Utahns visiting Old Deseret Village this weekend are reliving the spirit of the Old West - right down to the horse-drawn carriages, dusty roads and blistering heat.
In honor of Pioneer Day, being celebrated this year on July 25 because the holiday falls on a Sunday, Pioneer Trail State Park has added some new dimensions to its authentic Deseret Village.Although the park is open every summer weekday from noon to 5 p.m., park officials have brought in some special treats for the holiday, including horse-drawn carriage and covered wagon rides, melodrama performances and pioneer folk bands.
"People are really enjoying themselves here. Pioneer Day has put them in the mood to remember how the pioneers lived and acted," said Mike Johnson, curator of education.
Johnson said Old Deseret Village is the best-kept secret in Salt Lake City. Located in Pioneer Trail State Park, across the street from Hogle Zoo, the park is easily accessible.
Once you park your car and cross the street, you leave modern-day memories behind. Blacktopped roads turn to dusty streets. Log and brick homes, barns, corrals and pastures loom in the distance. Women walk by wearing long floral-print dresses, complete with bonnets and aprons. Men saunter around in wool pants, boots and suspenders. Children of all ages play in long dresses with pantaloons or short pants and suspenders.
All of the buildings in the park are either replicas or restored original pioneer buildings, complete with wooden floors and log and adobe walls. In each building, there are volunteers and employees who explain the history of the structure, answer any questions and demonstrate pioneer activities.
The first home on the path of Old Deseret Village once belonged to an English immigrant named John Gardner. Volunteer Melissa Miller explained that Gardner, his two wives and 10 children all shared the tiny cabin, complete with a 3-foot loft, where all the children slept.
Although it was almost 100 degrees outside, Saturday, Miller and park employee Todd Smith had a fire raging in the fireplace, were cooking chicken on an open hearth and making ice cream.
In another home volunteers were explaining how the pioneers dyed wool with wild flowers and wove their own clothing. In the Social Hall, a two-man pioneer folk band, complete with a fiddle, guitar and a harmonica, played music so uplifting members of the audience got up and danced around the floor.
One of the main attractions was the blacksmith shop, where a man dressed in authentic clothing demonstrated how the pioneers heated iron and bent it into tools and materials.
Arnold Ellsworth, a park volunteer in the blacksmith shop, said iron was scarce in pioneer days. He said they had to melt down the iron parts of their wagons and belongings. Often groups were sent back to the trails to pull iron from abandoned wagons.
Another popular attraction was the General Store, which sells candy and pioneer items and old-fashioned ice cream cones, consisting of a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream on top of a homemade molasses cookie. The park sold the goodies for 50 cents.
Visitors were also delighted by the old-fashioned covered wagon and carriage rides, provided by Carriage Livery Service. This was the first time the horses had ever been to the village.
"Everything is going well, the horses are happy to be out in the country, they love children, they love to have their noses patted," said Jan Smith, a carriage driver. Carriage rides were $2 for adults and $1 for children.
An estimated 1,200 people visited the village Friday and Saturday and more are expected Monday, when the park will open from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is $1 for adults and 50 cents for children.