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The west side of Pierce Hall, which faces 200 West, suffered serious damaged when one of the large pine trees fell and hit the house. Careful restoration work, by Paulson Construction, returned the structure to its original stately condition.

 

Pierce Hall at Wasatch Academy has had different names since its construction

at turn of the century

 

By Doug Lowe 

Staff writer

03-26-2020

 

MT. PLEASANT—If old homes actually could talk and tell you stories of those who lived within their walls in times past, it is likely few would have nearly as many different tales to tell as the place now known as Pierce Hall on the campus of Wasatch Academy.

Over the years since 1902, the stately, two-story, red brick structure, on the south-east corner of 100 South and 200 West, has been called “home” by innumerable families: beginning with that of Albert Peterson who moved in with his wife and three children when construction was finished.

For some unknown reason, which might be explained by talking walls or in-depth historical research, after the Peterson’s had lived in the home for only ten years, it was bought by the gentleman who lived next door, to the east along the south side of 100 South, in another stately home.

But that gentleman, Charles Lee Johns, did not buy the Peterson’s home for himself. Even though he did not own the home he was living in next door. His home had come with his new job. Called “Lincoln Hall,” it served as the residence of Wasatch Academy’s principal—a position Johns had then held for approximately one year.

As the school’s optimistic new principal, Johns was acquiring the Peterson home for the institution he headed. The purchase represented an ambitious expansion of the school’s campus, enabling it to fill the entire south side of 100 South, along the complete block from 100 West to 200 West.

Nowhere in the home is the home’s original architectural beauty on display more in the snaking shape of the hand rail in the stair case which in itself makes ninety degree turns while the hand rail rounds such sharp corners beautifully.

George Marshall, a predecessor of Johns as the principal of Wasatch Academy, served from 1892 to 1905, and was living in Lincoln Hall while the Peterson’s new home was being built next door, on the corner lot to the west. Perhaps, Marshall sometime dreamed, as did Johns, of expanding the school’s campus to include the Peterson property.

Once Johns had acquired the Peterson home for the school, it gained a new name and new function as “The Dining Hall.” Frequently occupied by students, faculty and kitchen staff for untold hours over untold years, the home undoubtedly acquired a great many interesting stories that could be told if only walls were not mute.

Johns had an initial stint as Wasatch Academy’s principal that lasted only a few years. But, expansive policies set a precedent. Also, within a few years, Johns returned again to lead the school to an even bigger, better future.

During his second principal ship, the old dining hall building was remodeled to change its function, replacing Lincoln Hall as the residence of the school’s principal.

 

The kind of historic preservation done by Wasatch Academy required great attention to detail. This can involve returning wood work to its original condition, and also installing stairway carpeting in the manner typical of the period given the type of structure and tastes of its original owners.

Years later, the principal’s residence changed again, with the former Peterson’s home and old dining hall beginning a long career as faculty housing under the name of Indiana Hall. It was also sometime referred to as “Indiana Cottage” (perhaps jokingly because the structure was always much larger and finer than any normal cottage).

One well known and loved occupant, during those faculty housing years, was Coach Ernest Brunger and family. Associated with the school from 1924 to 1939, Brunger’s name is now one of two that appear on the big, old gymnasium on north State Street, now owned by Wasatch Academy, which once belonged to North Sanpete High School, before a newer, bigger facility was built at the high school’s current location.

Over the years, the former Peterson home, dining hall, principal’s residence and faculty’s residence, played additional roles: serving as a temporary girl’s dorm for a while.

Showing its age, and all the wear and tear from its many years and many occupations, the home was extensively renovated and remodeled, and dedicated, in May of 1979, as Pierce Historic Hall.

Named in honor of a distinguished school alumnus, Martin Pierce, and his wife Beverly Pierce, both serving on the school’s board of trustees at the time, the dedication ceremony was attending by more than a dozen honored guests coming from various parts of Utah and the nation. Some of those in attendance came as individuals while others represented various governmental entities and organizations with an interest in historic preservation.

A dedication program was published for the May 26 event, explained that the building, after serving many different purposes, will become “a repository for the papers, pictures, documents, and various memorabilia concerned with the founding and progress of Wasatch Academy, as well as other related historical materials.”

Although brought up to date with modern appliances, plumbing, counter tops and the like, the home’s kitchen still retains much of it original beauty thanks to preservation of the stained glass window’s arching design which is repeated again and again in the dining and living rooms.

Newspaper stories documenting the dedicatory ceremony, showed a photograph of the Pierces cutting the traditional ribbon to open the renewed building, and of the large numbers of guests seated outside, in chairs on the lawn and facing the east wall, where a small stage where speakers and performers entertained those in attendance.

In 1992, the opposite side of the home, the west wall that faces 200 West, sustained damaged from a falling pine tree, and had to be repaired. Six years later, in 1998, the front porch was replaced. And, ten years after that, in 2008, Pierce Hall was re-roofed.

Throughout all those years, the building was home to Wasatch Academy’s collection of historic document and artifacts. Given the size of that collection, the school’s original home on Main Street, the old Liberal Hall, was painstakingly restored to become the Wasatch Academy Museum.

Meanwhile, Pierce Historic Hall was remodeled two major ways: by constructing a private bathroom for each of two upstairs bedrooms using space from what had been a third bedroom between the two; and, by a seismic retrofit that required tying the whole structure more securely together.

According to Joe Berlin, who has managed the school’s physical facilities since 1991, “We tied the whole building together better, all the way from rafters to the footers, including anchoring the masonry more securely to 2” x 6” walls studs and 6” x 6” blocking.” As a result, for an old brick building, Pierce Hall has become prepared for earth quake safety, and to serve as the school’s guest house.

In recognition of Wasatch Academy’s long-term efforts to preserve the older structure on its campus, in 2017 the organization Preservation Utah presented one of its coveted Utah Heritage Awards to Wasatch Academy in recognition of how well it has maintained Pierce Hall, from it stately exterior to its elegant interior, which includes beautiful woodwork and stained glassed. That award, received on April 6, 2017, added yet another story that these walls might possibly whisper to those who have ears to hear.

Hall space under the stair
While three rooms feature big stained glass windows with the identical arching design, there are other places in the home, like this cozy little reading nook under the staircase, that also have stained glass windows that are small and of different design.