Sunday, July 12, 2009

Chesterfield: History in brick

Adapted from a story originally published in the Post Register.
CHESTERFIELD -- Back in 1879, the Portneuf Valley's open expanse of grasslands tucked between rolling hills looked pretty good to Chester Call.

Looking for a place to graze horses and cattle, Call eventually settled the valley and founded the town of Chesterfield with the idea of seeing it grow into a major city.

"It was going to be at that time the new Salt Lake," says Steve Jensen, president of the Chesterfield Foundation, which has been working for a quarter-century to restore the town site. "That whole valley was filled with homesteads."

Chesterfield never became anything like Salt Lake, of course, but the valley did eventually become home to hundreds of settlers for about 40 years before the population began to dwindle.

Jensen, whose great-grandfather, Denmark Jensen, was sent to Chesterfield by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1886 to help organize the town, and his colleagues at the foundation throw an annual Memorial weekend shindig, complete with a Saturday night dance and festivities running all day Monday.

The town site has required a lot of restoration, but many of the buildings were still standing when preservation began in the 1980s. Originally spurred by Craig M. Call, a Utah attorney and descendant of the founder, restoration continues today, including Jensen's personal project, the Tithing House.

"Here was a whole town site full of buildings," Jensen said of the area when Call originally visited. "There were a lot of structures still standing. The farmers were just plowing around the buildings."

The restored amusement hall hosts a dance each Saturday before Memorial Day, and place really gets hopping on Memorial Day itself, with a full day of things to do, including tours of the site on horse-drawn wagons, butter-churning, rope making and other pioneer-era activities. Lunch, baked goods and period candy are available for purchase. All the buildings are open, each with exhibits and docents to tell all about the history of the building.

"Of course we don't turn down any donations when people show up to these things," Jensen says, an obvious gleam in his eye.

If you can't make it on Memorial Day, docents are at the site six days a week (not on Sundays) through Labor Day.

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