At first glance, the significance of this tiny Sanpete town is elusive. Unkempt fields and trees grown awry catch your eye. Vacant lots abut Main Street, and more than a handful of homes need tidying up.
But if you're in search of your past, if you're the least bit inquisitive about your pioneer heritage - especially if Brigham Young sent your ancestors to settle Sanpete County - Spring City is a day trip worth taking.The town, a historic district on the National Register, is probably the best example left of a Mormon farm village.
It rolls out the welcome mat Saturday, May 28, when more than 20 structures, many of them historic homes, open their doors to the public. Proceeds from the tour benefit Friends of Historic Spring City and will be used to preserve and restore historic structures.
Residents of Spring City call it Heritage Day. It could be called "Back to the Past." Whatever the name, it's your chance to set foot in homes built more than 100 years ago. Many were constructed by skilled Scandinavian craftsmen who settled this high desert valley in the mid-1800s.
Other activities on Heritage Day include a barbecued turkey dinner, a DUP bake sale and horse-drawn wagon rides. (For details please see accompanying story on T2.)
Many of Spring City's significant structures were built with oolite, a limestone-like rock found in a quarry south of town. If you get a sense of deja vu, it's because the stone on the Manti Temple is oolite.
Buildings on the Heritage Day tour include:
- The Emil Erickson House. Now owned by Salt Lakers Craig and M'lisa Paulsen, it was built in 1888. A Swede, Erickson made his living as a farmer, carpenter and partner in the Young Men's Co-op store. He was also a city councilman and the county recorder. The Paulsens purchased the two-story stone home more than 20 years ago and restored it room by room. "It's the best example of a Victorian house in Spring City," says Thomas Carter, assistant professor of architectural history at the University of Utah's Graduate School of Architecture.
The log cabin west of the Erickson house is "an exceptional example of Norwegian log construction," according to Carter. He discovered the cabin near Richfield when he was doing a survey of historic structures for the Utah Historical Society. In the name of preservation, he and Paulsen bought it and moved it to Spring City where they renovated it into a guest house. "We think it was built in the early 1870s. It's the best example of a log house in the Mormon region."
- The Judge Johnson House. The house was originally owned by Johnson's parents, and the judge added on to it in 1896. This two-story pink stucco structure was the first house in Spring City to have an indoor bathroom. As a circuit judge, Johnson held court in several counties. He was also a state legislator. According to local lore, he befriended Butch Cassidy and other members of the Wild Bunch who visited him in Spring City numerous times.
- The Marinus Petersen House. Built around 1875, this two-story oolite structure is now owned by Lothar and Anita Janke. It is set amid an overgrown orchard with a backyard garden and horse barn beyond. Lothar Janke, who builds period replica furniture, furnished the home with pieces he made.
- The Chester School. A Salt Lake family rescued this one-room school from certain destruction and moved it from nearby Chester to Spring City where they pieced it together stone by stone.
- The Larsen/Monson House. This is one of the best historic houses in the state, according to Carter of the Graduate School of Architecture. "It's a great example of neoclassical style. It's basically symmetrical rectangles and its features and proportions are very well-articulated."
The upstairs ceiling has original milk paint.
Monson completed the home in 1883 as a wedding present for his daughter. It had taken him 12 years to build. The house remains in the family, which is laboriously restoring it. They expect the project to take years.
Another of the town's jewels is the LDS meetinghouse. Dedicated in 1914, it was constructed with the same kind of rock used for the Manti Temple. "One of the reasons we were attracted to the town was the meetinghouse," says architectural historian Carter, who was instrumental in getting the town placed on the National Register in 1980. "The meetinghouse formed the heart, soul, core of these communities. Almost all of them are gone. When they tear down the meetinghouse it changes the character of the community."
Other significant buildings include Orson Hyde's home and office. The Mormon apostle lived in Spring City for 18 years. His home, which won't be open to the public on Heritage Day, sports a beauty parlor sign in the front yard. Artist Randall Lake owns the small, one-story building that was once Hyde's office. The Relief Society granary, still standing but not yet refurbished, is next to Hyde's office.
Spring City was settled in 1852 by Mormons from Manti. According to Tessie Pyper, a Spring City resident and descendant of James Allred, one of the first settlers, disputes with Indians prevented the Mormons from moving in permanently until 1859. Prior to that they used log cabins and dugouts for shelter.
"It was first called Canal Creek and then they called it the Allred settlement," she says. "Then it was Little Denmark, then Spring Town." It became Spring City in 1870 when it was incorporated.
According to Pyper, the Danes moved to the north part of town and the English to the south. "They didn't get along," she says. "The Danes were our craftsmen, our stonemasons, our shoemakers, our tinsmiths. All their crafts were needed by the English. Through marriage and needing each other, they finally learned to get along."
Now the town is a budding art community.
"I'm living out my childhood dream," says artist Lee Bennion. Her husband, Joseph, is a well-known potter.
"I always wanted to live in a small town in an old house where I could have all my pets and horses."
Lee, Joseph and their three children reside in a yellow brick Victorian home. A menagerie of animals inhabits the barnyard, and the one-room cabin Lee uses as a studio sits on the far corner of the lot. Rows of plastic milk bottles cover tender seedlings in the backyard garden.
The Bennions' place, with its quarter-block lot intact, is a good example of lived-in history. Take away the Suburban parked in front, and it's Norman Rockwell, pure and simple.
The town's a budding retreat for Salt Lakers, too. They own a number of its restored homes.
"I'm drawn to it like all these other people. We're all looking for places to get away," says Carter. "It's a refuge."
On May 28, Spring City can be a refuge for you, too.
For information about other Memorial Day weekend activities see story on T2.