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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Historic committee shares century-old headlines still relevant today

Sep 09, 2020 01:28PM ● By Josh Wood

A March 1917 Salt Lake Telegram article on smallpox in Butlerville. (Courtesy of the Utah Digital Newspapers Project)

By Joshua Wood | [email protected]

Present events can feel like déjà vu when viewed through the lens of history, and some dedicated local volunteers keep pointing that out online. The Cottonwood Heights Historic Committee is working to connect residents with each other during COVID-19 isolation while connecting them with the community’s past. From pandemics to wildfires and questions of diversity, the committee has kept finding accounts from the archives that make today’s news feel oddly familiar.

"This era of quarantine and social distancing has had one silver lining for the Cottonwood Heights Historic Committee,” said committee chairman Jim Kichas. “It has accelerated our efforts to build an online social media presence on Facebook.” Every week or so, the Historic Committee posts something new and often relevant from the community archives.

On Pioneer Day, the committee posted a story about human-caused fires in the area, including a time in 1921 when Big Cottonwood, Little Cottonwood, and Emigration Canyons all has fires burning simultaneously. From kids playing with matches to farmers’ grass fires getting out of hand, the stories helped reinforce the reasoning for those firework bans.

That familiar connection with the past is exactly what the committee’s volunteers want.

“The committee's intent is to provide access to the knowledge and content that our committee has accumulated in the first decade of our service,” Kichas said. “We do this by sharing stories that raise awareness of the history and people of the area that is now incorporated within Cottonwood Heights City.”

Throughout the summer, the Historic Committee has found accounts of past events that reflect today’s headlines. When people think of the current COVID-19 pandemic, they rightly think back to the 1918 influenza pandemic for historic perspective. A year before that, the historic committee found, smallpox broke out in Butlerville. Details were shared in a March 1917 Salt Lake Telegram article on the committee’s Facebook page.

“It’s an awesome place for people to get historic information,” said Cottonwood Heights Culture Manager Ann Eatchel. “If you read the posts, you’ll see how well written they are.”

The Historic Committee has also shared stories relating to the cruel history of race relations in our country. One post shared details of the life of Green Flake, a slave born on a Mississippi plantation who traveled with the family who owned him to what is now Cottonwood Heights in the 1840s. Flake was released from slavery in 1850 and, according to the account shared by the historic committee, was described as “the unifying force among the black community of Union.”

From painful memories of injustice or suffering through pandemics to lighthearted accounts of community life among farmers and miners, the Historic Committee of Cottonwood Heights has worked throughout this period of social distancing to bridge the distance between present and past.

“We see our posts as an opportunity to connect community members, as well as provide a positive venue to engage the community in thoughtful discussion about our shared sense of place," Kichas said.

More accounts from the history of Cottonwood Heights can be found in the recent local history book published by the city. Copies can be purchased at City Hall. The Historic Committee is also seeking new volunteers to help find and share more stories of the community’s past.