communities.

Freed tells of one Rockport family's experiences, fit for an episode in a Western movie. The father happened to be on an LDS mission to southern Utah. His wife stayed home with their dozen children. "She told the children to bury themselves in the cornfield" if unfriendly Indians came by the house, "and that's what they did," Freed says.

At the top of the Pioneer Village lane is Coalville's Rock Chapel. Though filled with portraits, its south side interior tinted by light streaming through small stained-glass windows, the structure also served as the community's fort, Freed says — it was the most secure place in town.

Wright, too, is fond of the chapel. It was taken apart and brought stone by stone to Lagoon just as it was from Coalville. The late LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball "fell in love with it" and enjoyed playing the organ inside, he says.

Freed is also proud of the impressive Utah token collection, arrayed in see-through vertical stands in a building beside the shooting gallery. Special magnifiers let visitors get a more detailed look at the items. In pioneer times, coins and other currency often were difficult to come by, so stores, businesses, mining companies and such minted their own. They were good in trade for trolley rides, milk and even a crate of dynamite, Freed says.

Another rock building, a former house, was moved to Lagoon from elsewhere in Farmington — a community renowned for rock-face structures, from homes to businesses and its historic LDS meetinghouse. Today, it contains examples of pioneer furniture on loan from the LDS Church Historical Department, often crafted using local pine varnished and "grained" to look like other unavailable woods, such as oak, mahogany and maple.

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