BOUNTIFUL -- If Steve Williams had to summarize his decision to leave his lucrative job as an international businessman and dive headfirst into the wedding business, that word would be "Wal-Mart."
When Williams heard the big-box retailer had an option to build on the site of The Manor at Eldredge Square, a reception center his parents had owned for nearly three decades, he knew he had to do something.
"It would be such a shame to knock (those historic buildings) down. I made some calls, ran the numbers and decided it was a great opportunity," he said.
Williams grew up helping his parents, Floyd and Stella Williams, maintain the facility at 564 W. 400 North and admits he hated it. In his youth, the place represented work -- he spent most weekends helping with cleaning, tending the gardens and getting rooms ready for receptions.
As his parents aged, running the business became more challenging for them. But he wasn't interested in taking over until news came of Eldredge Manor's potential demolition.
The manor began as a family home. An extensive history of the property and the families of the original owners is detailed on the venue's website, www.eldredgemanor.com.
"When James Alanson Eldredge married Jane Jennings in 1879, two of Utah's most prominent families were united. Jane was the daughter of William and Jane Walker Jennings. She was raised in the Jennings home on West South Temple they called the Devereaux House."
Jane's father was a wealthy merchant and politician who served as mayor of Salt Lake City in 1882. James' father, Horace Eldredge, was a powerful Utah merchant and banker.
Both fathers were founding directors of ZCMI.
James and Jane Eldredge had one child, Afton, born in 1892.
The home and carriage house construction, financed by Afton's grandparents, was completed in 1900. Afton's husband, Robert Alvin Moss, remembered hearing Mrs. Eldredge state that her father, William Jennings, celebrated the completion of the home by building a special temporary railroad spur from his home -- The Devereaux House -- in Salt Lake City to the new home so that "his daughter could receive Salt Lake City society in style," according to the website.
The original 4,200-square-foot house was a four-square design, with four rooms on the bottom, four rooms on the top. Additional space was added in the early 1900s when they put in electricity, a furnace and later a dumbwaiter used to get Mrs. Eldredge up and down the stairs after she had to use a wheelchair.
Williams said the Eldredges were innovators, reputed to be among Utah's first residents with radiant heat, indoor plumbing, an elevator, closets and an automobile.
Jane Eldredge died in 1926; James lived in the house until his death in 1940.
Williams' parents bought the mansion in 1973. By 2004, his parents were not able to effectively continue to operate the facility and negotiations were under way with Wal-Mart.
Hearing Wal-Mart would raze the property inspired Williams to buy, renovate and re-establish the reception center himself.
While he knew there would be a lot of work involved to restore the original glory of the estate, Williams was determined to realize his vision of an unparalleled, modern, profitable facility.
He and his wife, Jonan, left their jobs to focus full time on the project. Those of the couple's five children still living at home helped tend the gardens and clean and ready rooms for receptions just as their father did as a youngster.
Williams spared no time, energy or expense with the renovations. He added an east wing in 2005 and a west wing in October 2007.
They were determined to create an impressive, modern facility and to retain and restore as many original features as possible.
A luncheon with descendants of the home's original owners and the information they shared filled in gaps that helped restore many of the site's earliest details.
The discoveries included hidden windows and false ceilings. Other details contributed to the authenticity of the restoration work.
Small glass panes with flowers hand-painted by Mrs. Eldredge were discovered recently during one descendant's visit. Steps have been taken to preserve her work. Her hand-painted floor coverings remain in place under the carpet in the groom's room and lay exposed in a closet.
"(Based on the descendants' details) we were able to find original trims and match the home's original colors, information my father pursued for years and was unsuccessful," Williams said.
The whirlwind renovations took only six months to complete. The result was a first-class, full-service reception center with 7,000 square feet of indoor space and 2 acres of best-in-class gardens. Eldredge Manor was named "Best of Bountiful" in 2009.
Williams said the only project still in the works is a soon-to-be-completed, full-time, on-site bridal fair.
Sadly, Williams's father, Floyd, didn't live long enough to see the reception center reach its full potential. Williams said his mother is thrilled with the work done to the property she cared for and loved for decades.
Williams is thrilled with the center's success.
"The increase in business (since the renovations) has been phenomenal. I'm hearing, 'My parents were married here' more often. It's very rewarding."
In order to add extra protection to the property Williams and his family worked tirelessly to restore, he pursued and gained a place on the National Register of Historic Places in June 2005.
"It's a wonderful protection for this incredible place," Williams said. "Eldredge Manor is the longest-running, privately owned reception center in Utah and is one of the busiest, too."
For more information, consult The Manor's website or call 801-292-5501.