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Taylorsville City Councilwoman Harker married into perhaps community’s deepest roots

Apr 10, 2018 04:34PM ● Published by Carl Fauver

Joseph Harker arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, just a few months after Brigham Young. (Max Harker)

Newly elected Taylorsville City Councilwoman Meredith Harker has been a resident of the city nearly her entire life. Except for a short stint living in Sugar House — right after she got married — this is the only community she’s ever called home.

Harker graduated from Taylorsville High School in 1995 and has been a teacher for 19 years, the last five at Calvin Smith Elementary School, of course, in Taylorsville.

So, you’ll have to forgive her for thinking her Taylorsville roots ran much deeper than her husband’s. After all, Mike Harker grew up in Sandy and graduated from Cottonwood High School.

But about six years after the Harkers were married, Mike Harker discovered his ancestors’ roots in the community run much deeper than his wife’s. That’s when Mike Harker learned his great-great-great grandfather Joseph Harker was among the first Mormon settlers — perhaps the first — to live in the area west of the Jordan River, now called Taylorsville.

“I was doing research online — as a Boy Scout leader, in 2003 — for the boys’ Citizenship in the Community Merit Badge,” Mike Harker said. “When all of a sudden, I came across a bunch of information about Joseph Harker. I asked my parents, ‘Are we related to this guy?’ My parents said ‘yes,’ and I’ve learned a lot more about our family history since then.”

Some of Joseph Harker’s hundreds of other descendants had already done a lot of the work for Mike Harker. In fact, after combing over old records and diaries, the family published the story of Joseph Harker’s conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his 1846 migration from Lincolnshire, England, 120 miles north of London.

“I’ve always loved Taylorsville and have been proud to be from here,” Meredith Harker said. “So, when I learned I had married into the family that lived here first, that was pretty exciting.”

Meredith Harker said this family heritage is also one of the reasons why she chose to run for the Taylorsville City Council. And it was why — at her very first meeting on the council — she spoke up quickly when the body was looking for a new member to represent the council on the city’s Historic Preservation Committee.

“I’ve always loved the Taylorsville/Bennion Heritage Center (1488 West 4800 South) and have been bringing my third-grade class here on field trips for years,” Meredith Harker said. “With that — and my relationship to Joseph Harker — I definitely wanted to be on that committee.”

In addition to historic photographs of Joseph and Susannah Harker hanging on the heritage center wall, the historic home also holds a pair of ornate antique table centerpieces, called epergnes.

“In 2010, descendants of Joseph Harker donated these to our heritage center,” Historic Preservation Committee Chairwoman Connie Taney said. “According to Harker family history, the two epergnes were brought to the United States by one of Joseph’s children, Henry Harker, in 1898, to give to his wife as he returned from his Mormon mission.”

As was common at the time, Joseph Harker did have multiple wives — four in all. But Susannah — his first, who migrated with him from England — always remained his primary spouse. The two had 14 children together, while Joseph had only two children with his second wife and none with his third or fourth.

In 1846, the young Joseph Harker family made it safely across the Atlantic Ocean, in a ship called the Windsor Castle. But tragedy struck the immigrants — while aboard a riverboat on the Mississippi River — when young John Harker fell overboard and drowned.

After wintering in the Midwest, the Harkers joined a Mormon wagon company led by Edward Hunter and Joseph Horne, arriving in the Salt Lake Valley just a couple of months after Brigham Young’s group, in October 1847.

“According to family history, they spent their first winter in the valley living under their overturned wagon,” Meredith Harker’s Mother-in-Law, Pat Harker said. “And the following year, they were asked by Brigham Young to cross the Jordan River to settle the area on the west side of it.”  

Crossing the Jordan River near present day 3300 South, the Harker family was soon one of those involved in establishing English Fort, a 2-acre area that 18 pioneer families built together — near the present site of the Taylorsville Cemetery — for protection against Native American attacks.

Joseph Harker lived to nearly age 79, primarily as a sheepherder, until his passing in November 1898. His stately burial obelisk still stands in the Taylorsville Cemetery, as does a monument to his pioneering accomplishments in Millrace Park.

Taylorsville Historic Preservation Committee Chairwoman Taney said the Harkers’ family history is just one of many available to learn more about at the Heritage Center. Her committee also recently launched a Facebook page that people can visit and “like” to receive informative updates about the community’s history.

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