Soren Hanson’s “House That Eggs Built”

Miriam B. Murphy
History Blazer, January 1996

Beginning about 1880 the economy of Cache Valley began to evolve from its pioneer subsistence roots to a commercial economy with highly specialized private enterprises. A leading figure in this transition was Hyrum businessman Soren Hanson. Born in Hyrum on May 2, 1863, he had become the largest egg dealer in the Intermountain West by the turn of the century. In 1897, for example, he sold 120,000 dozen eggs. Cache Valley and southern Idaho consumed a quarter of this output, and the rest was taken by wagon to Corinne or Ogden for shipment throughout Utah and the surrounding states. That same year he also shipped a large amount of grain and 100 rail cars of cattle to markets outside of Utah.

Hanson was also active in local politics, serving as postmaster of Hyrum in the 1890s, as a city councilman from 1898 to 1902, and as mayor during 1906–8. The imposing 2 1/2-story Queen Anne home he built at 166 West Main in Hyrum during 1905–7 reflected not only his business and political success but also the economic power of the lowly egg.

According to his son’s account, Hanson began his egg business in the late 1880s. By 1895 it had grown to the point that Hanson needed a modern storage plant to replace the crude cellar he had been using. While traveling in the East he visited several egg storage facilities and upon his return hired Hyrum Hokenson to build a two-story, 50 x 120 foot egg house. Here incoming eggs were processed, including candling to determine which eggs were suitable for storage. The two cold storage rooms could hold about 4,000 cases of eggs. Each room contained two huge ice tanks, 5 feet in diameter and 32 feet high. In the winter Hanson harvested ice from a large pond a mile north of his establishment and stored the sawed cakes of ice in an ice house next to the egg building. An unpleasant chore remembered by Hanson’s son was leading a horse to operate the ice-house elevator past the “rotten egg hole” which often “stunk to high heaven” when the children forgot to cover the discarded eggs with a thick layer of dirt.

When Hanson began his business local farmers were still bartering with retail merchants, and eggs were often the medium of exchange. Farmers brought their eggs to merchants all over Cache Valley, and Hanson took them off of the merchants’ hands. He paid cash—sometimes as little as 8 cents a dozen—and then resold them for many times that amount. The Hanson boys often took a team and wagon to towns like Paradise, Millville, and Wellsville to collect the eggs that storekeepers there had accumulated. In the early days Hanson hauled the eggs by wagon to the mining camps of Montana. Later the eggs were shipped by rail to places like Butte, Rock Springs, and Winnemucca. Hanson got the names of businesses in these towns from Dunn & Bradstreet’s credit listings and then sent postcards to them with his current egg quotations.

Hanson’s egg empire extended beyond the Cache Valley. He also bought and stored them in the Midwest. One year, his son recalled, Hanson stored several carloads of eggs at the Beatrice Creamery Company plant in Nebraska. Within three weeks he had resold them at a profit of some $20,000. With that bankroll he fulfilled a promise to his wife to build her a lovely home. The “house that eggs built” cost an estimated $30,000—a small fortune at that time and an appropriate reward for years of log-cabin living.

A late example of the Victorian Queen Anne style in Utah, the asymmetrical brick home has a stone foundation and wood trim. Gable bays project from a central mass, and a circular tower on the southeast corner—which culminates in a 20-foot peak—has three wrap-around windows. Twelve columns support a wrap-around front porch. One of the home’s three chimneys is unusually ornate with a carving of a half-nude female figure. Leaded glass, carved oak, beveled mirrors, a 7-foot-wide hallway, and a delicate wrought-iron balustrade are some of the home’s outstanding features. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Sources: “Egg Business” in Earle W. Allen, Bessie Brown, and Lila Eliason, Home in the Hills of Bridger Land: The History of Hyrum from 1860 to 1969 (Hyrum: City of Hyrum, 1969); National Register Nomination Form for the Soren Hanson House, Hyrum, by John McCormick and Diana Johnson in Preservation Office, Utah Division of State History, Salt Lake City.