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After restoring 1870s cabin on his property, Taylor man is ready to retire (again)

By Jean Reid Norman - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Jun 17, 2024
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Kathryn Penrod, left, and Michael Ackley chat May 24, 2024, inside the 1870s cabin where Penrod was born. Ackley moved the cabin from Hooper to his property in Taylor to preserve it. When this photo was taken, Ackley still was working on filling in cracks with chinking.
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Michael and Sharyl Ackley's Western town started with a desert garden that has grown beyond their expectations.
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Michael Ackley looks at the tepee he purchased and had built on his property in Taylor as part of the Ackley Western Town.
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Kathryn Penrod stands outside the 1870s cabin her parents built and where she was born in 1935. When the cabin appeared in danger of destruction, she advertised and found Michael Ackley willing to move and restore it.
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The Ackley Western Town train museum includes a ticket counter with a mannequin minding it.
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Kathryn Penrod admires artifacts from the Ackley Western Town train exhibit.
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The bicycle museufm at the Ackley Western Town has a wall dedicated to Eddy Merckx, a legendary rider.
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Kathryn Penrod, left, and Michael Ackley chat May 24, 2024, inside the 1870s cabin where Penrod was born. Ackley moved the cabin from Hooper to his property in Taylor to preserve it. This photo was taken from just outside a doorway, which was still being replaced. Ackley also was creating a new floor.
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The bicycle museum at the Ackley Western Town has a vintage Schwinn.
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The Ackley Western Town train museum includes a model of a Western town.

The six-line classified ad in the Standard-Examiner in October 2022 caught Michael Ackley's eye. It sought someone to move a historic log cabin in Hooper or salvage it for the historic logs. "It needs to be moved off the property asap," the ad read.

In the seven years he had owned his nearly 1-acre spread in Taylor, Ackley had built a Western town, complete with a tepee, covered wagon, railroad car with faux station, and a museum holding 65 years of train and bicycling memorabilia. He was just finishing up converting a shed into a rustic-looking cabin on the southeast corner of the property.

Kathryn Penrod, who had been born in the cabin in 1935, had placed the ad. Her father had built the cabin in the 1870s, and over the years it had been incorporated into a larger house where their family raised 10 children, all 10 at one point sharing that 14-by-16-foot room.

By 2022, the cabin was no longer part of the house and it had no roof. The property's new owner wanted it gone. Kathryn's sister Mary suggested they run the ad.

"I said, 'Nobody didn't want that old thing,'" Penrod recalled. "She says, 'Oh, just put an ad in the paper. See what happens.'"

Ackley saw the ad, "and I got so excited," he said. "Oh my God, there's something else to do."

Six weeks later, Penrod deeded the cabin over to Ackley for free if he moved it and cleaned up the mess. Ackley had his next project.

This month, Ackley will celebrate the restoration of the old Simpson cabin on his property with the annual Ackley Western Town History and Heritage Festival. Penrod, now 89, and two of her sisters will be honored along with the cabin.

The festival will be June 29 from 1-5 p.m. at 2836 S. 3925 West in Ogden. The train and bicycling museum, restored caboose, covered wagon and cabin will be on display for the public to admire. The event will include live country music, ice cream and food for sale. Ackley recommends bringing chairs to sit and enjoy, as well as carpooling.

It will be one final hurrah for Michael and Sharyl Ackley, who moved to Taylor in 2015 for their retirement, before they downsize one more time and move to less than one-fifth of an acre in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Everything, from the memorabilia to the tepee, will have to go, Sharyl Ackley says.

Saving history privately

The cabin is one of three 19th-century homes restored in the past year, as reported by the Standard-Examiner. Such efforts are often driven by -- or, as with this case, completely done by -- private efforts.

"It all does come down to somebody saving these things," local historian and former Standard-Examiner columnist Charles Trentelman said.

Calling Ackley a hero, Katie Nelson, a historian and board member of the Weber County Heritage Foundation, said in an email that private efforts have saved a good deal of local history.

"It's passionate citizens like the Ackleys, spending their own funds, who save the majority of our built heritage," she wrote, adding that humble homes of immigrants, like this one, deserve saving as much as the mansions of the rich.

Deniane Kartchner, a photographer with the Weber County Heritage Foundation, said preservation "was always a personal project for them. It's always just been something that they did because it made them happy."

