While the nation was beginning its tumble from the peak of prosperity to the depths of depression in December 1929, a committee representing the George A. Smith Camp of the Sons of Utah Pioneers met with the Provo city commission and asked permission to build a relic hall on a piece of the city's property. With the help of Provo's Daughters of Utah Pioneers and the city commission, the Sons selected a site in North Park, dedicated it, raised a small sum of money and began construction.
On April 2, 1931, the city commission also gave David H. "Doc" Loveless - veterinarian, artifact collector, lifelong resident of Provo and member of the Sons of Utah Pioneers - permission to create a replica of a pioneer farmstead north of the proposed museum. This less ambitious, more cost-effective project fared better than its more grandiose neighbor a few yards to the south.
Two months after permission was received, a historic pioneer cabin attracted people to North Park. The small structure was erected by volunteers, who completed the job by early June.
In an interview with the Evening Herald, J.B. Walton, a Provo educator and afficionado of local history, gave a synopsis of the cabin's history. According to Walton, early Provo pioneer John W. Turner built a cabin in 1853 on what is now the southeast corner of the intersection of 100 West and 100 North.
Walton knew of at least two other families who occupied the cabin after Turner moved. A surveyor named Davis made the small building his home; later, a Welsh family named Jones lived there. A member of the Collins family then bought the cabin, disassembled it and rebuilt it on 700 West, between 100 and 200 North. At this location, it became a school where Evan Wride's brother taught night school.
After members of the Sons of Utah Pioneers took the cabin apart again, they reassembled it on the North Park site provided by the city, using 24 of the original logs that still bore the marks of a broad ax.
The sides of logs used to construct cabins built at a later date showed signs of being flattened by early vertical saws or later circular saws.
Old-timers speculated that the red pine logs that Turner, the original builder, used for the cabin were likely transported from the tops of the Wasatch Mountains to the more accessible foothills above Provo via a timber slide.
The Sons soon erected several more wooden structures on the small farmstead. These buildings included another cabin made in part from material salvaged from cabins built during the 1850s. The volunteer workmen also assembled a blacksmith's shop and a granary, making a nice little cluster of pioneer buildings.
On the afternoon of Oct. 10, 1931, the Provo Martial Band took to the streets, fifed and drummed its way through the Provo business district, and marched to North Park where a large crowd assembled. During a special presentation ceremony held near the Turner cabin, Doc Loveless donated his collection of more than 350 relics and antiques, a 30-year collection, to Provo city. Many of these articles were used to furnish the buildings of the farmstead, which were officially opened to the public that day.
David H. Loveless, who was born in Provo in 1852 to Bishop James W. and Mary Britton Loveless, received the satisfaction of knowing that some of his collection would now be preserved in a natural setting for the public's enjoyment. He likely also felt comfort from the knowledge that more of his collection would be displayed when the new relic hall was completed.
Mayor Jesse N. Ellertson accepted the gift in behalf of the city. Stake President Thomas N. Taylor and Grace Cheever, Daughters of Utah Pioneers chairman of the county committee on relics, also spoke.
During her speech, Mrs. Cheever suggested changing the name of North Park to Sowiette Park in honor of the peaceful Ute chief who helped the settlers of early Provo avert a clash with followers of Chief Waccara (Walker). This idea gradually gained support in years to come, and a few Provo old-timers today refer to the park as Sowiette Park.
After the program, the band provided music for visitors while the Daughters served pioneer refreshments.
In exchange for his collection of relics, Loveless, who was 69 at the time, received from the city an appointment as custodian of the artifacts assembled in the farmstead. He was to receive $1.50 for each day's work.
Two of the most interesting of his artifacts at the park - an old ox-shoeing frame and a large covered wagon - can still be seen in the village today.
Rigged to a fulcrum near the farmstead's well stood a long pole with a rope and a bucket attached to its upper end. The Dominicus Snow family had used this pole for 35 years to raise their water bucket out of the well near their home on 500 West and 900 North.
Loveless wanted that pole, and he asked Mrs. Snow to sell it to him many times, with no success. Finally, the badgered and frustrated woman told the persistent collector that he could have the pole if he could steal it. One day when nobody was watching, Loveless detached the pole from its fulcrum and threw it into a patch of weeds. He came back that night and retrieved it. In return for the "stolen pole," the happy antiquary presented Mrs. Snow with a new well pole and a silver dollar.
Provo's Sons of Utah Pioneers selected Loveless as its vice president in March 1932. He continued to collect artifacts and care for the ones already sheltered in the farmstead. This humble shrine gave many local residents a place to focus the pride and respect they felt for their pioneer forebears. Loveless died at age 72, during the patriotic month of July 1934. He did not live to see the bulk of his collection sheltered in the large relic hall, but he surely felt pride in the fact that he had left a large chunk of pioneer heritage in public hands to be enjoyed for many years to come.
In March 1932, because of cold weather and lack of funds, work on the relic hall was at a standstill. A delegation representing the Sons and Daughters of Utah Pioneers met with the Provo City Commission that month and submitted a building report to them. The statement, prepared by the building's first contractor, Peter Groneman, showed that the building committee had expended $1,156.60. Volunteer workmen had donated $529 worth of labor.
The city commission promised to do all in its power to resume work on what was now often referred to as the Pioneer Memorial Building. Mayor Ellertson stated that the cost of materials was low at that time, hence it would be to everyone's advantage to complete the building as soon as possible. Former city commissioner Charles Hopkins continued to work with the building committee. To help raise money, the Sons proposed to sell pioneer badges for a dollar apiece. Yet workmen made little progress on the building that summer.
