Opinion: Finding Meaning

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Midway Memories

By Skip Hellewell

The Beautiful Wife and I are in bucolic Midway, Utah, just over the hill from the ski mecca of Park City, where everything is fancy. Her great-grandfather Johannes Huber was a founder of the town, the local version of Johnny Appleseed. His farm was up on Snake Creek, named for the swarms of rattlesnakes, which leads to a story not too different from the legend of St. Patrick ridding Ireland of snakes.

Midway gets its water from cold mountain springs that feed into Snake Creek, but there are also warm thermal springs that, over eons, formed cone-shaped features known locally as hot pots. One is so large and deep that it’s used for recreational scuba diving, a novelty during the winter snows. The warmer soil allowed for earlier spring planting but also fostered large numbers of rattlesnakes, a problem for the earlier settlers.

A stranger came to town and offered to rid it of the snakes for a fee remembered as $50, a large sum for a farming village that mostly bartered and had little cash. The town also was asked to provide feed for his pigs. The deal was made, and the stranger presently returned, driving a herd of young pigs. When the pigs had fattened enough to protect themselves from snake bites, he drove them up Snake Creek. It turned out the pigs considered rattlesnakes a delicacy and, in a summer of feasting, cleared Snake Creek of its rattlers. The stranger then sold his fattened hogs for a tidy profit, collected his $50, and went happily on his way.

The settler’s main occupations were stock raising and farming wheat, oats, potatoes, onions, and hay, crops suited to the short growing season between the long winters. Homes also featured large vegetable gardens—though the rule was to plant after Memorial Day, lest a late freeze ruin the crop—a flock of chickens for eggs and Sunday dinners, hogs for breakfast meat in the winter, and cows for milk.

The BW’s family built a stone creamery cooled by Snake Creek, where they stored their milk and made butter and cheese. Though their pastures are now a beautiful golf course, the creamery has been saved as a historic building. Johannes came from an apple-growing region of Switzerland near Lake Constance and introduced apples. His orchard still produces fruit, preserved as Huber Grove.

The 1868 discovery of silver in Park City lifted the Midway economy as it presented a cash market for their farm products. Mining was hard, dangerous work then, more suited to young men, and Park City’s main street was soon stocked with saloons and fancy ladies. By contrast, Midway’s history pointedly notes the absence of drunkenness. The next big development was the arrival of the railroad in 1899, celebrated by the traditional “last spike” ceremony in nearby Heber City, which expanded the market for their farm products. In 1910 an electric generating plant was built on Snake Creek. The opening was celebrated by a town party with huge bonfires and dancing.

Though many settlers came from Switzerland, the only architect was from England. Thus when the economy allowed the building of nicer homes, they were Victorian cottages rather than Swiss chalets. Last night the BW and I sat in the garden behind the family Victorian and watched the play of light and shadow as the sun sat behind the mountains. This Sunday, three grandchildren, college students, will come for dinner. They’re the sixth generation to be in this restored Victorian. More than a home, it has become the repository of our family’s memories. The future is always before us, but it’s guided by our memories. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.”  Email: [email protected].

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