13 January, 2017 marked the 166th anniversary of the entry of a hardy Mormon band into the valley of the Little Salt Lake. The focus of this year's celebration was Parowan's 150-year-old "crown jewel," the Old Rock Church. "It is a church that was built by a determined community. The building is reflective of the strength of those early settlers," states City Historian Sandra Benson. "Construction began in 1862 and by 1867 the basement was completed and services were held making it the official birth year."
This year's invited guests were LDS Church Historian, Elder Steven E. Snow, and his wife Phyllis. January 13 marked their first entry into the Old Rock Church Museum. With a sense of stepping across a threshold to the past, they gazed around the spacious room. Looking overhead, Elder Snow commented that it is fitting to have a fine picture displayed of Apostle George A. Smith, who led that first 1851 group of settlers into what later became known as Parowan.
Earlier in the town meeting Elder Snow spoke of his admiration for George A. Smith's leadership and also his sense of humor. Elder Snow shared a favorite story: George A. used to take off his "very ugly" wig and take out his false teeth and take off his glasses for the Natives Americans, who would roll around laughing and call him he who comes apart.
As the Snows explored briefly the corners and side aisles of the museum they expressed awe at such an array of portraits and artifacts so fittingly preserved. I assured them that through the years there has been so much dedication and sacrifice given by the true caretakers of these treasures.
Noticing the silk worm display, Elder Snow learned to his surprise of that industry's interesting but short existence here.
He had heard of something called a moustache cup, but on this day he saw a real one --- which belonged to an original 1851 Parowan Pioneer, Sidney R. Burton.
My companion tour guide,Tom, pointed out to Elder Snow the stately podium where his ancestor, Apostle Erastus Snow, stood on Dec. 29, 1878. It was here that he directed the issuing of calls to many members within the large Parowan Stake boundaries to settle the area of the San Juan River, later known as the Hole in the Rock expedition. (see Gerald Lund, The Undaunted, chapter 25)
Sister Snow went excitedly up the narrow west stairs to look into the attic. She observed carefully and then expressed her admiration for the Pioneer genius of implementing what is known as triple redundancy or tying the attic beams all together so they'd last thru the ages. (We are indebted to Brad Westwood for those descriptive terms, shared a few years ago when he first admired the structure of the ORC attic. He is the State Historic Preservation Director). Sis. Snow was joined in the balcony by Mayor Landes' wife Bev. Both were delighted to hear Tom's ringing of the bell from the attic tower.
Tears filled the eyes of our guests as the following account was shared by Tom concerning one of the museum's priceless items:
The Willie Handcart Company crossed Rocky Ridge in a sub-freezing blizzard, then camped at Rock Creek, Wyoming. Already suffering with extreme hunger and fatigue, 13 of the company died that night. Buried in a mass grave, these were solemnly covered with a linen sheet made in Denmark by the Peter and Helena Mortensen family. A companion linen sheet was carried on to the end of that trek and treasured by the family. In recent years Mortensen descendants donated it to the museum.
"I could spend two days here looking at all you have," Elder Snow commented, pointing out what he termed the "problem" with his schedule and this necessarily brief tour.
He expressed approval for the good job the Daughters of Utah Pioneers have done with this museum. "Keep up the good work," he encouraged.
Before leaving, our Historian guest reminded me that he must purchase a copy of Luella Adams Dalton's compilation, History of Iron County Mission. He declined our offer to gift it to him.
Sister Snow's parting words were, "We'll be back!"