DONNA WELLE HEARS the question all the time: Where exactly is downtown Sandy? Donna cringes when she gives her answer. Generally, she says, you're downtown when you're at the South Towne mall, just off I-15, surrounded by acres of parking lots.

That's not good enough for Donna and other volunteers dedicated to sharing their town's story at the Sandy Historic Museum in old downtown Sandy. They hope to see the day when their two-story building on Center Street is at the hub of a bustling community, much as it was in the early 1900s.

Don't laugh — it could happen. Already, a developer is planning a $2 million condo project a few blocks from the museum. Those people will need a place to shop, says Donna, and they might appreciate going to old "downtowne" instead of South Towne.

Although most of the buildings in Sandy's historic district were shuttered long ago, it isn't difficult to envision the return of small cafes, a theater and a book shop or two.

"We already have the atmosphere," says Donna, flipping through old black-and-white pictures of a Sandy that looks a lot like Mayberry. There's even an old jail on the corner with room for a resident Barney Fife. Above the jail, there used to be a confectionery, where children would stop after school to load up on penny lollipops and licorice.

"The amazing thing is that most people don't even know all of this is here," says Donna, who is acting director of the museum. "They rush right past on State Street without knowing that a few blocks east is this gem of an old downtown."

Hoping to get the word out, Donna and another long-time volunteer, Joyce Skidmore, recently joined me for a Free Lunch of deli roast beef sandwiches at the museum. While we talked, the museum gently shook every 15 minutes as TRAX trains swept past across the street.

"We used to have a trolley car that came down from Salt Lake," says Donna, "and people would come to downtown Sandy to see what the ladies from the city were wearing. Today, you're lucky to see a dozen people walk past. "

Joyce remembers when the museum was a general store with hitching posts out front for the horses. "Sandy was a farm town, but it was always busy downtown," she says, recalling the trips she made with her mother to get her hair cut in the beauty parlor above the old police station.

Today, it's difficult to know where Sandy ends and Draper or Midvale begins, but Joyce and Donna are ready with maps and photos to prove that Sandy once stood alone.

Inside the museum, they've collected everything from bedpans to an old telephone switchboard to tell the town's history. There's even a replica of an old schoolroom and kids' artwork found in the rubble after Jordan High was demolished.

"The school is gone, but nobody had better touch our downtown," says Donna, who is disgusted every time she drives past Jordan Commons and its Greco-Roman facade.

She dreams of the day when can give new directions to Sandy's downtown: "Turn east on State Street at 8720 South, drive past the art gallery and the theater and you're here."

Have a story? You do the talking, I'll buy the lunch. E-mail your name, phone number and what you'd like to talk about to [email protected]. You can also write me at the Deseret Morning News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.