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Historic Provo

Oral History of Verl Grant Dixon

ORAL HISTORY TRANSCRIPTION


GRIGGS: This is Karen Griggs interviewing Verl G. Dixon on June 13, 1988. We are conducting the interview in the director's office at the Provo City Library, 15 North 100 East Provo, Utah.


Would you tell us something about your earliest remembrances of Provo?


DIXON: Well. The first recollection I have of anything in Provo is when we lived on Second North, just west of the Knight Woolen Mill. That's where I was born. My birth date was November 26, 1908, and Woolen Mills was in operation at that time. The railroad ran up Second West, past the Woolen Mill just a half a block east of where I was born. When I was four years old, my mother took me and my next older sister and brother across the street Eastering. They had cut down a big poplar tree and there was a big stump there. It must have been maybe four feet across the stump. And that's where we went Eastering. From then on, events were different because we moved from that location in downtown Provo to a farm on Fifth North and Eighth West in Provo. That was out in the country just about three blocks from the river.


GRIGGS: You mentioned the Knight Woolen Mill. What do you remember about the operation of the mill?


DIXON: My older sister and some of the other members of our family, girls of about her age, and there were several in the Dixon family, worked at the Knight Woolen Mills. They were working there in 1918 when it burned down. We were living on Fourth North, south of the Timpanogos School almost to Sixth West on Fourth North, and between Fifth and Sixth West. I can remember the fire very well. The smoke was in the air, and some of us children went up to the corner. They wanted people to keep away from the fire, but there was an open ditch running down Fifth West, east of the Timpanogos School on Fourth North. We went out there and watched the smoke billowing up and the fire burning. While we were there, pieces of charred wood were landing around us. The draft from the fire was so great that it had pulled the charcoal up in the air. When they got there they weren't burning, but they had been carried that far away from the Woolen Mill which was located between First and Second West in Provo. That's quite a distance – three blocks west and three blocks south.


GRIGGS: Tell me about the old library.


DIXON: Well, I went to the library when I was a boy. It was, as many people know, at least in part built by a donation from Andrew Carnegie, the great philanthropist who gave money for libraries all over the United States. This was a Carnegie Library on the same location where we are right now on the corner of First East and Center Street in Provo. I can remember that the library was built in the style popular around the turn of the century. I don't remember exactly when it was built. Of course, that was before I was born. I came with my sisters to get books at this very location. And when I was thirteen years old, I came with other Boy Scouts to the basement of the old library where the Court of Honor was held for all of Provo City. They interviewed us, approved our work on the merit badges and awarded merit badges and other awards, including the Eagle Scout. And I believe it was at this very location that I had my interview for my Eagle Scout award.


GRIGGS: What do you remember about downtown Provo and how it has changed?


DIXON: I remember when they did the first concrete paving on Center Street in Provo. That's when I was boy. I don't remember exactly what year it was, but they were paving in the part of Center Street down between Fourth and Fifth West just north of where the new library is being built [The library he's referring to was located at 425 West Center Street]. They had an old paver, cement mixer, that was run either by steam or by gasoline power. They would haul the gravel and the cement and dump it into a hopper and then into the mixer. It would come out of the mixer and they'd wheel it to where they were pouring the concrete. And that concrete is still there on Center Street.


GRIGGS: Goodness. The downtown section, right in the middle of town, how did that spread from just the central location between University Avenue and Center Street? When you were a boy, was the town mostly centered in that area?


DIXON: This was the center of town. But originally when Provo was first laid out, Provo had a Main Street. Main Street was what is now Fifth West in Provo. The hotel, the Stagecoach Inn, where the stagecoach came, and other buildings were right there. The first city building and the first administrative building for this area was right at that location on First North and Fifth West, then Main Street, where the old Third Ward church is now [it was remodeled by Sil Hathaway for a café complex]. Just south of the old Third Ward building with the tower on it, was the old Provo meetinghouse.


The first meetinghouse, the first place they held church meetings, was the City Hall. It had the jail. It was the recreation area. All in that one adobe building, which was between what's now the sidewalk and the existing building. I don't remember that building because it was torn down before the present building was built, and the present building was built before I was born. But I remember going to church in the present building over a long period of time.


