Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum: Heber Valley History Resides in One of our Greatest Historic Buildings

How much of our future will be about preserving our past? With all the hustle and bustle that comes with a growing community, it’s easy to lose sight of what got us here in the first place.

An old building is torn down to make way for something “bigger and better.” Historic homes are replaced with fancy new ones, and our attentions turn as quickly as the seasons change to the newest neighborhood or hot spot. Growth is a double-edged sword, but luckily, we live in a community with a dedication to preserving our past.

Honoring where we came from and preserving our history is a trend we now see everywhere — on television, in shopping and home design, and in the rise of at-home DNA testing and family genealogy quests.

Likewise, the history of the Heber Valley is alive all around us and we are blessed with countless reminders of our community’s past. There is no shortage of history in our valley, and the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum is one of the best places to turn the clocks back, reflect and reconnect.

Heber City and the New Deal

“It is so peaceful,” says Kathryn Berg, chairwoman of the DUP Museum Board. “From the moment you walk in, you can feel the history. I remember coming to the building when it was the library in my younger days and now to see the transition to the museum is wonderful.”

As part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs in the 1930s, the federal government established the Work Progress Administration (WPA) as a means of creating government jobs for some of the many unemployed workers in the United States.

During the latter years of the Great Depression, the historic Heber City library was constructed using such WPA funds. The WPA supplied a grant of $13,275 toward the project – nearly half the total cost of $27,529 – and the library opened in May 1939.

“Interestingly, in the 1920s, some of the original members of the DUP started raising money for a place to store artifacts,” Berg notes.

It would be nearly 90 years —and a new library — before those artifacts would find  a home.

Home Sweet Home

For years, local historic items were stored in unsecure locations while the quest for a museum building was underway. In 2010, however, the long journey was over. The artifacts were scrubbed with toothbrushes, new frames were built, and on May 9, 2011, the DUP Museum declared the old library its official home.

With its location on Main Street, free admission and some of the most well-organized displays you’ll ever see, so many local residents are missing out on the charm of the museum.

“What’s the old saying?” Berg asks. “You’re never as appreciated in your own town? We certainly seem to see more out-of-towners than locals.”

While the old saying may be true, patronage has increased over the years and the displays are continually being added to and rotated. Of note, a Wasatch County Fire Department hand fire truck now proudly sits in the museum, alongside hairpin lace pillowcases from William Madison Wall.

And if you don’t know who Wall was, you should! The museum has tons of great resources to learn about our community’s past. “We have books about our history and there’s a table in the back where patrons can take time to read and reflect on the artifacts and displays,” says Berg.

The list of things to see and learn at the
DUP Museum goes on and on, but the
big question remains – how do we make people care?

Promoting Passion in Future Generations

Berg laments personally watching historic homes being torn down and sadly says, “Once they’re gone, the history goes with it.”

She continues, “You may have memories of what used to be, but others will never know. You can’t tell people what to do with their property, but younger generations are getting so far removed from our history. It just doesn’t mean as much. Do we say – well that’s progress, or what? I worry.”

We’ll always have books, pictures and memories, but truly preserving history means it needs to be felt, experienced and passed down to the next generation. Can you imagine Main Street without the historic buildings? Years from now, will we have to live with the regrets of not preserving our past?

“I wish I knew how to get a younger generation more passionate and interested in preserving history,” Berg admits. “We are trying. Building awareness and we’re always looking for volunteers.”

The good news is that you can start small. Visit the museum. Have family visiting? Take them with you. You never know what kind of interest you may spark learning about our community and sharing our history.