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Utah’s Pioneer Village once in a backyard

Ethel and Horace Sorensen.  Horace A. Sorensen founded South East Furniture Co. in 1925. The business was located at 2144 Highland Drive and closed in 1982.
Ethel and Horace Sorensen. Horace A. Sorensen founded South East Furniture Co. in 1925. The business was located at 2144 Highland Drive and closed in 1982.
Ancestry.com user mollyp13

The original Utah Pioneer Village once occupied the backyard of the large luxurious estate of Horace and Ethel Sorensen.

Postcard from around 1969 showing the Ox-Drawn Wagon at Pioneer Village in Salt Lake City.
Postcard from around 1969 showing the Ox-Drawn Wagon at Pioneer Village in Salt Lake City.
lagoonhistory.com

Horace A. Sorensen was a prominent business man in Salt Lake City; he was founder and president of South East Furniture, the original store of “furniture row” in Sugar House. By 1933, he had become very successful and he purchased a large mansion and seven acres of land at the south edge of town for his family at 3000 S. Connor Street (2140 East) in Salt Lake City.

One of Horace’s hobbies was horses and horse shows; he was even president of the Salt Lake Horse Show Association. His property, which he named Edgemont Farm, had a large barn, stables, and a roundhouse for his horses. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, he brought American Saddlebred horses from Kentucky and put on many shows to benefit civic and church groups. There is even a hand-painted mural of a horse show in his mansion home.

During this time, Horace and his wife Ethel were also collectors of antique and Mormon furniture and household items and they often stored these items in the large barn in the back of their property. Some of the items, such as old wagons and coaches, Horace bought specifically for his horse shows, but other items, such as old furniture and antiques, he accepted as trade-ins at South East Furniture.

After World War II, horse shows were on the decline and the Round House was converted into a museum. It opened to the public on October 24, 1948 with an address of 2998 S. Connor Street.

When the Wanship Dam was built in the mountains east of Salt Lake City, many old buildings from the town of Rockport were donated to Sorensen before the town was inundated and the small museum of pioneer relics became a "Pioneer Village."

Additional old buildings were brought in, restored and furnished according to the period. Two old stores were acquired complete with counters, fixtures, and original stock which had been locked up for nearly twenty years.

The Pioneer Village also featured a pair of “praying oxen.” Named Ben and Lars, the oxen pulled a covered wagon for visitors to ride in. At the end of the ride the oxen knelt down and pray for the riders.

In 1956, the Sorensen’s deeded the entire collection and the property on which it is stood to the National Society Sons of Utah Pioneers. Unfortunately, over the years the museum collection suffered from lack of maintenance funds. The deficit ran as high as $5,000 a year.

The Sons of the Utah Pioneers, with the Sorensen’s permission, considered selling Pioneer Village as early as 1969 and talked with various government agencies (including what is now This is the Place State Park) as well as Lagoon Corporation in Farmington, Utah.

By the spring of 1975, it was announced that the entire pioneer collection was to be sold to Lagoon for $275,000 plus all moving expenses. Lagoon was interested in making the Pioneer Village an extensive bicentennial project for 1976, along with its new Log Flume ride. The Sons of the Utah Pioneers thought the move would be beneficial as more visitors would be able to see the collection. Part of the problem with the location at the Sorensen estate was that it was difficult for visitors to find the place and it was far away from the typical tourist destinations.

Horace A. Sorensen died on May 2, 1977. Soon after, in December 1977, the Sorensen Mansion and grounds were sold for $450,000 to ZTS Investments for a proposed condominium complex. Today, the old Sorensen home is contained within a gated complex and is itself considered a condominium (Unit 31) of the complex. The condominium complex is run by the Edgemont Homeowners Association, named after Horace Sorensen’s name for his estate.