Heber Valley’s Historic Preservation

A conversation with our past about our future

Written by Michael Moulton with Jim Ritchie

“In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create, but by what we refuse to destroy.” -John Sawhill

When people ask what I am doing nowadays, I explain that I am Chairman of the Heber City Historic Preservation Commission. Inevitably they ask, “What is that?” I stumbled in answering that question to the point where I decided several months ago to write what I called a “White Paper” on all matters pertaining to Historic and Heritage Preservation just to keep me in remembrance of what I am about. I admit my main interest lies in the preservation of our heritage and culture, a big part of that being the stories of people who made us great.

One such story that holds significant meaning to me is that of the Moulton family. My story here in the Heber Valley began when my ancestors decided to leave England with ‘almost’ eight children. The eighth child was born on the North Sea while heading for Zion. With meager belongings and a missionary blessing that promised the family they would all arrive safely in the new Salt Lake territory, the family teamed up with the Willey Handcart Company and headed west. History tells the story of how their late departure would prove to be a spiritual baptism by fire (and ice — literally) for the company’s saints. History also reminds all of us that the testimonies discovered during those devastating and difficult trials were never lost. The Moulton family made it to the sixth crossing in Wyoming before they thought the journey west was over for all of them. Prepared to pass from this world to the next; the family gathered in a grove of willows next to a river. The trees offered shelter from the freezing winds, and a few more degrees of warmth. Ready to spend their last few hours of life huddled together they waited . . . but the end never came. Miraculously the rescue party arrived the very next day. The promise that all ten members of the Moulton family would arrive in the valley alive was fulfilled. The baby boy born on the waters survived too, although it was reported that he was so thin by the time they reached Salt Lake Valley that if you held him up to the sun you could see through him! One branch of that Moulton family was sent to Heber Valley and became the great grandfather of many of us.

All of us have a story to tell. All of us come from a culture and heritage that shouldn’t be forgotten. Whether they are happy or sad, triumphant or devastating, good or bad, we all have something to learn from them. Our culture and heritage help us to become the people we are today. Those who settled and came to our valley have changed it forever and we honor them for what they sacrificed to allow us to enjoy such an incredible place to live and raise our families.

My good friend Jim Ritchie and I enjoy wandering through our four local cemeteries and looking at the many family and famous names that adorn the headstones. Jim says he and his wife, Carolyn, find joy in their evening strolls remembering those who had such memorable impacts on their lives. He then writes ‘entertaining’ messages to his family and friends such as: “H. Clay Cummings — Healer — Stake President — Rancher; without this man, I would have been a one-legged chicken farmer — maybe for life.” Of course, there is more to the story but these silly one-liners create an interest and desire to learn more about those who’ve gone before. Jim puts a great deal of emphasis on people from his past, those whom he learned so much from during his ‘growing and maturing’ years. He calls them his friends, family, and mentors, and credits them for teaching him and making him who he is today. For me, trying to remember the difference they made to our valley and our history is an exercise in ‘fun’. Who do you know in the cemeteries? How have they shaped you and your life? I challenge you to discover the stories of your ancestors, friends, and mentors and then share them with others. The Heber cemetery alone could keep us busy for years with historical exploration as it is loaded with names of those who changed our valley’s history. We cannot afford to forget them. I challenge each of you to seek out the names of those great men and women who helped start the amazing places like Wallsburg, Charleston, Midway, Daniels, Center Creek, and Heber that make up our beloved Wasatch County.

Like many of you, Jim and I love History and are sold on the idea, indeed the very necessity, of preserving what we have been given to build upon for the future. Safeguarding our history involves many things; however, for this article, we teamed up to put together a brief description that explains some basic elements of Historic and Heritage Preservation efforts.

An excellent definition of Historic Preservation comes from the National Park Service who spends a great deal of time and money preserving and showing history to the people of our Nation. “Historic preservation is a conversation with our past about our future. It provides us with opportunities to ask, ‘What is important in our history?’ and ‘What parts of our past can we preserve for the future?’ Through historic preservation, we look at history in different ways, ask different questions of the past, and learn new things about our history and ourselves. Historic preservation is an important way for us to transmit our understanding of the past to future generations.

“Our nation’s history has many facets, and historic preservation helps tell these stories. Sometimes historic preservation involves celebrating events, people, places, and ideas that we are proud of; other times it involves recognizing moments in our history that can be painful or uncomfortable to remember.”

Somebody said that we must make it possible to easily seek counsel from past generations. Our Mayor and City Council have established, by ordinance, a Historic Preservation Commission, charged to work with property owners in preserving our remaining historic buildings and with individuals of our community to preserve the stories and events of those who came before us. Perhaps most importantly, to preserve for our children and grandchildren the culture of what makes this community great —what makes it the safe place it is, and consequently, why we want to live here with welcoming arms to those who want to join us for the same reasons.

To date, the Heber City Historic Preservation Commission has undertaken several initiatives to preserve our history; such as the development of a Historic Preservation Master Plan; formation of a Downtown Historic/Cultural District; and building several commemorative monuments and displays to honor the historic buildings we still have, and to pay homage to and remember those buildings that meant so much to our community but are no longer with us.

As a community, the ‘Adaptive Reuse’ or ‘Repurposing’ of historic homes and buildings is an important element in the preservation of our culture and history. Wonderful examples of how this has happened and is continuing to happen can be found all over the county. Many local companies have updated and adapted older homes into offices and places of business creating profitable current usage while maintaining their historic nature. Repurposing the old Social Hall as the home for the Timpanogos Theater Company and adapting the Wasatch Stake Tabernacle into the Heber City Office Building are great examples of how we can preserve our heritage while creating new stories and history for those who will inherit this valley from us.

The Heber City Historic Preservation Commission is in its beginning stages, and we have a lot that we want to accomplish. We will need your help. As chairman, I give this clarion call to the residents of Wasatch County; come join us! Come, share your stories, add your talents to our team, help us remember those who came before, and take part in preserving the culture and history that has made our mountain home the amazing place it is!