GRIGGS: So you were in the Third Ward?


DIXON: In the Provo Third Ward. In fact, the building is still within the boundaries of the Third Ward. What is now the Third Ward was the original, the first ward, in this whole valley. It was the Provo Branch. I guess that was when the city was first incorporated in 1851. I'm not sure, but I think that was the year of incorporation of Provo.


GRIGGS: Do you remember any of the activities that would have taken place when you were a child such as festivals or other city-wide events?


DIXON: Yes. Years ago, the Fourth of July band concerts and other things were held at the Pioneer Park which is still there at the location of Center Street and Fifth West.



GRIGGS: What other kinds of activities took place on July Fourth, besides the band concert?


DIXON: Well, they had all kinds of things. Even in those days we had firecrackers! (Laughter) And balloons and flags. There were races and other events of that nature that were held as part of the Fourth of July celebration. But there was nearly always a band concert.


GRIGGS: Do you know when they started having a parade for the Freedom Festival and for the Fourth of July?


DIXON: I can remember parades and the Freedom Festival. I think that present organization of Freedom Festivals came into being during the early years when I was mayor. At least some of the organization that has resulted in the present Freedom Festival committee was initiated at that time.


GRIGGS: Before that, they had a different organization?


DIXON: Oh. They've had parades for a long time. I remember in the Twenties, following World War I, when I was just a boy, they had parades and the American Legion organized some of the first Fourth of July celebrations, at least in my memory. George Ballif, who has since died, was a very prominent attorney in Provo, and he was the drum major for the Legion band. They won awards at the American Legion national conventions. The Drum and Bugle Corps was what it was called. They marched well, and George was a great strutter. I remember those events. Provo, over the years in my recollection, has nearly always had a Fourth of July parade.


GRIGGS: That was a day also for family activities. What kind of family activities did you have in Provo?


DIXON: In those days, of course, we had lots of family activities. In fact, much of the activity was family centered. When I was a boy, we had the old Provo Resort down at Utah Lake. In fact, I don't remember it, but there was a railroad that went down to the resort from Provo. It went west on Center Street down, and then over to the old resort which was located where the airport is now. That was the old Provo Resort. I can remember going swimming there when I was a boy. I must not have been more than ten or twelve years of age. Soon after that, that was abandoned.


The resort at Provona Beach, which was organized and established by the Arthur Taylor family, was in the present location of the Utah Lake State park. When I was a boy, I worked for them. They had a concession, a sort of café where they sold candy and other things. Then they had a pavilion where they danced. They had beach houses and we went swimming in the lake.


GRIGGS: Going back for just a second to the old Provo Resort at the airport site, what kind of buildings were there?


DIXON: The only buildings I can remember there were a group of bathhouses where we'd change into our swimming suits. They were on piles so that when the lake came up, they wouldn't be washed away, in some ways similar to the old Salt Air resort. The big Salt Air building and a lot of the other buildings were on piles and platforms. At the Provo Resort it was similar but, of course, not to the same extent. I can remember swimming around those piles where the lake came under the bathhouses.


GRIGGS: What are some of the notable locations and businesses that you remember from early Provo?


DIXON: Well, I remember that on the corner of Center Street and University Avenue, there was always a bank on the west side. And on the east side, I remember that there was the Swabb Clothing Company. That was originally the location of the old Provo Cooperative, but I don't remember that. I do remember Swabb Clothing which later became a drugstore, then Walgreens and other drugstores through the history of the city. And the Farrer Brothers' store, I remember that very well. It was on the west side of the street and north of Center. And I remember the Knight Trust and Savings Bank; a beautiful bank that was built by Jesse Knight and became the First Security Bank at the same location.


GRIGGS: You mentioned that you remembered that old tabernacle.


DIXON: The old tabernacle faced north. It was north of the existing tabernacle, but it faces Center Street. The new tabernacle, the one that's there now, faced University Avenue, as it does.


GRIGGS: Please tell me about the pillars from the inside of the tabernacle and where they are now?