Unfortunately, she says, governments cannot be relied on to save history. When Ogden City came across some 19th-century wooden water pipes during street construction, they were going to be tossed out, she said. Kartchner reached out to the Ackleys, and now a section of those pipes sit in a glass case outside their private museum.

"It takes people with an individual ..." Kartchner said, trailing off.

"Desire, motivation and vision," Sharyl Ackley finished.

The public fight over the future of Union Station and the museums within it is perhaps the most high-profile example of the tension between government's priorities and historical preservation.

Governments, Trentelman said, "cannot be depended on to save things, which is where individuals come in and preserve things."

In the case of Union Station, public outcry played a role in Ogden City's decision to incorporate preservation into future planning.

The 1870s Simpson cabin needed the Ackleys.

Moving the cabin

Once Penrod signed the cabin over to the Ackleys, Michael had his work cut out for him. He knew the cabin was too fragile to move easily.

He spent that winter removing lath and plaster that covered the historic logs and then building a frame of plywood around the exterior and interior, making a sandwich, as he describes it, around each wall to protect the structure during the move.

In the spring, he hired a crane to pick up the little house and carry it to its new home.

It was a tense moment, he said, as he waited to see if his engineering worked.

"The crane started up its engine, and it started going off the ground. And I just got so emotional," he said. "I just said, 'Oh, it's going to work. It's not going to fall apart like Lincoln logs.'"

Nelson, the historian, said most historic cabins are taken apart and put back together. She called Ackley's plan "An amazing feat! That really helps retain the integrity of the building."

In the year since, he sought out materials to build a roof, replace a wall that had deteriorated and build a porch to protect the cabin from the western sun. In the weeks before the big event, Ackley is adding chinking into the gaps between logs and completing other finishing touches.

A rusted water pump, not original to the cabin, sits outside -- a nice touch, Ackley thinks.

Nelson says Ackley's talent as a restorer, even though his background is as a painting contractor, is unusual.

"He's able to keenly observe how the original builders worked, and then work in sympathy with that to restore the cabin to its current state," she said.

Kartchner is getting a plaque made to let the public know about this history. It will read: "The home of William E. Simpson and Loreta M. Hull, built in early 1870s. All ten children were born in this house: Mark, Ruth, Jack, Dean, Bette, Bill, Isabelle, Mary, Kathryn, Ireita."

Even after the Ackleys leave, Kartchner says, this will record the cabin's significance.

Leaving it all behind

When Michael Ackley looked off the balcony of the house in Taylor to the expansive backyard in 2015, he saw the potential.

"Nothing was here. I said, 'This is the place,'" he said. "I went to work, and nine years later, it's all done."

The project, Sharyl Ackley said, kept her husband busy over the years.

"He was so happy doing it and had a great time," she said. "He couldn't wait to get out here every morning to do some project or make something."

Sharyl was supportive the whole way, though she did worry about how much money it was costing.

"The only damper I ever put on it was, I would say, 'Can we really afford this? Do you really want that? Can we live without it?'" she said. "And always it was, 'Yeah, we can afford it. No, I can't live without it.'"

Now, at 76, Ackley says it's time to slow down.

Sharyl is fond of saying, "If anything happened to him, I told him I would just lock the house and walk away. I wouldn't even know where to start." With that in mind, they don't want their inheritance to their only son to be a burden.

So they're downsizing from almost an acre in Taylor to a home one-fifth the size of the property in Coeur d'Alene. After trying to sell the house and Western town as is, without success, they are liquidating.

The artifacts from the bicycle and railroad museum will go to others for their collections. They will put the tepee, covered wagon and other larger items up for sale after the festival.

They will be sad to see these things go. Michael Ackley teased that they could try to tow the covered wagon to Idaho behind their truck as Sharyl rolled her eyes. But he knows it's time to let go, while they can.

"At our age, before something drastically changes everything, let's do it," he said, "now, while we still can drive and function and remember things and see things. And then when it happens, it happens."

So how will he stay busy without his projects?

He says everyone keeps asking him that question, and it's getting a bit overwhelming.

Maybe, he says, he'll get back on his bike and ride.


IF YOU GO

Ackley Western Town History and Heritage Festival

When: June 29, 1-5 p.m.

Where: 2836 S. 3925 West, Ogden

Cost: Free

Bring a chair. Carpooling recommended.

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