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Provo's oldest known adobe house escapes leveling, now moving to pioneer village

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 25 2013 2:50 p.m. MST

Director Steve Nelson of the Pioneer Village in Provo, right, talks with David Valgardson of Valgardson House Movers about an adobe house in Provo, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013. The house will be moved to the Pioneer Village.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

PROVO — A nearly 160-year-old, fragile piece of history has escaped leveling and will be moved to the George Albert Smith Pioneer Village.

Instead of be razed to make way for a parking lot, Provo’s oldest known house still standing will be returned to the place its adobe bricks came from, several blocks north.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had purchased the house and a few others nearby, with the intent to create more parking for a nearby meetinghouse. However, a couple of people alerted Steve Nelson to the planned demolition and the home's historic value.

Nelson called church officials, who agreed on its historical significance, gave it to the village and offered $20,000 to help with relocation.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If it’s gone, that’s it, it’s gone. But we have a chance to preserve it for future generations and give them an idea of how people lived at that time in Provo,” said Robert Carter, a local historian who grew up near the house and told Nelson about it.

Carter said the cabin represents the transition from log cabin to adobe. A house built with adobe could be twice the size for the same cost and constructed in probably half the time.

About $40,000 has been raised so far of the needed $70,000 to move the home. Plans are to take the original half of the home — approximately 28 feet by 15 feet — to the residential area of Provo’s pioneer village, 500 West and 500 North.

“We’re going to make it. This house will go in the village,” Nelson said. “It’s just too important not to have it around.”

Nelson is a member of the Brigham Young Chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers, which owns the pioneer village where Provo’s second fort was. It became an adobe yard, “where diverted mill water was used to produce adobe brick,” according to Brad Westwood, director of the Utah Division of State History.

The rare adobe cabin will be relocated by dismantling the stucco on the outside and then taking the adobe bricks, roof and other parts of the house to the village, where it will be put back together on a new foundation.

“We’ve got it cleaned off, but we’re going to start taking all the bricks apart, brick by brick, so these are the neat stages until it’s being re-bricked,” expert house mover David Valgardson said. “We want to preserve that roof; I think that’s most fascinating about it all.”

The home will join eight buildings already in the re-created pioneer village, which was started in 1931. The village is open six days a week from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day.

Nelson hopes to have the Loveless cabin ready to go by Memorial Day 2014. It will sit near Haws cabin, built in 1870 by the second baby born in Provo, and the oldest house in the village, built by John Turner in 1853.

The village also has a school, granary,­ corn crib, blacksmith shop, loafing shed and a school resting on rocks from the first Provo Tabernacle.

“The fun thing about it is we’re not talking about re-creation, we’re talking about the real thing,” Nelson said. “A baby was born … and people were sick and died in these houses. They lived their lives out in these places. This is the real thing, and to be able to have that Loveless house now added to it, it’s an amazing addition.”

The Loveless adobe house belonged to the father of David Loveless, who donated most of what is now the pioneer village. James Loveless built the small cabin in 1853 or 1854, near the intersection of 700 West and 200 South.

Although many people think only of log cabins, about 80 percent of Provo homes in the 1850s and 1860s were adobe. When Mormon Battalion soldiers returned from the Southwest between 1846 and 1848, they brought with them knowledge of how to build with adobe brick.

“But we don’t have any evidence of adobe in the village, so to bring in an adobe house is really exciting,” Nelson said.

It’s been lived in until recently, and throughout the years it’s been covered with stucco, had a concrete floor poured and had its shingles replaced. However, the adobe is still under there, along with original timbers.

“Those dirt bricks represent a whole story of history that has not been able to be replaced anywhere else,” Nelson said. “It’s an absolute treasure.”

Twitter: @madeleine6, Email: madbrown@deseretnews.com

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