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Historic Provo

Oral History of Michelle Davies Wright


MORRIS: I am Carla Morris and I am interviewing Michelle Davies Wright. We are at the Provo City Library at 13 North 199 East, and this is July 8, 1988. Michelle, please tell me about your earliest memories of Provo.

WRIGHT: My memories of Provo were poignant and nostalgic. It held a special place in my heart. Growing up in California provided many difficult situations. But there was a place, a real place, in Utah, surrounded by beautiful mountains, and an abundance of green trees; with cherry trees, and strawberry patches, and loving family members, that I could escape to, in my mind, for strength.

In my teen-age years, when my friends started to drink, and to smoke, and to become immoral, I chose NOT to "indulge" with them, and consequently lost many friends. It was at times such as these that I could look into my heart and find that special place.

I would think, "All of you feel that you are being so smart, and so sophisticated, searching for happiness in the wrong direction; you don't know what real happiness is. There is a whole different world that you don't know anything about, where loving family members greet one another with open arms and hugs and kisses."

The wonderful memories of visiting Provo, as a child, (about 1933 and thereafter) have endured a lifetime. The walks down Center Street with cousins, looking into the 5 and 10 cent stores, (called "dime stores" then), or getting a drink of "good ole Provo water" from the fountains that were strategically placed along the sidewalk (we didn't have anything like that in California), were leisurely "fun" days.

As children, we had the permission of our beloved Aunt Ida (Ida Stewart Peay) to climb into her large cherry tree, and to eat cherries to our heart's content (in those days cherries were a premium in California)!

Sometimes we went with my mother's cousin, Eloise (Eloise Stewart Morely) to the old Stewart homestead in Benjamin, to pick fresh strawberries on leisurely, sunlit days, then back to her house on the corner of fourth east and third north, to have freshly baked bread with strawberries and cream, and to enjoy the company of our cousins, Stewart, Marilyn, and others.

The ski resort now known as "Sundance" was then owned by my great uncle, Paul Stewart. In the summertime our cousins would come for a visit from other places, also. We enjoyed these wonderful, carefree, secure days, sharing secrets, going hiking, and playing hide-and-seek among the trees and the abundant greenery.

Uncle Paul and Aunt Hilda (Stewart) had a resort home along the road to Mount Timpanogos. On the ground floor, sectioned off from the rest of the house, and open to the public, was a snack bar where they sold hot dogs, and hamburgers, and all kinds of goodies to the tourists. We enjoyed these snacks also, after a hard day's play.

At night we slept in the "loft" of the resort home. What a treat that was! It ran the length of the house, as I remember. On the main floor in the "home" section was a huge fireplace. We enjoyed toasting our heels on chilly evenings, and listening to the older generation tell of family stories.

What warm and wonderful times these were! The closeness, the warmth, the love that bound us all together, wrapped around me like a wonderful soft quilt that protected me from the old chill of the vicissitudes of life, and the temptations that were to come later.

MORRIS: What do you remember about Provo city?

WRIGHT: Provo used to be such a quaint, peaceful little college town. It was unique and dear to my heart. The center of town, and all businesses were grouped around Center Street and University Avenue. The old railroad was south of town.

I loved seeing the style of the old brick homes here in Provo. The architecture was unique to Utah.

It is difficult to mention Provo without talking about BYU. They seem to be inseparably connected, so I'd like to say a few things about BYU too. When I first attended the University here, in 1946, there were just a few buildings on "upper campus." The Joseph Smith building was the main new building. We met in the chapel there, for church and for concerts and assemblies, and in the recreational portion of the building for dances. There were three or four older buildings on "upper campus." They are still in existence. At least something has been preserved from the past.

Some of our classes were on "lower campus at Fourth North and University Avenue. We had to really "sprint" to get to classes between "upper" and "lower" campuses. There were also several flights of concrete steps to climb when going from lower to upper campus, and the reverse, when coming down.

Concerts were also held in the old Tabernacle that my ancestors attended, at First South and University Avenue.

My mother, and grandmother and grandfather, aunts, uncles and cousins all attended the Brigham Young Academy as it was called then, or Brigham Young University, as it is called now. Many were the professors throughout the years. My grandmother's cousin, Franklin Stewart Harris, was BYU president for 29 years.

