Old Rockport Church under construction
When the federal government flooded the city of Rockport to create a reservoir in the 1950s, the town’s historic Old Church was moved to higher ground.
The distinct white building was saved but descendants of pioneers who helped settle the valley near Wanship, once known as Crandall and Enock City, lamented the loss of a gathering place that was more than just a house for Mormons to worship.
"It was a true, community, social gathering place," said Steve Hewson, director of Rockport State Park. "When the Mormons started going up from Salt Lake they came out here and settled Coalville and they settled Wanship and Rockport."
Built by Robert Siddoway and Lorenzo Clark in 1892, the Old Church allowed residents to dance Saturday nights away before some likely had to repent inside the building the next morning.
"It’s all that’s left (of Rockport)," said 84-year-old Fritz Siddoway, Robert Siddoway’s grandson, who today lives near the shore of Rockport reservoir.
As one of the few people living who resided in Rockport, Siddoway recalled attending religious services at the Old Church before the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation built the dam in the ’50s.
"They carried me to church," said Siddoway, who remembers helping to install new wooden floors in the building when he became older.
Though most of Rockport’s roughly 20 buildings were destroyed before the city was flooded, before the dam was built, the Old Church was moved north of the spillway to where it sits today.
"It went there and went to hell," Siddoway complained.
Without Hewson’s help the building would have continued to deteriorate, he added.
"It sat there for 50 years before we were able to come up with the resources and the support to start the renovations," Hewson said.
Exterior renovations are complete but a ribbon cutting can’t occur next spring until light fixtures are installed and the floor is refinished, he said.
"We’ve been working on the inside and we’ve got all the walls sheet rocked and redid all the woodwork," Hewson said. "We have the old coal-burning stove that used to be in there."
With the site of the former town underwater, "we would like to tell the history of the pioneers and the people who lived there," he said.
Robert Siddoway arrived in Rockport, which was settled around 1860, more than a century ago, having trekked across the Great Plains with one of the last Mormon handcart companies when he was six years old.
Bustling at the time with American Indians, mostly Utes and Shoshones, groups of hundreds of natives were seen often by settlers along the banks of the Weber River in Wanship, according to the book, "A History of Summit County."
"I really want this building to be a way to link Rockport State Park to the local community," Hewson said. "We’re going to have several displays that talk about the history of the building and community."
Siddoway became teary-eyed during a holiday party at the church in December where residents were given a peek at the renovations, Wanship resident David Bates said.
"When we went to the Christmas party I couldn’t believe they had done that much and renovated it that well," said Siddoway, whose granddaughter was married last summer in front of the church her great, great grandfather built. "There are a lot of fond memories there for the people who are left."
Having met a couple married in the church during the early 1900s, Hewson says the words of Summit County resident Tom Brown, whose family Brown’s Canyon was named after, perhaps remain the most inspiring.
"When [Brown] was a 10-year-old boy, he said the summer days seemed to last forever, fishing and running through the woods with his friends," Hewson said. "That really painted a nice picture for me."
Government must do a better job preserving historical structures like the Old Church, he explained.
"[The church] was definitely used for not only church on Sunday mornings, but they would pull the benches to the walls and have dances and live music there on Saturday nights," Hewson said. "I can’t wait to have the first square dance, I think that’s really going to be fun."
Contact Rockport State Park at (435) 336-2241 for more information about visiting the Old Church.
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Park City Fire District Chief Paul Hewitt died Friday from injuries sustained in an off-duty accident earlier in the week, the agency announced.