Date of Award:

5-2009

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Arts (MA)

Department:

History

Advisor/Chair:

Lawrence Culver

Abstract

As any architectural historian would argue, historic buildings are the most accessible, yet illusive documents of their founding culture, and as the relevant historiography argues, the early Mormon pioneer built environment in Utah is no exception. In fact, many Mormon architectural historians posit that due to the exclusivity and unusual circumstances of many Mormon settlements, their original structures have an exceptional ability to comment on the culture that erected them. The first permanent settlement in Cache Valley, Wellsville, provides a particularly lucrative opportunity to discover a great deal about the founding pioneers who established it due to the city's time and place within the context of Mormon colonization, the plethora of original domiciles that remain standing, and the wealth of genealogical documents that still exist in the community shedding light on the lives and skills of the community's original craftsmen. While the voices of vernacular builders are often lost, leaving only their structures to testify of the culture, the incorporation of personal histories and interviews with descendents and acquaintances of three specific builders grants this argument a distinct foundation. This thesis explores the change in housing designs in Wellsville from vernacular styles to nationally popular housing patterns at the turn of the twentieth century by examining three specific structures. By contrasting a stone saltbox and clap-boarded Georgian house, both built in the 1860s, with a bungalow built in 1914, and investigating the lives of their respective builders, I demonstrate how housing design practices mirror the social and political transition of the Mormon church during this period. At the same time that late-nineteenth century Mormons sought to change their image by emerging from isolation, gaining statehood, and assimilating into a more national identity, a modern housing movement proliferated throughout the western United States. By participating in this transition of domestic structures, the Mormons discarded the vernacular housing traditions brought by Mormonism's founding community of diverse converts from Europe and New England in favor of popular designs readily available in widely published plan books. Had the national transition in housing happened even a decade earlier, it is plausible that the still-insular and strictly traditional Mormon culture region would have resisted such a change. Thus the alteration in housing serves as evidence of the transition in Mormonism toward the national mainstream at the turn of the twentieth century. While a vast historiography concerning Mormon sacred structures exists, this thesis strengthens the discourse regarding the religion's understudied domestic built environment. Furthermore, by illustrating the important role that historic houses in Cache Valley play in both discovering and remembering the foundation of this valley, I hope to foster the desire to both appreciate and preserve these structures as crucial pieces of cultural history.

Comments

This work was revised and made publicly available electronically on August 2, 2011.

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