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The City Journals

Founding, current city council members participate in Taylorsville-Bennion Heritage Center field trip

Jun 05, 2019 04:37PM ● By Carl Fauver

Teacher and City Councilwoman Meredith Harker shows her third-graders the school rules students had to obey more than 100 years ago, to avoid “lashes.” (Carl Fauver/City Journals)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

Ashton Christopherson has probably never been under more pressure, no matter how many baseball or soccer games he has ever played.

The Calvin S. Smith Elementary School third-grader was one of about 100 who attended a recent field trip at the historic Taylorsville-Bennion Heritage Center (1488 West 4800 South).

But Ashton was the only one there with his father and teacher both keeping an eye on him. And those two — Brad Christopherson and Meredith Harker — also each happen to be members of the Taylorsville City Council. Christopherson is a past chairman, and Harker is the current vice chair.

“Meredith has taught all three of my kids and has brought each of them here,” Christopherson said. His son Walker is now in seventh grade, while daughter Kate is in fifth.

“These field trips are how I came to know this place,” Harker said. “This is my sixth year at Calvin Smith and my 20th year teaching. This field trip is still my favorite.” 

Not only was 40 percent of the current city council on hand for the field trip, but so too were two of the five original Taylorsville City Council members: Keith Sorensen, 77, and Bruce Wasden, 89. 

Sorensen played the role of blacksmith, where he told the young visitors “This shop was the Home Depot or Lowe’s of 130 years ago.”

As for Wasden, his tour group of students was never completely certain their field trip guide understood corporal punishment is no longer “a thing.” At least not at the outset — by the end, they seemed to have discovered the near-nonagenarian (your vocabulary word for the day: a person in their 90s) has a bark worse than his bite.

More importantly, were it not for the foresight of Sorensen, Wasden and the other early Taylorsville City Council members, it is unlikely any of these third-graders would have been viewing the 2.5-acre site’s farm animals and antiques at all.

“I was in favor of the city purchasing this property (in 2002), because I have always had a great love of history,” Sorensen said. “But there was a lengthy debate. Just like anything else, it came down to money. I am a retired architect, and I wanted to see this old home preserved. We made the right choice.”

You’ll have to forgive the Wasatch Front media for paying little attention to the February 2002 Taylorsville City purchase of what was then known as the “Jones Dairy” property. They were busy at that time telling the world about the Salt Lake Winter Olympics.

“Purchasing these 2 1/2 acres was certainly one of the ‘good’ decisions we made as a city council,” Wasden said. “The youngest son of the Jones family just told us one day, ‘I am sick and tired of (the farm and property) and will make you a good deal if you promise to preserve the site.’ Our decision to accept the offer (with Taylorsville City paying $500,000) was a good one.”

Wasden, Sorensen and their wives are now active on the city’s Historic Preservation Committee, chaired by Susan Yadeskie, who is another field trip leader.

“I grew up on a farm just down the road from here where we raised pigs,” Yadeskie told her young students as they were in the barn observing pigs, rabbits and pregnant goats. “One year, I showed my pig at the Salt Lake County Fair and won a blue ribbon.”

Besides making the original half-million dollar investment, city leaders provide “modest” ongoing funding for the historic site’s upkeep.

“Each year, we put together a funding ‘wish list,’ and the city is pretty good about helping out,” Yadeskie said. “Within the last year or so, we had one of our bigger expenditures when we upgraded our computers.”

In addition to gathering donated artifacts, the committee is also dedicated to scanning all of its photos and cataloging possessions. 

Under the direction of former committee chair Connie Taney, whose mother grew up in the historic Jones Dairy home, the committee is also now gathering historic photos through its Facebook page.

Harker also explained to her students how she married into one of the oldest families in the area.

Joseph Harker and his young family joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while living in England and immigrated to the United States in 1846. After wintering in the Midwest, the family joined a wagon train just a couple of months behind Brigham Young’s original party. The Harkers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in October 1847.

“According to family history, (the Harker family) spent that first (Utah) winter living under their overturned wagons,” 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.”

During the field trip, the councilwoman also challenged her students to find Joseph Harker’s photo in the historic home’s formal parlor. 

“I still don’t know why they didn’t name the area ‘Harkerville,’” she said. “But that’s OK, Taylorsville is a good name too.” 

The annual Taylorsville-Bennion Heritage Center field trip “season” normally includes about 10 different Granite School District elementary schools visiting. The 100 Calvin S. Smith Elementary School students made up this year’s largest group.

“Each year, we receive about $3,500 from the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts and Parks (ZAP) tax fund, which is paid pretty much entirely to the Granite School District for the busses to get the kids here,” Yadeskie said. “We love to get the kids interested in learning about their family history at a young age. And lots of them later bring their families to visit.”

As one of her very first official acts after being sworn into the Taylorsville City Council 17 months ago, Harker asked to serve as the council adviser to the Historic Preservation Committee.

“This is such a wonderful part of our community,” Harker said at that time. “I just hope more people will discover it the way I did.”

After three-quarters of the third-graders had boarded their busses, including on-his-best-behavior Ashton Christopherson; the remaining 25 were still in the old farmhouse kitchen, listening to a few final details from Wasden.

Funny, the kids he had scolded an hour earlier for being too noisy now seemed to be hanging on the near-nonagenarian’s every word.