As a young boy, my father tantalized me with stories of a boy from Grantsville who was taken by the Shoshone Indian tribe and lived as an Indian for several years before he made his way home again.
The stories about his experiences were later written into a book titled “The White Indian Boy.” It was my father’s favorite book and he borrowed it as a boy from Tooele’s public library that sat on the northwest corner of Vine and Garden streets in Tooele.
Twenty-five years later, that same book Dad so readily consumed as a boy and treated me with fantasies of being a “White Indian Boy,” was loaned to me from the same exact library that Dad had checked it out from years before. I remember the library containing shelf after shelf of adventures. I’m sure it had lots of boring stuff, too. There was a secret upstairs that I was never allowed in, and large windows provided extra light for reading. Marion the librarian stood behind the checkout counter and hand wrote in the books loaned as well as noting it in her huge card catalog. Her greatest job, though, seemed to be to loudly shush us to keep us quiet.
After serving at least five generations of Smiths, that same library is home to a different learning experience today. It is a large part of the Tooele Pioneer Museum. It contains many of the same equipment, photos and other apparatuses that were common in homes and in the tiny town of Tooele. A tour through the Tooele Pioneer Museum will warm the hearts with fond memories for us old folks, and fill the youngsters with amazement at how we could have survived under such primitive conditions.
Tooele’s first library was neither free nor public, nor located at Vine and Garden streets. The Tooele Library Association was started in 1864, and members paid a fee to defray the cost of the $35 annual salary for the librarian and to cover various other expenses. The next library was a private fiction library with rows of hand sewn, oil-cloth-covered books that rented for the astounding sum of “two bits” a month. This library was in the home of William C. Foster. Foster was not the only one with a library in his home. James Dunn, then publisher of the Transcript-Bulletin, collected one of the finest private sets of books west of the Mississippi.
Tooele’s first truly free public library was built and stacked with books from a $6,500 Carnegie Grant. The brain trust behind this was Alfred M. Nelson. The brand new library opened for business on May 10, 1911. The first book in the collection was “The Green Mountain Boys.” Years later, an addition was built on to the old Carnegie Library that connected the Tooele Free Public Library, which is now the Tooele Pioneer Museum, to the old Tooele City Courthouse, which is now the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum. Both museums and their grounds make up the Tooele Pioneer Plaza, which is at Vine and Garden streets.
The Tooele Pioneer Museum is open every Friday and Saturday through September from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Docents are always on hand to answer questions or give a free tour.
This piece of Tooele history needs an exterior “face lift” so it can continue to serve generations still to come. The goal of the Sons of Utah Pioneers Settlement Canyon Chapter is to restore this building to its past exterior beauty. If you are interested in donating to this “face lift,” call museum director Tim Booth at 882-1902.
The book “The History of Utah’s Tooele County,” by the Tooele County Daughters of Utah Pioneers, provided most of the historical information for this column.
Darrell Smith volunteers time as the publicity director of the Sons of Utah Pioneers Settlement Canyon Chapter. He also works as a docent at the Tooele Pioneer Museum. Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.