Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Steve Nelson tells students from the Freedom Academy in Provo about the restored Turner home at Pioneer Village.

PROVO — For retired college sociology instructor Steve Nelson, Pioneer Village at North Park is a labor of love.

President-elect of the Brigham Young Chapter of the Sons of the Utah Pioneers, and "mayor of the village," Nelson has spent many days shepherding volunteers in restoring the collection of historical structures and artifacts.

"I love to come here and tinker," Nelson said.

With the initial restoration complete, Pioneer Village, located at 500 W. 600 North in Provo, will officially reopen its gates from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday. Still to come is a historical garden and flower beds.

"It's a work in progress," he said. "We have lots of plans."

Now limping on a healing broken foot, which fell victim to a crashing bell in the village when he was working to make the area more historically correct, Nelson said the improvements would have been further along if not for that accident.

Still, volunteers have cleaned it up after more than a decade of neglect, repaired and properly displayed many of the artifacts and restored the 1853 cabin that was once the home of early Provo settler John Turner and his wife. The cabin in 1931 is believed to be the first to be moved to the site, which evolved into the village.

Nelson was about to put a sod roof on the cabin when he learned that Provo had a shingle mill about that time. So instead he reroofed it in wooden shingles.

"John Turner was not going to bring his bride to a cabin with a sod roof," he said.

Initially, the Brigham Young Chapter hired a contractor at $500 a day to guide the restoration. After four or five days, the contractor left, but not before Nelson could see how to do the work.

Several of the buildings have been moved to divide the residential section from what will become the town square, which includes a one-room schoolhouse. Once a shed, the city bought it about 1883 and turned it into a school.

One of the cabins, identified now as the Haws cabin, shows telltale signs of two additions that were built as the family grew. That was common practice in those days, Nelson said.

Nelson said he would like to see the corn crib restored and a street put in to divide the residential cabins from the town square to give the village more definition. A new barn, which holds a blacksmith shop, is in the planning stages, along with a period outhouse.

The village also boasts one of two remaining oxen lifts of that particular style in the United States. The lifts were used to hoist an ox so a blacksmith could shoe it.

For children and other patrons, the village is a hands-on experience. The school, for example, has period toys that children may play with. When visitors walk into the furnished cabins, they can get a feel for what it was like to live in Provo in those early days, Nelson said.

Old wooden wagons dot the village, including a restored covered freight wagon that is included in Provo's Freedom Festival Fourth of July parade.

After Memorial Day, the village will open for the rest of the season from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

E-mail: rodger@desnews.com