DIXON: There are some interesting facts about the old tabernacle, and a lot of this is covered in a book that was accumulated and written by N. LeVerl Christiansen, who was editor of the Herald for a number or years. For a while he was in the administration of the Utah Stake. He was on the high council, I believe, or at least he had a position in the administration of Utah Stake. He undertook to write this book.


One of the interesting things about the old tabernacle was that it was built of adobe. At the time of dedication, Brigham Young came down and it was dedicated by John Taylor, who was president, I guess, of the Quorum of the Twelve, and became president of the Church following Brigham Young. Anyway, the tabernacle had pews in it, as many of the protestant churches of the day did. The pews had little doors on them, little gates, and seats where prominent families sat. But it wasn't used very many years because they built the new tabernacle. It was inadequate anyway. It wasn't large enough to serve as a Stake Conference center. So, in 1918, it was torn down. And the contractor for tearing it down was George A. Clark and his sons. They salvaged some parts of it. Part of the adobe material was salvaged, I suppose, and used in different locations. But some of the columns from the interior of the building were used as porch posts for a home that was built by George Clark, a clinker brick home on Fifth North and Fifth West in Provo. And they used a lot of the materials for rafters and flooring, sub-flooring, and for floor joists, and the columns were put on the front porch. And they're still there where people can see them. And then the only other relic I can identify was the lintel stone that was over the front entrance of the old tabernacle. That's located in North Park at Sixth North and Fifth West in Provo, in front of the present Pioneer Museum. It has the date on it when the building was built.


[Tape Interrupted]


GRIGGS: I took the opportunity to look at the book, My Folks, the Dixons, and noticed that you had attended the old Timpanogos School. Please tell me about going to school there.


DIXON: I can tell you a lot about the old Timpanogos School because it was built originally in sections. The first part of it was built on the corner of Fourth North and Fifth West. And then an addition was built on the west side of it. It was a two-story building with a tower. A lot of the school buildings had a tower on the corner, and this one was on the front corner similar to, but not high as, the one down at the church on First North and Fifth West.


One thing I remember about the school is that many times the Superintendent of Schools for Provo City would come and visit the classes. I can remember L.E. Eggertsen, who was the father of Algie Eggerstsen Ballif and Thelma Eggertsen Weight, who is still alive and lives on North University Avenue. Their father was Superintendent of Schools. And I can remember that when he came to the Timpanogos School and came to the class he really took an interest in what we were doing. He'd ask us questions. He'd ask the teacher about how we were doing. We were very much impressed to think that the one who was in charge of all the school system would take time to come to a class and find out whether we were learning something. It was interesting, the Timp School. Of course, the play yard is at the west of the school now. At the present time, the Timpanogos School occupies the whole block. But when I went to school, the west side of the block was occupied by homes and the school was just on one quarter of the block, the southeast.


GRIGGS: Can you remember any of the instructors?


DIXON: Our teachers? Oh, yes, very well. Jenny Harding, who lived in our neighborhood, was my teacher for two years and she was a wonderful teacher. In fact, all of the teachers were fine, fine teachers. One of my teachers was named Clyde and she lived up in the river area, in what we call the Riverside area now of Provo. When I went to school, there was a good relationship between the teachers and the students.


GRIGGS: Were there any outstanding activities that you participated in while you were in elementary school?


DIXON: Oh, yes, there were lots of activities. Of course, the ones that I remember well were some that I participated in like baseball. But we always had baseball and we had what are now called field events. We'd run races and do things like that. Then, another event that I remember very well was in May, the Maypole Dance, which was really a fine event. In fact, the queen of the May, when I was in school, is still living in our area. I see her every once in a while. Her name was Violet Cox. She and her husband now live in the northeast part of Provo and go to the temple quite often.


GRIGGS: When the superintendent came, was there any attempt on the part of the instructors to have you sing special songs, have a special program, or was he just there observing?


DIXON: I think we responded to what he wanted. We responded to his questions and sometimes he would just have us go ahead with our activities and he observed as we did. It was interesting. Of course, sometimes our memories of events like that, so long ago, aren't so good. But I can remember him coming. And I can remember him asking questions. I can't tell you what questions he asked.