The few times that my parents (Lily Stewart Horsley Davies and William Ervin Davies), my brother (William Horsley Davies), and I visited Provo in the late autumn, left their own indelible memories.

Evidently most of the energy for heating homes, etc. was derived from coal-burning furnaces. Aunt Ida (Ida Stewart Peay) had a "heap" of coal just outside her back door. She had delicately protected it from the view of passers-by by having a long row of roses planted that stretched from her home to her mother's home, the large Stewart mansion next door.

MORRIS: Tell me about your great grandmother, who was the first woman doctor in the area.

WRIGHT: My mother's grandmother, Dr. Dorothy Melissa Riggs Stewart (my great grandmother) had been the first woman doctor in the area. After graduation from medical school, she had joined her father, Dr. John Riggs in the practice of medicine.

Dr. Riggs had been the only doctor in the area for the first fifteen years of the founding of Provo. He had helped to build the old fort, for the protection of the Latter-day Saints form the hostile Indians, before Provo was a town. Later they moved into town and built a beautiful, large home.

My mother told me stories of growing up in the Stewart mansion with its marble fireplaces in the bedrooms and in the parlor of the fourteen-room home. There was a cook and housekeeper, and a cellar filled with huge hanging hams, meats, cheeses, sausages, and barrels of preserved trout, and bottles of preserved vegetables and fruits. They made their own sausages, and their own cheeses, and their own butter, and cured their own meats. In their ample pantry they kept donuts, and pies, and cakes and homemade bread. They always had food for anyone that stopped by, even strangers.

My mother taught me, as her grandmother had taught her: "Always serve something, even if it's only a cracker."

My mother, her sister, and their cousins, used to go to the cellar after school. They would take with them an inch-thick piece of homemade bread from the kitchen, and would scoop thick cream off the top of the milk, kept cool in containers in the cellar: then sprinkle powdered sugar over the cream, for a treat.

Dr. Melissa Stewart's daughter (Melissa Jane Stewart Horsley, my grandmother) had died in childbirth while bearing my mother, (Lily) in far-away (then) Brigham City. Dr. Stewart reared her granddaughters, my mother and her sister (Muriel), after rearing her own large family, at the same time carrying on the medical practice (the clinic was in the parlor of their large home).

My mother's brothers, Shirl and Stewart, were still in the home of their father (William Clements Horsley) in Brigham City. The youngest brother, eighteen-month-old Scott, was placed in the home of relatives, the Prestons.

Dr. Dorothy Melissa Riggs (Stewart) had married an engineer by the name of Andrew Jackson Stewart (my great grandfather). She and her father (Dr. John Riggs) provided all types of medial care for the Latter-day Saint people, and the Indians, but had specialized in a topical cancer cure received through inspiration, and unknown by the rest of the world, because "they would not listen." People from 11 states came to them to be cured of cancer. Many of them stayed in the Stewart home, until the treatment was completed and the cancer was cured.

The cancer treatment had about a 96% to 98% cure success, as I recall the history. The other 2 to 4% was due to the fact that the patients could not stand the pain and left before the treatment could be completed. It is unparalleled even today, with all the modern advances in medicine. In a recent article, the medical profession was elated at having a 68% cancer cure rate!

One of the larger medical centers in the United States requested that Dr. Stewart join them, to practice her healing art there. She politely refused, stating that she felt that "her own people" (the Latter-day Saints) needed her in Utah, there were so few trained doctors here.

But to return to the coal burning furnaces, there was a very special fragrance of burning coal that wrapped and entwined itself in and around the memories of family, and of love and happiness. In California, when I could catch a rare whiff of this delicious (to me) coal-burning fragrance, it would flood my soul with marvelous memories.

On warm evenings, during our summer visits, we would go across the street to the Pioneer Park on Fifth West, between Center Street and First South near Aunt Ida's, to listen to the band play on the platformed gazebo, in the park. During the day, we splashed our feet and waded in the wide waterway that ran along the street in front of the park, to the east.

The park is still there today, but the gorgeous mansion, the huge evergreen trees, Aunt Ida's and Uncle Ed's home, the rose bushes, and the coal "heap" are all gone, except in my memory. The beauty of that spot has been replaced by ugliness!