Toward the end of 1932, one glimmer of light flickered through the growing cloud of discouragement enveloping the building committee. A group of laborers working under the auspices of a government unemployment relief program began tearing down the old First Ward Meetinghouse located on 100 East between 200 and 300 South. City Commissioner J.E. Snyder, who was in charge of tearing down the old structure, promised that the brick salvaged from the meetinghouse could be used on the relic hall along with those taken from the old county jail. This created an unlikely, but very beneficial, conjunction of church and state.
Commissioner Snyder also promised that work on the museum would go forward as soon as government workmen became available. Most of them were laboring to enlarge the city's critical waterline in Provo Canyon and extend it toward the city. Near the end of November, Snyder reassured the committee that his men would attempt to finish the walls of the building and put the roof on before winter weather set in. Still, little progress was made that winter, nor the next spring and summer.
Though it seemed the efforts of the Sons and Daughters of Utah Pioneers did little to accelerate progress on their new building, they felt that they could at least make the public more aware of the accomplishments of the Provo pioneers and the heritage they passed down to the current inhabitants of the city.
J. Marinus Jensen, author of "History of Provo, Utah," accompanied Boy Scout Commissioner Roy Passey and a group of Boy Scouts of the Provo District to North Park in February 1933 to view the pioneer farmstead.
Jensen familiarized the boys with the history of Fort Provo and told how Chief Sowiette helped prevent a clash between the settlers and Chief Waccara. He supported Grace Cheever's earlier suggestion that North Park should be renamed Sowiette Park. Soon afterward, the Daughters of Utah Pioneers mounted a formal movement. The idea gained momentum and culminated in a formal renaming during a ceremony held at the park in September 1933.
Festivities began at noon when about 40 of Provo's surviving pioneers gathered for a formal banquet at the home of Mrs. Electa Dixon, which was conveniently located on 500 West less than a block south of the park. From there, the old-timers went as a group to the park where they sat in chairs reserved for the guests of honor. Mayor Ellertson gave the dedication address, and Stake President Taylor offered brief remarks. Grace Cheever read a short history of the park.
Music, as well as words, filled the fall air. The Provo High School Band played, Marie Hedquist Homer sang "Old Glory," and Sarah Ramsey and Emma Egilson sang a duet. Two elderly residents whose families came to Utah from Scandinavia - Andrew Knudsen and John Johnson - sang a song that must have been a perennial favorite during the 1930s, "Hard Times Come Again, No More."
The park now had a new name, but getting people to use it proved to be an uphill battle. Many people likely used the name Sowiette Park during the 1930s and 40s, but Provo's populace slowly drifted back to the more familiar North Park, and that's how most of Provo knows it today.
The Sons and Daughters had seen some success, but they could not construct a large museum without money. Cash was hard to come by, and people resisted parting with it, even for a worthy cause. Workmen made so little headway on the building that children playing in the park began to think of the structure as part of the playground.
Some youths used the grounds around the foundation of the incomplete building as a golf course. Others damaged the foundation's coping, likely by throwing heavy rocks against it.
Mary Dahlquist, President of the local Daughters of Utah Pioneers, appealed to the police and neighbors near the park for help in keeping vandals away.
In 1935, after five years of construction, the brick walls of the relic hall barely reached the top of the windows of the lower floor of the building. Yet the history buffs inched tenaciously forward.
That year, Walter G. Taylor, captain of Provo's George A. Smith Camp of Sons of Utah Pioneers, announced a series of meetings in which biographies of prominent pioneers would be read and musical programs would be provided. Taylor hoped to attract 100 new members to the local organization, and he hoped the neophytes would add new vigor to the building project.
Also in 1935, the Sons and Daughters planned another benefit dance, which they called the Pioneer Memorial Fund Ball. The ticket committee canvassed every LDS Ward in the city and managed to sell more than 600 tickets to the dance, which was held in the Utahna Gardens Dance Hall. Those who attended it enjoyed not only the dance, but the refreshments and a fine floor show consisting of dance numbers and a tumbling act. All the profits went to the building committee.
A joint committee representing the Sons and Daughters met with the Utah County Commission on the morning of Sept. 3, 1935, and asked for a donation of $1,000 to be used for construction, estimating that it would take about $18,000 more to complete the $20,000 building. Its brick walls now reached the level of the second-floor landing. The committee mentioned the possibility of securing funds from the federal government to help pay for labor.
That afternoon after taking the committee's request under advisement, Commissioner William J. Johnson moved that the commission appropropriate $500. Chairman J.W. Gillman seconded the motion. When the three-man commission voted, only Commissioner Hilton A. Robertson voted against it. He felt "that it was a Provo, rather than a Utah County project."
In an effort to match the county's $500 contribution and hopefully put a roof on the hall before winter, the Daughters sponsored two dances during the fall of 1935. They held the first one in September at the Rainbow Gardens, an outdoor dance hall located on North University Avenue in Provo. In October, a second benefit dance was held indoors at the newly renovated Park Ro-She Dance Hall on Springville's North Main Street.
Both dances brought in a small profit, but the Daughters fell far short of matching the county's contribution. No roof would go on the museum that fall. Without significant outside aid, it appeared the project would continue to languish and possibly fail.
Robert Carter is a historian from Springville. His books on early Provo, "Founding Fort Utah" and "From Fort to Village," can be purchased in Provo at Pioneer Books, Borders and the BYU Bookstore; from Confetti Books and Antiques in Spanish Fork; and from the author by calling (801) 489-8256.