Passion for History Drives City’s Historic Preservation Committee
Mar 06, 2015 11:55AM
● By Tom Haraldsen
It’s been a little over 10 years since the Taylorsville Bennion Heritage Center opened its doors at the historic Jones Dairy Farm at 1488 West 4800 South. Thousands of visitors have toured the old farmhouse, blacksmith shop, schoolhouse and community garden, and have enjoyed the farm animals on the property. But if it wasn’t for the volunteers who make up the Taylorsville Historic Preservation Committee, and the support of the city, the museum might never have happened.
Connie Tanney has been intimately involved in this effort since the city purchased the farm from the Jones family in 2001 for $500,000.
“I have to give a lot of credit to the city for not only buying the farm, but keeping it operating,” she said. “We never see the bills for power, water or any other expense, and as volunteers, we’re happy to do whatever we can to keep this museum open and its history alive.”
The main museum building is the house constructed in 1906 by John Thomas Gerrard. He was very affluent, and Tanney said, “He financed almost everyone who settled in what is now Taylorsville in those days. Their handshake was their word. He made his fortune in the shipping industry.”
In 1929, Gerrard and his wife Jenny deeded the land to David and Clark Parkes Jones, who had already been living in the home for 10 years and operating a successful farm. When David died in 1956, his youngest son Raymond first rented, then eventually purchased, the farm.
It was Raymond who started with 10 dairy cows, then eventually used a government loan to buy a dozen more. With times being tough, it took Raymond Jones almost a decade to pay off that $1,000 loan, but he did it. And so the Jones Dairy operated until his death at the age of 91 in 2000.
But the third generation family members “were tired of the 5 a.m. wake ups each morning,” Tanney said. “They were ready to sell the farm and move on.”
So Taylorsville Mayor Janice Auger spearheaded a drive to have the city purchase the property, stating at the time, “There are some traditions in Taylorsville that should be kept alive. There’s only one of these.”
The Historic Preservation Committee, of which Tanney has been chairperson twice, went to work, restoring portions of the farmhouse and the farm itself and collecting artifacts from donors in the community. “Not all of them are original from the home, but they certainly are from the time,” she said.
They also added live farm animals such as chickens, turkeys, sheep, goats and a pig. So many items have been donated that a garage annex has been added as part of the museum. And the donations keep coming.
“Just a few weeks ago, someone called to say they had Jenny Gerrard’s wedding dress, and wondered if we were interested in having it for the museum,” Tanney said. “I responded, ‘Of course!’ People have been so generous with their donations of artifacts and resources.”
Summertime visits are huge, while cold, wintry nights are sometimes void of many visitors. Still, the volunteers keep the museum open three days a week, and each year, more than 1,200 elementary school children from Taylorsville schools visit.
Tanney is particularly excited this year, as on Sept. 10, 11 and 12, Tombstone Tales returns to the city cemetery. The event, held once every five years, features live actors standing over the gravesites of pioneers, telling their stories through dialogue.
“It really brings history alive,” she said. “We’re gearing up for that right now.”
One need the museum has is for more volunteers. As Tanney puts it, “A lot of us are grandmas and grandpas, and we need some young blood.”
“This is my retirement—how I spend my golden years, and I love it. I’m glad to be back after being gone for a couple of years, and I’ve rolled up my sleeves and gotten back into the swing of things,” she said.
The Heritage Museum is open Tuesdays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Wednesdays from 6 to 9 p.m., and Saturdays from 2 to 6 p.m.
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