After being taken apart and put together several times, the cabin sits snugly on a sure foundation in Pioneer Square
On the south side of Pioneer Road, directly across the street from the TRAX stop, is Pioneer Square, a small historic center for the city. On the corner is the Fitzgerald brick home that now houses the Chamber of Commerce and on the other end is the Day Barn, which can be rented for special occasions and such. Nestled in between the two is a rustic, rectangular log cabin with a history as old as the city itself.
In 1851, Perry Fitzgerald was sent to Draper at the behest of Brigham Young to help settle the area with the five other families that were already here. Fitzgerald quickly built the modest cabin on a granite foundation and settled in with his family to tame the south part of the Salt Lake Valley. Fitzgerald was an original Mormon pioneer, as in, his name is carved into the towering monument at This is the Place State Park. He was with Brigham Young when they first entered the valley in 1847 and actually heard Young utter the famous line, “This is the right place. Drive on.” Fitzgerald stayed with Young for the first month of settlement and then accompanied him back to Winter Quarters in Nebraska that same year. He wintered in Nebraska with his young family and then made the trek again to Utah with his wife and children.
Willow Creek was the main source of water for those early settlers in Draper, as the water ran down from Bear Canyon. You can see the remnants of the creek in field south of the Senior Center, which is not much bigger than an irrigation ditch now. The Fitzgerald’s originally built the cabin next to the creek for convenience. One winter not long after it was built, the snow pack was exceptionally high. With the spring run off, the creek ran dangerously high and the cabin was almost lost to flooding. Fitzgerald decided to dismantle the entire cabin and move it to higher ground away from the creek. If it was still standing at this secondary original site, it would be near the road as you enter the library.
Perry Fitzgerald was instrumental in building important structures as the pioneers began to get a foothold in the Salt Lake Valley. He helped to build Pioneer Fort, where Pioneer Park is now, and also the fort in Draper as a protection against perceived hostile indians. As time passed and things settled down, the industrious Fitzgerald family prospered. In 1867, they built the first brick home south of Murray. That house is in its original location and once the building was completed, the family moved in and then started using the cabin as a barn.
The years passed and the farm was passed down through the family. By 1975, much of the property was sold and the barn had no longer become useful. It was disassembled again and moved to a family member’s property off of Fort Street, just south of City Hall. There it sat for the next 20 years, like a ginormous Lincoln Log set, piled in the back yard, disintegrating under the baking sun and freezing snow.
Fortunately, Lynn Ballard, the president of the Draper Historical Society, was paying attention. He raised the alarm and begged for help from family members scattered throughout the community to help put the cabin back together and preserve an important part of Draper’s heritage. Through the coordinated help of a lot of family members and friends in the area, the cabin was reconstructed once again and placed in Draper Park, on the southeast side, in between the pavilion and the ball field.
The resurrected cabin remained at that location for over a decade and was once again neglected. There were no doors on it and it became a favorite spot for doggie breaks and teenage mischief. Once again, something had to be done. This is when Ronald Smith and Randall Fitzgerald Smith signed a contract with the city in 2008 and volunteered to adopt the cabin and take care of it. Two rows of the bottom logs were rotting out and the damage was irreparable. The Smith’s wrote a grant proposal to the state museum and were awarded $6,000. In addition, the Fitzgerald family donated another $4,000 and Draper gave them $7,200. The cabin was raised up and new logs were made at a mill in Heber City. As the Smith’s were preparing to install the new logs and put the cabin back together, Steve Lindey, the Draper parks manager, approached the Smith’s to ask if the cabin could be relocated to Pioneer Square, almost to its original location.
A new foundation needed to be built for the cabin and the easiest solution would have been concrete. However, Ronald Smith wanted a granite foundation, just like it had in the beginning. City Councilman Alan Summerhays was a big proponent for a granite foundation as well and they were able to use a discarded pile of granite rocks that were left over from the Salt Lake Temple. The rock pile sat where the TRAX line ends now. These rocks still had the drill marks that the pioneers made so long ago. It was the perfect fit for the Fitzgerald’s cabin.
On a quiet Sunday morning and with the help of a professional moving company and the Highway Patrol, the cabin made its way back to its final resting place on the back of a large truck. It was set on rails and three men slowly guided it into place. Everything was there except for the floor. Ronald and Randall Smith were able to salvage the majority of the original floor and only had to replace a small number of boards. Then a few years later, they were able to find a craftsman with the skills to chink the gaps in the logs and seal the cabin up nicely just as the Fitzgerald family would have constructed it 160 years ago. The final finish came in 2012 when the plexiglass windows were replaced with replicated glass panes. Draper city put in all of the beautiful landscaping.
The cabin is now used as an extension of the Draper Historical Museum and tours can be scheduled by calling the Draper Historical Society at 801.495.3476. It is a well-loved cabin and an important piece of history for the community.