A charter school bought one of Alpine’s last pioneer homes — and plans to demolish it

How a historic home that was kept within one of Alpine’s founding families for over a century landed in the hands of a charter school.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The historic Carlisle House, pictured on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023, one of Alpine’s few remaining original pioneer dwellings, will soon be demolished. The house built in 1855 was originally owned by Thomas and Fanny Carlisle.

One of Alpine’s last remaining pioneer dwellings soon will be demolished — a recent decision by Mountainville Academy, the neighboring charter school that bought the historic home last year.

The Carlisle House, as it’s informally known, was built in 1855 by Thomas and Fanny Carlisle on what is now Main Street. The home passed through generations of Carlisles for 165 years until 2020, when a photographer who now sits on the charter’s board acquired it with her husband. Mountainville Academy later bought it, according to the photographer’s board application and subsequent property records.

Several concerned residents want the house preserved.

“I think the thing that frustrates us the most is that only three members of our community are represented on [Mountainville’s] board,” said Alpine resident Jennifer Wadsworth, one of the home’s defenders.

Like traditional schools, charters receive public funding. But they function independently within the public school system and can enroll any Utah student, not just those living within a specific area.

That’s why board members are appointed, not elected, and aren’t legally required to maintain a certain place of residency, as is required to serve on traditional school boards.

“It frustrates us that our history is being decided upon without even asking for our input,” Wadsworth said. “It’s one of our historical buildings. It belongs to Alpine, it is Alpine, and it just feels like they could care less.”

The photographer, Mikelle Kennedy, applied for her Mountainville board seat in 2021, a year after acquiring the Carlisle House. In her application, Kennedy wrote that she and her husband “bought” the historic home next door to the school.

“I have personally undertaken its renovation and now operate it as a photography studio,” Kennedy wrote.

She won her bid and officially joined the board that year. In 2022, the Carlisle House was sold to Mountainville for just under $1 million, according to board Chair Marisa Skousen.

Kennedy recused herself “to avoid a conflict of interest” when the nine-member board’s other members voted to buy the land, Skousen said.

But in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, Kennedy said she “never owned the house,” despite what she stated in her board application. An email requesting further clarification from her was not returned.

Utah County deed records show the title was transferred from the Carlisle Family to Einstein and Associates FLP in 2020, then transferred again to Alpine Carlyle LLC in 2022, with both deeds signed by Lyle F. Petersen — Kennedy’s father.

Carlisle House history

The Carlisle House was the first home built outside the confines of the “Old Fort Wall,” which had been constructed to protect Alpine residents from potential Native American “uprisings,” according to historical records maintained by the University of Utah.

“There were seven families in the fort,” said Dana Beck, a Carlisle descendent. “[My great-great grandpa] felt like that was way too many families.” So, Thomas and Fanny Carlisle moved out and built what became the Carlisle House, using adobe brick quarried nearby.

Around 1863, the couple added a second room to the home, which served as Alpine’s first general store, according to historical records. More additions were made throughout the years as the home was passed down and eventually inherited in 1986 by Dana Beck’s parents, Joanne Carlisle Beck and Leland Ross Beck.

“Dad put a lot of work into it,” Beck said. “He remodeled the entire thing.”

Before she died, Joanne Carlisle Beck tried to nominate the property for the National Register of Historic Places, her brother-in-law, Wayne Davies, said. She didn’t succeed, but the designation alone wouldn’t have spared the home from demolition, said David Amott, former executive director of Preservation Utah.

“Every building is threatened on the National Register,” Amott said, because such a designation only provides three things: tax credits, a commemorative plaque and a verified historical record.

The only way to prevent a building from being demolished, he said, is a local ordinance — something Alpine currently lacks.

“Alpine is, above anything else, very politically driven by personal property rights,” said Alpine City Council member Jessica Smuin.

The city does have an active Gateway Historic Commission, Smuin said, which regulates new construction. But it doesn’t provide guidance on preserving existing historical structures.

Still, the city has been open to working with Mountainville Academy to try to save the Carlisle House, Smuin said. The City Council consulted with a historic architect from the State Historic Preservation Office, who suggested it could be turned into a community garden or library.

“The Mountainville board does not want to explore any other ideas,” Smuin said.

Mountainville Academy opened in 2006 at 195 S. Main Street and now serves about 750 students from kindergarten through sixth grade.

Decision to demolish

After Mountainville purchased the property, the home and its land fell into disrepair, Wadsworth said. That’s when she and other residents started asking questions.

“We sent [Mountainville] an email saying we were concerned and heard absolutely nothing from them,” Wadsworth said. “We offered to come to their board meetings. We offered to share the information that we had learned. We offered to bring descendants to come and share stories. It was nothing. Silence.”

Finally, she and another concerned resident attended a Nov. 16 board meeting to speak on the matter. “It just so happened that at that meeting, they decided to demolish it,” Wadsworth said. “And that was just not right.”

The board approved a budget of up to $30,000 for the demolition, according to the documented meeting minutes, with Kennedy casting a favorable vote.

That decision only came after Mountainville consulted with several experts, according to Skousen.

“Unfortunately, due to its structural issues, its non-standard foundation, and multiple non-conforming additions that were done over time, wiring and other factors not being to current code, renovation would be prohibitively expensive and ultimately impractical,” Skousen said.

The board did consider using it as a classroom or a library, but the house lacks the “space and functionality” to do so, Skousen said. As for what may become of the property after the home’s demolition, which hasn’t yet been scheduled, Skousen didn’t specify.

“Mountainville intends to use the property to further our educational goals,” Skousen said. “We are currently evaluating various options in the master plan of the campus.”

‘A valuable local touchstone’

There aren’t many historical properties left in Alpine, and those from the pioneer era are particularly scarce, said Amott.

The loss of such properties is a widespread issue across the Wasatch Front, said Cory Jensen, National Register and survey coordinator for the State Historic Preservation Office.

He explained that in recent years, the building economy has favored denser housing, and areas with historic neighborhoods are particularly well-suited for those builds. That’s why the office offers incentives like Utah Historic Preservation Tax Credits, to encourage people to keep and restore their buildings, he said.

Amott said it is “sad” to see buildings like the Carlisle House demolished.

“The fact that this house was started so early —1855, several years before the onset of the American Civil War — makes it a representation of Alpine’s deepest community roots,” Amott said. “The fact that the house sheltered so many generations of Alpine residents makes it a valuable local touchstone.”

Though it may be too late for the Carlisle House, Amott said Alpine still has the opportunity to “take action” to save “what is left of the city’s architectural past.”

“It is often the case in the world of preservation that something valuable must be lost before people are motivated to save whatever remains,” Amott said.