Overview

The American West Heritage Center

“Life must be lived forward, but can only be understood backwards," These profound words by the well-known philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard express a simple concept that has been lost in the demands of our complex world.

The past gives to us marvelous gifts of learning. As we look backward at the legacies of our ancestors, we learn to better respect and appreciate our heritage. The essence of the American West Heritage Center, an outdoor museum of folk life and living history, is to provide fun, hands-on, family-friendly opportunities that help us reflect backward to better live forward. If the past is a helpful direction to look once in a while, the living history spirit the Heritage Center embraces is a wonderful tool to use to connect with the past more clearly.

The mission of the Heritage Center, located in Wellsville, Utah, is to educate, entertain and enlighten visitors by collecting, preserving, and sharing the heritage and history of the American West, 1820 – 1920. Special focus is put on the experiences of the people and history of the region. One of the greatest resources of any nation is the shared history of its people. The American West possesses rich and varied traditions, but these are currently in danger of being lost in the chaos and confusion of our contemporary lives. Through living history, lively demonstrations, grand festivals, summer camps, handcart treks, engaging exhibits, workshops and lectures, and other programs, the Heritage Center reaches out and invites all to participate and to join the thrill of keeping the history of the American West alive and, through community education and entertainment, to encourage inter-generational and inter-cultural communication and understanding.

The American West Heritage Center sits at the foot of the magnificent Wellsville Mountains on U. S. Highway 89/91 in Utah's Cache Valley. It is comprised of four major areas or sites that each connect to a different era of the past: (1) a Native American encampment that explores the contributions of the American Indian—especially the Shoshone nation—to our culture and heritage (a partnership with the Northwest Band Shoshone Nation helps to make this area authentic and engaging), (2) a fur trade area that uncovers this vital period of our history in fun ways, (3) a pioneer settlement, in which the significant legacy of early settlers is lived, (4) the working 1917 Jensen Historical Farm that engages the visitor with an established farming family during the first World War period. Plans are also underway for a fifth site: a frontier town that will explore the significance of the myths and values of the Old West through gunfighters, miners, business owners, and others. Other areas of interpretation include the Welcome Center, where one can find workshops and exhibits, and Patch’s Woodwright Shop, a visitor favorite.

While many may know that one of the Heritage Center’s crown jewels is the Jensen Historical Farm, few know the history behind the farm and the origins of the Heritage Center. In the early 1970s, Ronald V. Jensen approached Utah State University, his alma mater, with the idea of developing an authentic living historical history farm and agriculture museum (the “Man and His Bread” museum) so that visitors could better understand the roots of modern farming. USU helped Jensen gather agricultural artifacts and the museum opened in 1980. The farm, complete with several log and frame structures, operates as a genuine 1917 family farm with farm implements from that period, including antique breeds workhorses and other animals.
Since then, the Heritage Center has continued to grow. Its festivals, such as Baby Animal Days and Fall Harvest Festival, have become annual staples for northern Utah Families. It’s Daily Adventures have continued to grow in staff and visitors. Handcart Treks, started in 2005, have also continued to grow in reservations and reputation. It’s other special events, activities and education programs have also seen growth and an increased attention to authenticity and engagement for visitors.

What can one expect to do when visiting the American West Heritage Center? Living history, of course. Living history is the actual living of history. A 1917 farm, for example, requires 1917 equipment and farming practices. Home life at the farm reflects a relaxing and fun sense of old fashioned methods that visitors of all ages enjoy and find exotic and captivating. At the Fur Trade area, visitors can wade into the water to set or retrieve traps and then barter and haggle for a good price. Old fashioned crafts can be found at each area, and games and other amusements abound. These are but a few examples of the many activities that engage the young and old.

When we live history and experience how folks worked and lived and played in another time, we realize some of these same strategies can work in our lives as well. Pioneers and others in the past had solutions for real life back then, and by reliving their activities, we can find solutions for today and also for tomorrow. Creativity is enhanced. Understanding is heightened. Interdependence is fostered. Living history helps us build solutions and hope for today's and tomorrow's challenges.

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The Heritage Center offers a variety of activities for individuals and families, as well as group tours and vacations. Whether you are passing through Cache Valley or making it your destination, the Heritage Center will likely be one of your favorite stops along the western frontier.

Perhaps most vital program is simply its “Daily Adventures” that run in the summer from 10 am to 4 pm Tuesdays through Saturdays. Here is where visitors can get hands-on experiences in each of the four sites mentioned above. Intended to be family-friendly, activities feature pony rides, crafts, old fashioned and fun chores, and lots of special events throughout the week such as tea parties, mini pioneer treks, and heritage food tasting events.

Summer camps for kids also run through the summer. These feature rich experiences in living history and focus on hands-on fun and learning. Each camp lasts x weeks and is led by an intrepid and bubbly camp leader. Classrooms and school groups visit the Heritage Center each Spring and Fall.

Handcart Treks are an exciting new program of the Heritage Center. Now in its third year, trekkers progress along a challenging course in the magnificent wilderness areas in the mountains above Cache Valley.

Big Horse Adventures is a wagon ride and dinner theatre that takes place by reservation throughout the summer. The wagon ride is fun, and the dutch oven dinner fabulous. Whether the entertainment is an exciting folk band, cowboy poet, or the Heritage Center’s very own Rendezvous Creek Players theatre troupe, it’s always a good time for young and old.

Festival events include the beloved Baby Animal Days (April 5-7) and Fall Harvest Festival (Sept. 28-29). Visitors can also enjoy A Winter Frolic (Dec. 1) and The Spirit of ’47 Pioneer Jubilee (July 21).

Look for concerts and other special events throughout the year, such as the annual Fiddle Contest, Folk Band Battle, American West Art Show, Quilt Show, March of the Socks, fancy old time balls and dances, and Victorian Feasts. You will also find stargazing parties, special workshops, world class exhibits, and engaging lectures by some of the West’s finest experts.

Story Time is new to the Heritage Center and takes place each Wednesday at 10:30 am. Kids can have a great time listening to stories being read and told.

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