Built in 1866, log cabin is steeped in Midvale history
Midvale • New luxury apartments now rise around the little wooden cabin with the earthen roof.
Constructed in 1866, the Drown Cabin was one of the first houses built in the area in a time when most pioneers were still living in homes dug out from the earth. Once home to a family of 10 children, the approximately 20-by-15-foot cabin twice moved across town and is now surrounded by a pioneer cemetery.
Now, more than 10 years after a major restoration effort, descendants of the family who built the cabin and the coordinator at the Midvale Museum want to make sure the little cabin and cemetery steeped in Midvale history are preserved and protected.
"You can see where the fence has come down [in places] ... there are headstones missing, garbage," said Chelsea Rushton, the museum coordinator, on a windy winter day. The cabin is set into a field north of Center Street (approximately 7800 South), near the intersection with Holden Street (700 West).
The present location is west of where it was originally built by William B. Bennett and his wife, Sarah. Born in England in 1844, Sarah Bennett and her first husband converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and took on the grueling trip across the ocean, then over the plains to Utah, said Joyce Dahl, her great-granddaughter.
Dahl, now 82, remembers Sarah Bennett telling her stories of encountering American Indians on the long journey, and the women and children walking next to the wagons when they were too heavily laden to ride.
In Utah, Sarah met and married William Bennett. They moved into a dugout along the Jordan River while building the cabin. Bennett recruited his friend David Drown to help him fell trees in Big Cottonwood Canyon and haul the logs down the canyon for the house.
The Bennetts moved into their house while David Drown and his wife, Sarah, lived in a nearby dugout home, where they had four children. The ladies often gathered for tea in the Bennett cabin, Rushton said.
The Bennetts stayed in the house for only two years, though, until they completed work on a larger brick and mortar home on the corner of Center and Main streets. In 1868, William Bennett gave the house to David Drown to thank him for helping build it. The Drowns lived in the cabin for four more years, during which time they had six more children for a total of 10. In 1890, they moved it to the rear of the property to build a larger frame house, Rushton said.
Meanwhile, a large smelter went up east of the Jordan River close to the pioneer burial ground, called the Cutler Cemetery. The resting place would became a major headache for smelter operators, Rushton said. In the early 1900s, they paid a man $10 a body to move some graves to other cemeteries. In 1912, floods washed bodies out of graves.
"In 1942, the smelter got so tired of the community griping about the cemetery that they dumped 52,000 tons of toxic material iron sulfur and arsenic and covered most of the cemetery," Rushton said.
Almost 30 years after the close of the smelter in 1968, the Environmental Protection Agency came to town to clean up the polluted site. A few years later, a $26,000 restoration effort identified about 130 people who were buried there without the benefit of headstones, since the last disappeared in the 1930s. Even a large white-spire monument commemorating the first four settlers to die in the area is now worn down to a blank piece of stone.
At the same time the Drown Cabin was moved from Midvale City Park to the cemetery site to make room for a new Boys and Girls Club. The cabin was in sad shape at the time, with missing logs, a rotted roof and dilapidated doors.
The 1999 restoration effort also repaired the cabin, giving it a new roof, logs, and new shutters built to match the originals. But in the 11 years since, vandals have torn at the shutters and pieces of the white picket fence around the half-acre cemetery have come down. The only way to access the cabin is to pick through a field leveled and ready for more apartment buildings.
Those new buildings offer the possibility for more eyes on the historic cabin, Dahl said.
"I think as the apartments get built around it, they'll be more people to watch and less vandalism," she said. "We love Midvale; it's a big part of our family history."
But those new buildings are also a reminder of why its important to preserve the past, Rushton said.
"I'd like to see [the cabin and cemetery] restored and preserved correctly," she said. "It's meaningful to a lot people, because we don't have a lot of historical buildings left."
More mid-valley local history
The Cottonwood Heights Historic Committee is looking for pictures to illustrate the history of the town. If you have any, e-mail Historic Committee Chairman Kevin Cromar at firstname.lastname@example.org.