GRIGGS: You attended the Central Junior High School.


DIXON: Yes. I did.


GRIGGS: Where was that located?


DIXON: Central Junior High School was located on the same block that's now occupied by the City Center, the block east of where the new library [425 West Center Street] is being built. And in fact, the Central Junior High School faced west on that street. Our teachers were wonderful, fine people. One of my teachers became a relative of mine. Fred L. Markham married my cousin. He taught me there. Also, there were several others. Stewart taught penmanship. There were a number of teachers that were really skilled in their teaching. It was an excellent experience. In fact, the high school was on the east side of the block and the junior high school was on the west side of the block. I went there to junior high school and then immediately over to the high school which was directly east of it.


GRIGGS: Were the classes organized as they are now where you go from one class to the other in junior high school?


DIXON: Yes, they were. You went from one teacher to another and the teachers had their specialties. Some teachers taught more than one subject. But I can remember very well many of the teachers if I stop to recite them, but I remember them very well. George Mortimer was the teacher of shop, what we now call shop. I still have some of the things that I made in shop in high school: a walnut table that's just in as good preservation as it was when it was made.


GRIGGS: Were you active in sports when you were at the junior high and the high school? What sports activities did they have?


DIXON: Yes. They had sports activities. In fact, although I wasn't active in sports, my two younger brothers were on the swim team. At the time they were active in swimming for the high school. I was on the swim team at the university. BYU used the high school pool for their university aquatics.


GRIGGS: Where was that located?


DIXON: That was located on the very south end of the high school building, which would have been right next to First South and Third West, on the east side of the block.


GRIGGS: You attended BYU. Was that from about 1928 to 1932?


DIXON: I started BYU in the Fall of 1926 as a freshman and went there until 1929. Then I went on a mission, then came back and finished and graduated from BYU in 1932. Then I went back for one more year.


GRIGGS: You've seen some changes in BYU over the years.


DIXON: Oh. Indeed.


GRIGGS: Would you share some of those?


DIXON: Well, when I went to school at BYU, the only buildings on the upper campus were the Maeser Memorial Building, which was built largely from donations by Jesse Knight, and which, by the way, is built from the same type of oolite limestone that comes from Sanpete County as in the second and third floors of the County Building. The lower floor of the County Building is granite, Utah granite. The entire Maeser building, except the foundation, is oolite limestone. It's a beautiful stone. It's well preserved. It's a soft stone so it deteriorates if you don't take good care of it but it's really a beautiful white stone. And then the Heber J. Grant Library, which is now the testing center. And beyond that the Brimhall Building which is on the north side. And that's still the Brimhall Building. Those were all the buildings on the upper campus. The old track was there where they had their track meets and played football. The first football games were played on that old track. And I remember that. In fact, I remember seeing Fred Markham run on that track up there. He was on the track team. That's when I was in high school and he was in college.


GRIGGS: Do you remember any of the activities at BYU like the Y Days? Did they have Y days then?


DIXON: Oh, yes. We had Y Days. In fact, we had many of the events that they have now. When I went to BYU, I took an interest in art because I was interested in drafting and architecture and other things of that nature. The art classes were all held on the top floor of the Education building. That's the one on Fifth North and University Avenue. Across the street from that was the Women's Gymnasium. The women's gymnasium was where they held the dances, the junior prom. The year that I was a junior, I was chairman of decorations for the junior prom because the Art Department usually got involved, and then that year I was President of what they called the Studio Guild, and Elbert Eastmond was the chairman of the Art Department. They wanted help from the Art Department, and Brother Eastmond said, "Well. We'll help you if you'll use the Studio Guild to supervise it." I was president of the Studio Guild and also a junior so I became the chairman of decorations for Junior Prom.


GRIGGS: What kind of decorations did you have?


DIXON: That year I remember very well. We had an undersea theme. All of the decorations were designed to give you the impression of being under the water. (Laughter) But it was quite well done. It was impressive and people liked it. We were finishing with decorations right up until the time the band started, but I didn't get to go to the dance.


GRIGGS: What kind of changes were evident in Provo during the Depression years?


