Family heirlooms come in many forms — artwork, jewelry, furniture. A Mendon, Utah, man is transforming his heirloom into a public facility. Paul Willie is turning his ancestor’s homestead into a historical museum slated to open in late 2003.
Willie’s great-great-grandfather, James Gray Willie, built the rock-exterior house in 1865, nine years after he led a caravan of Northern European immigrants across the plains to Utah territory. The home had been abandoned for nearly 20 years when Paul Willie purchased the deteriorating structure in 2001.
His museum will serve as a monument to Mendon’s early settlers, teaching visitors about the hardships those pioneers faced. “[It will] make the people of Mendon more aware of their heritage,” Willie says. “I’ll attempt to re-create life as the pioneers knew it.” The home’s interior features historically accurate windows and plaster walls, as well as the original locks, hinges and hardware. Using a 1908 photograph of the building for reference, Willie attempted to duplicate the early 20th-century exterior by placing similar picket fences around the home and by revealing the natural rock hidden under coats of paint. Mendon residents with pioneer ancestors have agreed to donate artifacts from the mid-19th century to add to the museum’s collection. Among the items on display are a wooden bed, loom, rocking chair and other historical furniture.