Placed by: Division of State History (national register)
GPS Coordinates: 40.6353494, -111.8640506
Historical Marker Text (Currently not on Display):
Utah Historic Site: Henry J. Wheeler Farm
The Henry J. Wheeler Farm is one of the best remaining examples of a turn of the century farmstead in the Salt Lake Valley. The farm was developed after the marriage of Henry J. Wheeler and Sariah Pixton in 1886. The modest Victorian style house was constructed in 1898 for the Wheelers by Sid Gills and Hans Yorgensen. In 1969 the farm was acquired by the Salt Lake County Recreation Department. Development of the property as a historical farm and recreational complex began in 1976.
In 1886 Henry J. Wheeler and his wife Sariah established their farmstead in the Little Cottonwood area, on current day 900 East and 6351 South. First generation children of pioneers, Henry and Sariah’s families emigrated to Utah within the first decade of LDS settlement. Henry’s family traveled to the new territory from England in 1852, while Sariah’s family traveled to Utah under the leadership of Brigham Young in 1848. Sariah’s mother, Elizabeth, traveled alone in this company, driving the wagon herself the entire way.Henry and Sariah married in 1886, setting up their farm shortly thereafter.
The farm originally consisted of seventy seven acres, with Little Cottonwood Creek providing irrigation for the land.The semi-arid landscape of Utah required Henry to respond creatively to the needs of his land, and as such he chose to diversify the property and the holdings. Wheeler included sheep, orchards, ice, and dairy distribution as part of his farm which made him both successful and progressive.Originally the farm included a small adobe dwelling, however Sariah dreamed of more. She wanted a house in the grand victorian style, and eventually this dream became a reality. In 1898 the Wheelers built the victorian style mansion which stands on the property today. Henry Wheeler credited the design of the house to Sariah’s knowledge of architecture. The finished structure boasted ten rooms, and was made of adobe and brick. The family pulled the adobe from their previous house, using it to insulate the new house. The victorian house therefore stood tall and strong, and the adobe provided good insulation for cold winter months.
During the height of the farm Henry built many out buildings which contributed to the success of his farm. These included an ice house, various barns, and a garage for his Pierce Arrow automobile. The victorian mansion also provided a cozy space to host the Wheeler’s seven children. Henry Wheeler trained his dog to fetch the mail and newspaper from the mailbox, to the amusement and delight of his grandchildren. Sariah Wheeler’s expansive dining room became a gathering place for her family and extended family. Sariah’s table sat up to twenty people and during Thanksgiving she served her children and grandchildren a dinner made from turkey raised on the farm and weighing forty pounds.
After the death of Henry Sr. in 1943 the farm was purchased by Richard Madsen (owner of Sterling Furniture Company). During this time it became a dairy and cattle ranch. In 1969 Salt Lake County purchased the farm with plans to turn the property into a sports and park complex. Luckily, in 1974 the Junior League of Salt Lake asked the county if they could preserve the farm, much of which (including the buildings) had fallen into disrepair. After extensive research and renovation the farm was included on the National Historic Registry, and opened to the public officially in 1976 as Wheeler Historic Farm.
Since it’s opening as a preserved site, the farm has provided visitors with a glimpse of what farm life was like in the Salt Lake Valley between 1880 and 1910. The farm boasts a collection of almost 6,000 farming artifacts important to the history of Utah farming. It also houses animals such as sheep, goats, horses, cows, turkeys and chickens. The farm has engaged in community outreach and learning, including renting out garden plots, grassroots music festivals, Sunday farmers markets and Halloween corn mazes.Meticulously preserved, visitors can tour Sariah’s grand Victorian farmhouse for a nominal fee Monday through Friday. Visitors can lead themselves on a self-guided tour through the rest of the farm any day of the week. The farm continues to provide glimpses into Utah’s past, as well as a place of learning and gathering for Utah families.
For Further Reference
Biographical Record of Salt Lake City and Vicinity: Containing Biographies of Well Known Citizens of the Past and Present. (National Historical Record,1902), 429.
Plaque at marker for Legacy of the Black Pioneer
Placed by:Beehive Chapter, Sons of Utah Pioneers and dedicated November 20, 1987.
GPS coordinates:40.6967660, -111.8272168
Historical Marker Text
In 1824-26 the first black man came into Utah Territory. He was a trapper for the rocky Mountain Fur Company. His name was James Beckwourth. In succeeding years many black people would follow to contribute to the development of Utah, socially and economically.
In July of 1847, three (3) black men, slaves, were selected to journey with Orson Pratt, Mormon apostle, into the Salt Lake Valley. They were: Green Flake, Oscar Crosby, and Hark Lay, each in turn provided by their owners, James Flake, William Crosby, and William Lay, members of the pioneer groups of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Utah was a slave state and remained so until the Emancipation Proclamation was effected.
Many black pioneers followed in pioneer groups. They assisted their owners as directed. When they were freed, the owners assisted them in acquiring lands of their own in the Cottonwood, and Fort Union areas. They cultivated the land, built homes and raised families and in every way contributed to the socio-economic growth of the Salt Lake area.
In this, the Mill Creek Area, land was secured by Sylvester James, Samuel Chambers, and Sylvester Perkins. Each proved to be successful farmers who would market their produce to leaders of the community.
In 1888 Paul C. Howell and his family established their home in the 12th-14th Ward in Salt Lake City. He became the first black policeman in Salt Lake City.
Dan Bankhead Freeman was the first black child born in Utah.
The black pioneers of Utah have left a great and lasting contribution that is remembered and appreciated. Their descendants have excelled in the arts, athletics, and education.
