Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Historic Research, Summit County, UT

Grand kid's yard and woods, PA, Nov. '07

Last week I was gazing at this scene as I observed kids roller skating, scootering and biking. It was glorious, it was lush and as colorful as the fun family I was visiting.

I've just returned home from two separate trips. They were very different. The second week was a trip to see kids and grand kids--a chance to Make Memories. Photos, journal jottings, red-letter outings, talks in the car, and late-night chats by the burning fire, (Dancing With the Stars playing in the background)...these days will be collected and recorded, and referred to sentimentally over the years.

I understand why evacuating people rush into their homes and grab their photo albums and scrapbooks as their houses burn. These are visual reminders of precious memories.

Our other trip was into the desert mountain canyons and valleys east of Park City, Utah. We were searching for memories of a thriving town that once had over 500 residents, a school, cemetery, church, and railroad station from 1860, but totally disappeared in about 1965.

There is almost no evidence of the huge dairy and sheep ranches, and the numerous large homes on every property. The local folks made memories here: The kids used to ice skate a couple of miles to the one-room school house, and ride their horses along the train tracks the 1/2 hour it took to reach the wild, booming silver mining town of Park City. There they tied up their horses on Main Street while they visited the movie theater for a matinee. They took in homeless people, giving food, board and often work to get them on their feet. There were romances, feuds, deaths and births. But although they made memories, nobody kept them. They aren't written down anywhere. There are very few photos, no scrapbooks, letters or journals. The history is as blank as the landscape.

Once upon a time there were roads lined with brothels and bars to service the miners, and stills producing moonshine during prohibition. Outlaws had hideouts in the vicinity, and fortunes were discovered and lost on a daily basis. But who? How? The stories are no less interesting just because we haven't heard them. Some historian should go up there and gather some history!

Dee has been commissioned to find evidence of a common use road Indians, trappers, explorers, miners, and farmers used for hundreds of years. An owner has found her vast and valuable land inheritance to be landlocked, with no access to it. Her neighbors have fenced in the old common use road, and tell her it is not a public thoroughfare but part of their land. She must have that piece of road in order to develop it or sell it; otherwise it will be worthless. Dee is looking for memories of the road, the owners of the establishments, and physical evidence that it has traditionally been used as a common road.

It looks like this now. There was nothing written to give directions and no roads to where we needed to go.

It's really a piece of detective work. Dee's found geological maps, from decades long past. They list areas by property owners, and luckily some of their descendants still own pieces of the land, and have stories to tell. The 80-year-old grandson who remembers ice skating to school, (and is anxious to tell his own memories of times gone by,) recalls a girl who worked at a bar on the old road in her teens. She's alive, in a nursing home in Seattle, with a keen memory of those by-gone days. One story leads to another, and soon there are directions for short cuts through the canyons, and listings of roads used for a couple of hundred years that could settle the land owners case.

Since the freeway bought the property from the ranchers, there are highways in place of barns, hostels, hotels, shops, etc. There's no way to see if the old trails actually hook up at the top of the canyons. Dee took a bike ride several weeks ago to explore some of this giant acreage on the ground. Last week's mission was to find evidence of the school, the graveyard, collect the stories of the old-timers, and piece it all together. Several families look to this lost city as the land of their pioneer ancestors, settling the west. They all have an interest in the story of their lost homeland.

It was fun to spot a white column sparkling under the sun, and wonder if it could be a graveyard. Our old Subie climbed the hills like a horse so we gave her her head, and she took us straight up the hill to the marker surrounded by several family graves and a little fence. There were some children ages 2, 4, 6 who had died within days of each other. And a father dead within a few weeks. The mom held things together for many years, but still died at age 45. What stories lie within that little cemetery. The highway builders fenced it off and left it in peace.

There was a foundation left of a school, We could see the steps leading up. Other foundations showed where houses and barns stood. It's fun to find these places and match them up with the stories we've heard by those still living, and the few memories recorded of those already gone, to give life to this town.

I think of gathering history like gathering autumn leaves. We are finding the brightest examples of a former glory that beautified now barren places with life and growth. The people who created something from nothing, who raised huge families filled with hard working, inventive folks, while feeding vast numbers of citizens from the food they produced; these are the unsung heroes who built our country. Did they make any less of a contribution just because we don't know about them?

I love making memories with the people I love. I hope the pictures and jottings, scrapbooks, and stories will be kept handy so they will be part of the family lore that makes us feel united, and connected. Ultimately I think it could give us security that we are part of a group that cares about us. It could give courage to stand for good things, knowing we are supported by people who will lend strength to pull us out of our mires.

Collecting history in the public domain is similar. It makes us all stand a little taller to realize good people in the past have contributed such a positive heritage for us to build on. I love thinking about the people who have been forgotten. They must feel a little like unappreciated parents who have provided sustenance and safety, and made wise decisions we don't know about, but benefit from just the same.

Who in history inspires you? Have you discovered somebody that made a contribution to your life? Are they well-known, or unsung heroes? Will you be remembered? Are you leaving a legacy? You are if you blog!


Stie: My Favorite Things said...

What a cool job you both have. I love the idea of long-forgotten towns, homes, and schools being rediscovered. What a history.

SEE? SEE? This is why I scrapbook. Someone someday will know everything about my life, boring though it may be.

Bev said...

For almost as long as I can remember I have loved to drive through residential areas at night and wonder about the people in the houses, each of those little points of light -- does this make me a peeping tom or a frustrated historian?

Miggs said...

Indiana Opa and Oma

Marty said...

Scrapping, journaling, creating art that will tell a story about you and your interests...you are leaving the appropriate clues for someone to discover you!