DIXON: Well, of course, as many people who remember the Depression will say there wasn't much money. So nearly all of the entertainment and the activities we had were done, as best we could, without money. That's my recollection of the Depression years. People didn't have a lot of money, but they had a lot of fun, many of the young people did, because they had their own activities. They played games similar to what they do now anyway. It didn't cost much for a baseball and a baseball bat.


GRIGGS: Do you remember any of the businesses that closed or any of the difficulties that some of the businesses had?


DIXON: There were a number of businesses that were forced to close. But I remember businesses too that weathered the Depression. I returned from my mission in 1931. I went in 1929 and came back in 1931. And that was right when the Depression really had begun in full swing. There was hardly any work. But Taylor Brothers' Company was still operating, and I needed a job to help me get by, to pay my tuition so that I could finish school. I went to see Thomas N. Taylor who was president of Taylor Brothers' Company. He had been my bishop and my stake president. I knew him well, and he knew our family. He gave me a job and assigned me to work at what they called the annex, the furniture annex. It was located on part of the property that is now occupied by Lloyd's Typewriter [324 West Center Street]. I went to work with Andrew K. Steedman. There were just two of us working there. We sold used furniture and congoleum, and linoleum, and things like that. There was a time when we sold more in that little annex than they did in the big store.


GRIGGS: Because it was used furniture?


DIXON: The annex helped keep the business going. People would have liked to have bought fine furniture and new things, but all they could do was buy used stoves and used furniture and congoleum to put on the floor and other things that we sold that they didn't sell in the other store. They didn't sell any used furniture in the big store.


GRIGGS: You've mentioned Fred Markham several times. You worked with him for a while, didn't you?


DIXON: Yes. Fred Markham was my teacher in Junior High School. He married my cousin Maud Dixon. Her father was my father's brother, John DeGrey Dixon. He was cashier of the bank to begin with and then later president. He and T. N. Taylor started the Farmers and Merchants Bank. Anyway, after I graduated from high school, after I went to BYU and went on my mission and returned from my mission, Fred Markham had begun his practice as an architect, and he hired me as a draftsman. Later I was a building inspector also. When I went in the service, I left my job. Then when I came back I went right back to work for Fred Markham. After serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II, I worked for him. He was good employer.


GRIGGS: Please tell me a little bit more about the Provo Third Ward. I know you were a counselor there and also a bishop.


DIXON: I went to church there and grew up from deacon up until the time I was ordained an elder to go on a mission. I went on a mission when my cousin Aldous, who was Fred Markam's brother-in-law, was bishop. Later I went into the service. When I returned from the service and became county clerk, I became a member of the bishopric, a counselor to Bishop Ralph Fletcher. Then I followed him as bishop. I was about nine years as his counselor and nearly four years as bishop. So it was thirteen years in the bishopric.


GRIGGS: When did you become identified with Provo City government?


DIXON: After serving eight years as a county commissioner, I worked for Fred Markham and also did some contracting with my brother, Ralph Dixon. We worked as contractors. I also worked as the manager for the Provo Metropolitan Water District, and the chairman of that District Board was John O. Beasley. I had known him as the owner of the Mutual Lumber and Coal Company. Fred Markham had done some work for him so he knew me. I served as manager of the Metropolitan Water District after I was county commissioner. That year, there was a movement in Provo to change from manage government back to commission government, and I became involved in the activity of the committee, which was headed by Mark Anderson and F. Orval Singleton. They were really the leaders of that group. I became identified with them and worked with them. We wanted the people to vote on whether they wanted to change or not.


The people decided to change. When Provo went back to the commission government, I was elected mayor under the commission system.


GRIGGS: What were some of the accomplishments of the city government while you were mayor?


DIXON: During the years that I was mayor? Well, through the efforts of the people, the city administration and the city employees, there were a number of things accomplished. One thing that we did was build a city center which is still in use and serving well. In fact, I think it has some of the finest characteristics of any city center because the police department has housing under the building for most of their vehicles. At that time we built the Eldred Center, which is now in use as a Senior Citizens' Center. We built three large water storage tanks for the city water system and drilled three or four wells to get deep well water for supplemental water for the city. We built two power sub-stations, one out on the southeast part of town and another in the northeast part of town, primarily to receive power from the Colorado Storage Project which generates power for the use of municipalities and public agencies in this area. A number of other improvements were made at that time in the city.