Descendants of these pioneers reside in the East Mill Creek area at this time. They are respected and appreciated neighbors.
Between the years of 1824-26 James Beckwourth traveled with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company into what became Utah Territory. Beckwourth styled himself an explorer, fur trapper, and Indian Fighter; he was also a free man of color. Beckwourth had not always been free. Born into slavery in 1798, Beckwourth moved to Missouri with his family in 1805. In Missouri, at the age of 19 Beckwourth’s father, who was also his master, freed him from slavery. Freedom allowed Beckwourth to realize his dreams to move West as an explorer.James P. Beckwourth may have been one of the first African American men to step foot into what became Utah, but he was not the last African American pioneer.
While the Legacy of the Black Pioneer plaque lists the names of three enslaved African American men (Green Flake, Oscar Crosby, and Hark Lay) who in 1847 arrived in Utah with their enslavers, it does not indicate that free men and women of color also made the trek to Utah in the same year. Notably, the year 1847 also brought the arrival of the Haight Company. This company included Jane Elizabeth Manning James, her husband Isaac, their son Silas, and Jane’s son Sylvester. Born a free woman, Mormon Missionaries converted James and her family to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1842. She was one of a handful of African American converts from Wilton, Connecticut. A year after converting, Jane and many members of her family trekked to Nauvoo, Illinois. There, in 1843 Jane became a domestic servant in the Joseph Smith household.
Arriving in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, James was a central figure in the African American Mormon community. James contributed to the building funds for temples and strongly advocated for her rights to receive ordinances and sacraments denied to her within those temples. In 1897 James was honored as one of the original Mormon Pioneers.
As Jane and Isaac demonstrate, both enslaved African Americans and free African Americans arrived in the Salt Lake valley in 1847. The historical marker also incorrectly indicates that Utah was a slave “state” until the Emancipation Proclamation. First, the Federal Government had not granted Utah statehood prior to the American Civil War. Utah gained statehood in 1896, over thirty years after the Thirteenth Amendment granted legal emancipation and banned slavery. However, Utah gained territorial status in the Compromise of 1850. This Compromise also gave Utah the ability to determine whether or not the territory would allow slavery.
In 1852 the all Mormon territorial legislature answered the question of slavery when it passed “An Act in Relation to Service.” This act served as a conservative form of gradual emancipation patterned after similar bills in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. It freed no current enslaved men or women, however the act defined slaves as “servants” and implied that those born after the passage of the bill would not inherit the slave status of their parents. Although Utah’s “Servant Code” legally defined slaves as “servants,” this did not mean that men and women did not enter Utah Territory under enslavement. Some black men and women certainly entered the territory enslaved and the “Servant Code” legalized the process whereby slavery would be regulated in the territory. Interestingly, Utah’s “Servant Code” did require schooling for all servants, including those held in slavery, stating that servants must be schooled “not less than eighteen months between the ages of six years and twenty years.” This was atypical for a space that allowed slavery, especially when compared to states entrenched in enslavement. For example, in 1831 North Carolina passed a law entitled “An Act To Prevent All Persons From Teaching Slaves To Read Or Write, The Use of Figures Excepted.”
In allowing slavery in Utah Territory, LDS leaders sought to create a legal code that allowed converts from the South to migrate to Utah, bringing their enslaved peoples with them, some of whom had also converted to Mormonism.Educating slaves prepared them for citizenship, in turn allowing them to better integrate into Utah Territory. Utah’s “Servant Code” thus legalized slavery in Utah Territory, and lasted from 1852 – 1862, when the federal government abolished slavery in all territories. However, Utah was never a slave state, and Utah’s laws surrounding slavery functioned differently than those in Southern slave states.
In 1850 the census recorded fifty African Americans within Utah Territory, twenty four of whom were enslaved, twenty six of whom were free. In 1860 the total number of African Americans had only risen to fifty nine. Over time, however, the African American population continued to grow. In 1870 Utah had an African American population of 137, and forty years later, in 1910, that number had grown to 1,144.The railroad provided one source of jobs which attracted many newly freed African Americans to Utah, and Utah became home to a flourishing African American community, both LDS and non-LDS. Early black settlers provided Utah with two African American run newspapers, The Broad Ax and the Utah Plain Dealer.
Mill Creek, where this particular historical marker resides, is a wonderful example of African American community and life in Utah. Called “The Hill” by the black community, African Americans lived and farmed in Mill Creek, and the area quickly became a center for black life in the Salt Lake Valley. Some of these families, like the family of Samuel Davidson Chambers had converted to Mormonism during the period of their enslavement. After freedom came in 1865 Samuel sharecropped and cobbled shoes until he earned enough money for his family to “gather” in Utah Territory. Others, like Ned Leggroan and his family, moved to Utah Territory with extended kin and sought better opportunities outside of the South. The Chambers and Leggroan family were the first black farmers in Mill Creek. Samuel Davidson Chambers purchased property in Mill Creek in 1875, with Ned Leggroan purchasing land in 1889. Black families on “The Hill” farmed fruit and vegetables, and made extra money through produce and the butchering of animals. The families lived on land which now makes up Evergreen Avenue in Mill Creek. By most oral accounts African American families lived next to white families and the community was generally inclusive.Descendants of African American pioneers lived and farmed in Mill Creek until the middle of the twentieth century. By this time many families had moved elsewhere in the Salt Lake Valley in search of jobs and economic opportunities outside of farming.
By 2010 the African American population in Utah had expanded to 29,287.African American communities continue to be an integral part of the Utah experience.