Sandy • The Spencer Homestead, a little farmhouse in the middle of popular Dimple Dell Regional Park, will remain a significant part of Robyn MacDuff’s history.
Her family rented the house in 1976, while she was pregnant with her first child. She remembers her kids walking out its door to catch the school bus and hanging macrame in its windows.
Having lived there also awoke her curiosity about her predecessors. And though her family moved out of the home in 1992, chasing hints of the original owners sent her on a quest that ended just last year and transformed her into a living encyclopedia of the house and its adjacent land.
Now, the 130-year-old house and homestead site are part of the country’s history, too, after being added to the National Register of Historic Places last fall.
One of the happiest days of MacDuff’s life, she said, was receiving an email from Cory Jensen at the State Historic Preservation Office that the homestead got accepted to the national register.
A dedication event honoring that achievement took place Thursday.
The house on the 160-acre site was built by English immigrants Thomas and Sarah Ann Spencer with a homestead grant in 1893. At the time, that spot in Sandy was unsettled, and the Spencer family started a fruit and berry farm. The space housed an orchard, a barn and a stable.
As the parents harvested apples, pears, peaches and berries, their kids went to school. All of them became educators.
After the family sold the house in 1910, it went through 12 owners before Salt Lake County bought it and rented it to different tenants like MacDuff.
Though decades have passed, the house preserves many original pieces worn by the passing of time. Its surroundings still have a rural feel. Its entrance is connected to a farm road, and its mountain views remain unblocked.
Neighbors want to keep it that way.
Visions of a golf course in Dimple Dell faded. Plans then emerged to turn the Spencer Homestead into the county’s parks and recreation headquarters, MacDuff said. That became the catalyst to preserve the site.
“This effort initially entailed major changes to the house. Many concerned citizens, historians, officials and interested parties were called upon to discuss the county’s plan and assess the condition of the house and its historic significance,” MacDuff said. “The initial findings suggested the house was worthy of further investigation.”
The nomination efforts began in 2018, according to Kirk Huffaker, a historic preservation consultant. Since 1970, some of the acreage had been preserved, so, besides its architectural features, the archaeological information of the undisturbed land was deemed a significant factor in the final decision.
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson also appreciates the availability of 630 acres of Dimple Dell open lands in a growing urban area that everyone can use.
“One of the things that is important to me is telling stories of the past and honoring the past. And I think by doing that, we prepare for a better future,” Wilson said. “So anytime I get to be a mayor, honoring the past and putting a great facility, a homestead like this, on a registry is a very, very good day.”
Sandy Mayor Monica Zoltanski also praised the community’s dedication to preserving Dimple Dell throughout the years, making it a place to experience nature and quiet in the middle of a bustling valley.
“The story of the Spencer house reflects the story of our community from agricultural roots and, now, the importance of the house in this place today is preservation,” Zoltanski said, “because as the city grows up around us, the pressures for development [also grow].”
The Spencers’ descendants were present at Thursday’s dedication.
John Spencer, a great-grandson of the couple who built the homestead, recalls short visits to his father’s side of the family and never visited the house. But, when learning about the history of the homestead, he found traces of his ancestors in himself and his direct relatives, such as a love for orchards and a desire to teach.
“I’m sad that for 64 years of my life, I had no clue,’ he said. “Thank you all for being here and welcome to our home.”
Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.