GRIGGS: Were you concerned about downtown Provo at that time? Was the mall built while you were still mayor?


DIXON: Yes. The people from ZCMI were the sponsors, and the main anchor for the mall. ZCMI and JCPenney. But it was ZCMI that was the initiator and the one that started it. The mall was actually developed by a private corporation, but ZCMI was the main sponsor of it because of their involvement. They wanted to come to downtown Provo, and they came to see us when I was mayor. There were two things that they proposed. One was to build a ZCMI building on the park north of the present tabernacle [Southeast corner of Center Street and University Avenue]. But the Church did not want to relinquish that. They felt that it should not be taken out of Church ownership, although ZCMI was very much involved with the Church. But the Church did not want to let that go for a ZCMI store. Then another alternative location was the block between Second and Third West on Center Street. They had hired someone from the Northwest, from Seattle, to be a planner. What they wanted to do was use that whole block and the block east of it, which is where the hotel is now. But they wanted the railroad taken out. The railroad to Heber went north on Second West. Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad didn't want to relinquish their Heber branch. They abandoned it later. But at that time they would not. Because of that, ZCMI abandoned the idea of using that location. But it was a time when they could have acquired that whole block west of it and much of the block to the east. They would have constructed a major mall operation in that location. But the railroad could not be taken out. That was it. They wanted to come to downtown Provo, but it was impossible because of obstacles that were there. The land was available in Orem so they moved out there. It was a central location and a good location for a mall.


GRIGGS: What were some of the problems that you encountered when you were mayor as far as Provo City?


DIXON: Well, of course, one major problem was the downtown. There were several proposals even following the time that ZCMI had gone to Orem to purchase the land and were in the process of planning a mall. Sid Horman from Salt Lake City, a developer, who developed the Cottonwood Mall, wanted to put one downtown. What he wanted to do was to build a cover over Center Street and use the existing buildings and the stores. But after they got into an analysis of that proposal, they found out that for fire protection purposes, the entire mall had to follow the fire code grading of the poorest building in the area. The fire protection, the insurance costs, would have been a major obstacle. Of course, there was the other problem of buying all the property, a lot of small pieces of property, some of them only twenty feet wide, some of the thirty, forty, fifty for the stores, most of them in different ownerships and many of them in absentee ownerships, people who did not live in Utah or in Provo. It was almost insurmountable to undertake that kind of a project.


Some improvements were made. While I was mayor, we redesigned Center Street and provided for parking and landscaping along Center Street. And it's turned out to be quite a charming area.


GRIGGS: Have you been active in the Provo Kiwanis for a long time?


DIXON: Yes. I am a member of the Provo Kiwanis Club. I first joined in 1947 when I was county clerk and have been active in Kiwanis since then. I helped organize the Golden K, which meets at the Eldred Center. I became a member of that and served as president of the Golden K.


GRIGGS: What are some of the activities that Golden K and Kiwanis have sponsored over the years?


DIXON: Like the Rotary, the Lions, the Exchange and other service organizations, Kiwanis is a service club and they have projects of a service nature. One of the things that the Golden K has done, and which I think is a very fine thing to do, and that is to organize clubs. At the junior high school level, we were able to organize a Builders' club at Dixon Junior High School [Dixon Middle School] which is currently active. Every year they undertake many projects for the school. One thing they do is every morning they raise the flag and when the school day ends they take the flag down. The Builders' Club helps with the registration every year. And this year there has been one organized at Farrer Junior High School, both under the sponsorship of Golden K.


In addition to that, our club, the Provo Golden K, has been the sponsor for a Key Club at the alternative high school, or the Provo Vocational High School [now Independence High School] of the Provo School District. They're wonderful young people, but those students at the vocational school are all drop-outs. This year they had a fine little graduating group that received their high school diploma. They're sending two delegates from their group, from their club, down to the international convention of Key Clubs down in California. Two of them are going with their advisor at the school to participate in that activity. It's a wonderful thing to do. The future of our country is with our children. That's why libraries are so important because their greatest emphasis is to help young people learn the value of an education and how a library can contribute to that education.


