The History of a Pioneer Utah Cottage

Becky Bartholomew
History Blazer, January 1996

Sightseers wonder about the histories of old brick and adobe houses scattered across rural Utah. Six blocks west of Main Street in Fountain Green sits a small stucco cottage on 1.05 acres. Local lore says that it was built for a widow on the order of Brigham Young. Whether or not this is true, the house probably dates to 1876.

The first owner was 25-year-old Thomas Wakefield from Illinois who in 1869 married 18-year-old Maria Johnson, daughter of Fountain Green’s founder. They probably dwelt in a log cabin while accumulating funds for a new house. The town’s burgeoning population included many Danish immigrants, several of whom probably did the construction work–hence the cottage’s Danish vernacular architecture.

For most of its life the house consisted of only a living room, kitchen, and attic bedroom–less than 600 square feet, not counting the stone-walled cellar beneath the kitchen. But this was sufficient for a small pioneer family. The adobe came from a local brickyard. With walls one foot thick, the house stayed cool in summer and above freezing in winter, even before stoking the cookstove. Windows were oriented to the valley’s prevailing winds so that a pleasant breeze kept the attic livable on hot August days.

Five Wakefield children were born here. They probably helped build the wood barn–much larger than the house itself—which stood for many years in the middle of the lot, surrounded by sheds, coops, and barnyard.

In about 1881 the Wakefields were “called” with other local Mormon couples to colonize the next valley east. Their last four children were born in Huntington, Emery County, where the family has remained ever since.

It is not known who used the house from 1881 to 1891. But in 1892 Per and Elling Aageson arrived in Fountain Green by invitation of Hans Olson, the Mormon missionary who had baptized them in Langare, Denmark. Their older son had immigrated to Utah several years earlier, herding sheep to pay passage for his parents and two siblings.

Per and his sons hauled a log cabin from the edge of town to a corner of the same block as the little adobe cottage. The Aagesons found Utah rather disappointing, though. It was hard to make a living, local boys seemed rough mannered, and son Carl found the school very poor. They also felt that new immigrants were treated as second-class citizens. But Elling remained a staunch Mormon through her final illness of 1896, and Carl would later oversee many improvements to the town during his two terms as mayor.

Tiny and very pretty, daughter Sophie was courted by another Scandinavian immigrant, Edward Gunderson. In the same year her mother died, they were married. Soon Sophie and Edward bought the adobe house and its acre. Five children were born. The family had barely begun to prosper when Edward and two infants died, perhaps in one of the typhoid epidemics spread by the own’s wooden-trough culinary water system. Sophie lived as a widow for two decades before “removing” with two grown children to Salt Lake County. Another son stayed five more years and then followed them.

Perhaps Elmer L. Holman and his wife Zelda Jacobson rented the house before buying it in 1930. A prime wool supplier, Fountain Green had become “the richest little city in the West.” But it was the depression, and Elmer was merely a 35-year-old sheepherder who one year worked all season only to be told that there was no money to pay him. While wealthy residents fitted their spacious brick homes with indoor plumbing and telephones, the adobe cottage went without a bathroom and hot water. However, it was electrified and the exterior stuccoed to protect the adobe.

Six Holman children were raised in this house and that of their grandmother a block away. They were all grown when, in 1956, Zelda died suddenly from a brain tumor. Elmer lived until 1963. The house was then sold to an out-of-towner who had married a Fountain Green girl.

During the 1960s and 70s these owners used the cottage as a hunting cabin during the pheasant, deer, and elk seasons. They kept the house in vintage condition. But after their younger son was killed in Vietnam, they used it less and less, finally selling it in 1991. The current owners, eager to preserve even a simple vestige of pioneer architecture, added a wing but have otherwise left the old house as is.

Sources: Abstract of Townsites, Sanpete County, Utah State Archives; Record of Members, Fountain Green Ward, 1860–1908, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, microfilm; Fountain Green Cemetery records; interviews with long-time Fountain Green residents.