Whitaker Museum reopens

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 11:07 AM

Dana Rimington

CENTERVILLE — A dozen descendants from one of Centerville’s founding families gathered to celebrate the grand reopening of the Whitaker Museum, after the center had been closed for several years for a major renovation project.

Originally known as the Thomas and Elizabeth Whitaker House, located at 168 North Main in Centerville, it was built in 1862 by Thomas Whitaker, a carpenter by trade, and a Scottish stonemason. It is now listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

The building was purchased by Centerville city 20 years ago and turned into a museum and learning center for the community. According to Donald Hartley, the Historical Preservation Architect with the Division of Utah State History, the house is a part of Centerville’s earliest history and should be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

“When a loved one loses their memory, it’s almost like it causes them to lose their identity. That is similar to our communities,” said Hartley. “I congratulate Centerville for preserving this community memory.”

Renovations to the museum included replacing the roof, demolishing the non-historical garage and storage areas, reconstructing one section of the house, plastering the entire inside of the home, seismic carpentry, along with electrical, plumbing and mechanical finish work.

The final cost to restore the historic structure is estimated around $250,000, with $122,000 coming from the city’s general fund, $59,000 from grants and donations, and volunteer hours valued at $50,000 to $100,000.

“If we were to do a credit card commercial, it could be said that the cost of restoring and preserving this house is priceless,” said Hartley.

During the reopening ceremonies, Paul Thomas Smith, Whitaker Historian and board member, referred to the event as a big family reunion and talked about the small miracles that occurred when acquiring many of the artifacts that had originally been in the home, but distributed over the years to the University of Utah and Daughters of Utah Pioneers.

“They never give up this kind of stuff,” said Smith, referring to a couple pieces of furniture built by Whitaker, which the DUP had in their possession, and a journal owned by Whitaker originally owned by the University of Utah.

Smith talked about how important the artifacts were for the museum, saying, “Artifacts are only as important as the story behind them, and then they come to life.”

One of Whitaker’s great-grandsons, 79-year-old John Whitaker Smith of Taylorsville attended the ceremony and walked around the house, inspired by his family’s history.

“People need to come to value and realize that these things have worth, and know what these pioneers went through,” said Smith. “This museum will teach them the kind of life they lived and be examples for us to follow because they were good, hardworking people.”

Thomas and Elizabeth Whitaker were believed to have been one of the first families in Utah to raise silkworms. Elizabeth spun the silk into various items, even presenting Brigham Young with a silk vest she made.

The future goals for the museum are to inform, entertain, and inspire community members.

Board member Bridget Lee said one of the highlights of the museum in the past was bringing in students studying Utah history to show them actual artifacts from the pioneer era, and teach them about hand weaving wool and silk.

Now that the museum is open, they will resume tours for students and the public every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to noon, and 1:00 p.m. to 6 p.m., or by appointment.

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