GRIGGS: You also have been associated with the Sons of the Utah Pioneers. What have been some of the activities of the Sons of the Utah Pioneers?


DIXON: The purpose of the Sons of the Utah Pioneers is to preserve the heritage of the pioneers. In Provo, we have two chapters of the Sons of the Utah Pioneers. I was a charter member of the Brigham Young Chapter, which meets at the University. But before that, I was a member of the George A. Smith chapter, which is composed of people from all over town, but with more from the west side around the Pioneer Village and the museum. I've been president and currently secretary of the George A. Smith. Blaine Hall is our president this year. We have hundreds of school children come to see the Pioneer Village and to see the museum. And we have a blacksmith's shop that operates. George Simmons is a blacksmith that learned blacksmithing in Paris, Idaho, way up in Bear Lake country, north of Bear Lake. When he was just a teenager he worked for his father as a blacksmith in a blacksmith's shop. He is really a skilled blacksmith. He demonstrates for the school children. In the museum, we have a wonderful collection of pioneer artifacts. But in the Village, we have two buildings that were old Provo log cabins. The Turner Cabin was built in 1853 and the Haws Cabin was built one year later. They're really old cabins and they're well-preserved. They have in them pioneer furniture. As I say, hundreds of school children come from all over the valley to see the village, to see the blacksmith's shop work, and to go through the Pioneer Museum. One thing that we have at Pioneer Village that I have never seen anywhere else in the West is an oxshoer.


GRIGGS: An oxshoer?!


DIXON: Sure. It's a device that's made out of timber where they can pull the ox in between two sides of it with the top over it. Then it's designed with winches and belts so that it can raise the ox off of its feet because an ox can't hold up a hoof to have it shoed as a horse can. They can't stand on three legs unless they're moving. (Laughter) But anyway, Pioneer Park is the only place in America that I've seen an oxshoer or a structure to use in shoeing an ox. The children get to see that. Then, of course, we have other pioneer artifacts that are interesting that relate to pioneer times.


GRIGGS: One of the questions that we frequently receive at the library is about the resorts and you've mentioned several that were located around Utah Lake. Were there any other resorts or entertainment centers that were located in and around Provo?


DIXON: There was what was called the Geneva Resort that was west of Geneva Steel. In fact, that's where Geneva Steel got its name, from Geneva Resort. It was located where the Lindon Marina is located now just at the northwest corner of Geneva Steel, out on the lake. They had a swimming pool and chutes going into the swimming pool. We swam in the lake too.


GRIGGS: What about any sort of dance halls or other entertainment centers?


DIXON: They had a dance hall at Geneva Resort. In Provo, they had Utahna Gardens. Originally it was the Mozart Dance Hall. That was located where the post office is now on First South and First West. In Springville, they had what they called Park Roshee and they had a swimming pool and a dance hall there which later became a skating rink. Of course in the high schools and in the schools they had lots of activities. They had plays and other activities that students participated in and dances like they do now.


GRIGGS: Where were the theaters that had live performances located?


DIXON: The one that was probably most prominent in the early days was the Opera House because they had operas and also stage shows at the same location. It was located on First West just north of Center Street. Not on the corner, but on the next property north. After it was abandoned as an opera house, it became the state armory. When it became inadequate for an armory, the city traded with the state for the site where the present armory is on Fifth North and Second West, which was the old Hoover Mill site. Then, the old armory reverted to the city.


While it was still there and before it was torn down, they put on a play, a melodrama. (Laughter) The one who directed that, was one of our prominent citizens, Ariel Ballif's wife, Arta Romney Ballif. I was in the cast of characters. It was interesting indeed. I don't know whether Arta retained a copy, but there were a number of local people that were in the group. I remember some of their names. I don't like to start saying names because I may forget somebody. I think that Arta Ballif may have a copy of the old program. But it was one of those thrillers where you have a villain and a hero and the lady in distress. It was fun. They put chairs in the building and built a temporary stage and it was quite a show.


