The city's best-known pioneer family names are probably Layton and Adams, but a third historic family is finally receiving recognition thanks to the newest exhibit at the Heritage Museum.
The Alexander Dawson Family Exhibit is on display through the end of August at the museum, located just south of Layton City Hall, in the center of the Commons Park at about 400 N. Wasatch Drive.This exhibit is more than just a few mementos and photographs. It covers the entire north wing of the museum and helps the early history of Layton city come alive.
Museum director/curator Alan Hansen said the collection is far more than he hoped to have. Only about 20 percent of the display is owned by the museum. The remainder is on loan from various descendants of Alexander Dawson.
"We've had a great response," Hansen said of the display. "We get people from all over the county."
He said the Dawsons represent a major part of the communities of Layton and Kaysville, though they are more obscure than some other pioneer families.
The exhibit traces the beginnings of Alexander Dawson in Wich, Scotland, and Elizabeth Jane Fowle Dawson's roots in Cardinghamshire, South Wales, to America and across the plains in 1860 to Salt Lake City.
The couple moved to the Layton-Kaysville area in 1861 (the two cities were one in the early days) and to a log cabin on 160 acres along Kays Creek in Dawson Hollow (west of today's U.S. 89 and north of Oak Hills Drive) in 1864. They later built a rock house in the same area.
Eventually a prominent farmer, stockman and business man, Dawson had humble beginnings. He was so poor in the early 1860s that he went barefoot and without a coat to church each week because he lacked tidy clothes. He also worked for Layton's namesake, Christopher Layton, for several years in order to save the money to build his log cabin home.
Dawson was president of the first LDS Church Sunday School in the area and also donated land for the area's first schoolhouse. He eventually became one of the largest landowners in Davis County.
In addition, he was director of the First National Bank and the Farmers Union.
Well-known for his generosity, he donated regularly to the less fortunate. As the oldest son, when he inherited the family property in Scotland, he gave it to a younger brother.
The exhibit contains many artifacts and replicas that focus not only on the lives of the original Dawsons in Layton, but also on their 10 children.
The original wedding dress of Ella Rose Adams, who married William Alexander Dawson on Dec. 12, 1895, is on display, as well as William's original missionary suit when he served in Manchester, England, from 1897-98.
Museumgoers will also see a handcart replica, a red sleigh used by the Dawsons, a portion of the blacksmith shop they purchased, plus numerous vintage photographs of the family and the area that aren't found in any history books.
There's also an old Dawson phonograph, sewing machine and organ - all still in working condition.
Hansen said the oldest part of the exhibit is a collection of Scottish silver spoons that probably predate the Dawsons' births in the 1830s.
The exhibit also shows how two Dawson descendants became Layton leaders in the 20th century. Elias Dawson was mayor from 1954-57, and Ray Dawson was a town board president.
Mickey Hutchinson, a descendant of the Dawsons, approached Hansen about producing the family display that required hundreds of hours to put together. It opened in early July and has expanded considerably since because of many relatives who loaned more items and photographs.
The Heritage Museum plans to feature several other historic Layton families, including an exhibit on Christopher Layton in the near future.
Hansen said he'll strive to accommodate any person or group that can't visit the display during the regular hours.
- The Heritage Museum's summer hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, minus a 90-minute lunch from 12:30-2 p.m. For more information, contact Alan Hansen at the Heritage Museum, 546-3524.