The beautiful, treasured home and gardens, the spacious lawns, and the cherry tree, were all torn down by an in-law, who wanted to make money by erecting . . . a service station! It began the demise of west Provo.

On the corner of Fifth West and Center Street, across from the park to the east, there also once stood a lovely brick hotel. It was owned and run, in the early days, by Isaac Bullock, my grandmother's great uncle, the second mayor of Provo. His brother Kimball was the third mayor. Brigham Young had stated that he felt that Provo should have a hotel "for the weary traveler, and for the stranger, to be able to rest." There is a picture in the book "Provo and Orem," by Kenneth L. Cannon II, of the lobby of a hotel, he didn't know what hotel. I believe it to be of the hotel owned and operated by Isaac Bullock.

One of the most unique and special qualities in Provo was a small "curbside canal." It ran along the streets beside the curbs. The townspeople took turns, at a certain time of the day, and on certain days, diverting the water onto their lawns and their gardens.

What a refreshing feeling it was, on a hot summer day, to take off shoes and socks, to sit on the curb, and to feel the cool, exhilarating water rush over our feet! This too, is gone. Only the concrete troughs remain in the older section of Provo as a reminder.

As a child, I remember that some of the streets in Provo were dirt, covered with gravel. "Kitty-corner" across the street from Aunt Ida's, at Third South and Fifth West, on the southwest corner, was a little country store. (Aunt Ida lived on the east side of the street. The Stewart home was next door on the southeast corner of Fifth West and Third South.)

I used to run errands for Aunt Ida across the wide, graveled, dirt streets. She would usually give me a penny for running errands for her. It was fun buying penny candy, because at home, we didn't have sugar items, such as candy, cake, cookies, etc. As I look back, however, I realize what a blessing it was to not have these items in our home, because we didn't have a family doctor, nor a dentist. We didn't need either one. It was a good thing, because we couldn't have afforded one. It was during the Depression, and my mother's grandmother, who was a doctor, could not have helped us. She had passed away in 1921.

Camilla Eyring stayed with Aunt Ida when she was going to school at Brigham Young Academy. Camilla married Spencer W. Kimball, who later became the prophet, and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His grandfather, Heber C. Kimball, was my great-great-great grandmother's cousin. They were all family, and always welcome.

Later when I had graduated from high school, and my family had become rather affluent, I attended my first year at Brigham Young University (1946) in Provo, Utah.

On a late autumn evening, while attending BYU, I had a date to attend a concert at the old Tabernacle on First South and University Avenue. We were the first of the crowd to emerge out into the cool, fresh night air. It had been snowing gently, evidently, all the time that we had been attending the concert. It was the first snow of the season, and the first time that I had ever seen snow!

The scene that met our eyes took my breath away! Everything was covered with at least four or five inches of pure white, soft snow, a rare new experience for my eyes to behold! Street-lights reflected the sparkling, white snow crystals, giving the whole earth a celestial glow! Bare trees were covered and laden with the pure snow. Cars and buildings, sidewalks and streets were covered, purified, and beautified. There wasn't even a footprint, nor a tire mark, to mar the grandeur of this breathtaking beauty! The whole work seemed lighted with sparkling snow; clean, pure, exquisitely beautiful light!

"I wonder if this is what heaven is like," I thought. To me, Provo is as close to heaven (the Celestial Degree of Glory) as you can get on this earth.

Even though we lived in more poor circumstances in California, in my early years, during Depression, my feelings of security, and pride in my family and my heritage, were not diminished. We had the Gospel of Jesus Christ in these latter days, to teach us the way to live; and how to be happy in this life and in the eternities to come.

Our families were strong in their convictions, and in their desire to live righteously. They were industrious, and honest; and they were generous, loving and kind. They were the descendants of the kings and queens of England, Scotland, France, Germany, Russia, Ireland, and Norway. They were the descendants of the Puritans, Pilgrims on the Mayflower, of Pioneers crossing the plains, of apostles, doctors, administrators, teachers, writers, farmers, rancher, and educators.

These, my progenitors, the Stewart, Riggs, Kimball, and Bullock families, were the settlers of Provo. They had homesteaded almost all of the territory from Mount Timpanogos to Benjamin.

Interviewee: Michelle Davies Wright
Interview: Carla Morris
July 8, 1988

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