GRIGGS: Do you remember any of the early restaurants in downtown Provo?


DIXON: Yes. I think one of the best-known restaurants was the Sutton Café, which was located on Center Street between First and Second West, about in the middle of the block, I think the building is now called the Excelsior. It was originally called the Excelsior but Sutton Café occupied part of it. The Keeley's Restaurant was on Center Street near that. That's incorporated in the town square development now. The back of the Keeley restaurant extended beyond the older buildings. Keeley's went from Center Street to the middle of the block, and there was an entrance in the back.


When I first joined Kiwanis, they met in the Keeley restaurant in the back part.


GRIGGS: What kind of food was served in the restaurant? Was it just a regular American restaurant menu?


DIXON: Sutton Café was famous. People came from all over the state to eat at Sutton Café. They served a variety of food. Steaks and seafood and all of the other things that a fine restaurant or cafeteria or café would serve. Keeley's was a restaurant also. They had a big dining room where Kiwanis met, and they had a fountain. In fact, my sister Edith and my cousin Amy, who were the same age, worked at Keeley's at the fountain. It was an interesting, fascinating time. There were lots of cafés in Provo over the years. I can remember a number of them. One was called Sutt's Café, operated by a fellow by the name of Sutton, not the same one that operated Sutton Café. There were a number of fine restaurants.


Provo's a wonderful city, you know? And a city consists of people. Buildings don't make a city. It's people that make a city. And if you have good people, you have a good city. You don't have to have big fancy buildings. You can have humble structures that were built by the people that live there and have a wonderful city because it's people that make a city. And it's people that make a library. It's the administration and the ones who work there that encourage people to learn, to study and to do things. It is important to have a place where they can come in comfort and in quiet and look up information that they want to find. That's what makes a great library and Provo has a good library, has had, ever since I was a little boy. And there's no reason why we can't continue to have a good library.


GRIGGS: And we will. And thank you so much for all of the information that you've give us today.


DIXON: Good to be here.


 

STORIES TOLD AFTER THE END OF THE INTERVIEW


DIXON: When I was elected county clerk, I spent some time researching some of the old records because I wasn't busy all the time and I had opportunity to do that. I was looking through some of the old records and I found one of the court records that cited one Ernest Dixon for racing his horse too fast on University Avenue. Ernest Dixon was my father. I don't know that he had to pay a fine. I couldn't see any record of him having to pay a fine, but it was a violation. I don't think they caught him. They knew who he was and they just called him into court. I don't think there was anybody that could have caught him because they didn't have motorcycles or automobiles and I don't think anybody had a faster horse. But that was an interesting thing.


One story that Dad told that would be interesting to a lot of people because the people that were involved were all dead now. They couldn't bring action against him anyway. But there was a man by the name of Ellison whose neighbors complained that he was beating his wife. A warrant was issued for his arrest and he was brought into court. He appeared before the judge, and his wife came in also.


The judge said, "Mr. Ellison, you're accused of beating your wife. Is this true?"


And he said, "Yes, it is, your Honor. But only when her needs it!"


The judge turned to Mrs. Ellison and he said, "Mrs. Ellison, is that true?"


And she said, "I guess it is, your Honor."


The judge said, "Case dismissed."


Another story that Dad told was interesting because it relates to people that we know and it related to Ellison too. He fixed stoves and he was evidently quite a character. And I don't think he beat his wife very hard. But anyway, Ellison was called by Dr. Taylor, who was a son of John Taylor who was president of the Church. He was a doctor in Provo, Dr. Fred Richards Taylor. He called Mr. Ellison to come and fix his kitchen stove. So Ellison came and fixed his stove.
When he got done, Dr. Taylor asked what the bill would be.


"Ten dollars," said Mr. Ellison.


"That seems like a lot of money for the time it took you to do the job," said the Doctor.


"Well, Doctor," said Mr. Ellison, "it took me about the same amount of time it did you when you delivered our last baby so it seemed to be a fair price."


Dr. Taylor paid the ten dollars.

Interviewee: Verl G. Dixon
Interviewer: Karen Griggs
June 13, 1988



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