Historic Wheeler Farm offers plenty of fun for entire family

By Ray Boren

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Nov. 4 2012 3:00 p.m. MST

Hunter Harris, at only 22 months old, pretends to drive a vintage tractor on display at Wheeler Historic Farm.

Ray Boren

MURRAY — Four very young, mostly brown calves — Flounder, Maggie, Darla and Dipper — follow Raegan Scharman out of a small dairy barn at Wheeler Historic Farm, in the heart of the metropolitan Salt Lake Valley.

Not having one of the farm's super-sized baby-cow milk bottles in hand at the moment, Scharman uses her thumb to demonstrate just how eager the little ones, only a few weeks old, are to suckle.

Little Flounder slurps and slurps, trying ever so hard to get milk from Scharman's thumb. Eventually the unsuccessful calf decides instead to lick and taste a pair of jeans being worn by a fellow within tongue range just outside the fence.

"Does chocolate milk come from brown cows?" Scharman, Wheeler Farm's program coordinator, asks pig-tailed Summer Harris, who is also standing just outside the corral.

"Yes?" Summer answers, a trace of doubt in her 4-year-old voice.

No. Dairy cows give us white milk, and the chocolate is added later, Scharman explains.

Dairy farms, much as Wheeler Farm once did when it was the Rosebud Dairy, produce the milk that we buy from our neighborhood grocery and convenience stores, or they might deliver it to our doorsteps, she adds.

And that is one reason why a working farm like Wheeler — also part park and part museum, and more than a century old — remains a viable, even magnetic, family attraction in the middle of what is essentially a sprawling Western cityscape at 6351 S. 900 East.

On a pleasant autumn — or harvest time — day, the grounds swarm with people, many of them young families with small children. They picnic and frolic around the tables, lawns and playground to the south, for this is also South Cottonwood Regional Park.

Many check out the historic Wheeler house and farm structures; try to pet the goats and horses and calves; and walk and jog along the many paths through the farmstead, across the creek and into the nearby woods.

It is at once the present and the past at Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation's Wheeler Historic Park.

"Our 'time period' is 1887-1940," Kathleen Bailey, the farm and park's facility manager, says during a walk through the site's history, and the era it represents. "We are not pioneer times, like some people think," but just a tad later.

As such, Wheeler Historic Farm recalls the agricultural era a generation or so after the Salt Lake Valley's settlement — about the time the dream of a sprawling "State of Deseret" gave way to reality, and the territory was admitted to the union as the State of Utah, in 1896.

The site, which is on the National Historic Register, was actually settled during the pioneer era, historians say, by Joseph Hammond and then the Ole Hansen and William Young families. The family of Henry Joseph and Sariah Wheeler took on the spread during the 1880s.

Their descendants helped Salt Lake County acquire the farmstead in the 1960s, and the 75-acre site has, in the decades since, developed into the today's multipurpose historic farm and park, says Martin Jensen, public relations manager for Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation.

The county preserved several historic structures — the Wheelers' 1898 brick residence, which incorporated adobe walls from an earlier house; a garage, still housing an antique car; a granary; a milk barn, etc. — built a few new ones and, Jensen says, has collected "hundreds of artifacts from all over the state."

Those artifacts — some 6,000 of them, Bailey says — are meticulously labeled, categorized and catalogued. On a tour of "Mrs. Wheeler's house" (Sariah Wheeler was determined to have a well-appointed, genteel house of her Victorian era, Bailey says), the sheer variety is evident.

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