SPRING CITY- The historic “Major Mansion,” a house at 521 South 200 West in Spring City, built sometime between 1868 and 1874, is now under renovation by local residents Jhan and Tracy Miller.
Prior to retirement, Jhan Millers was a cabinet maker and contractor. Jhan and Tracy moved to Spring City six years ago and restored the house they now live in.
They originally intended to turn the Major home into an Airbnb. “But we fell in love with it,” Jhan says, so they have decided to move into it after restoration is complete and turn their current home into the Airbnb.
In 1868, the Majors came from England and bought the 5 acres where the house now stands. William Warner Major Jr. started by constructing a log building, which the family lived in for the first 2-3 years. It was converted to a granary when the main house was completed.
Major worked as a stonemason on the Manti temple and used the same oolite stone as the temple for his house.
Major lived there with his second wife, Ellen Meek Major, and their children Ellen Lavenda and Horace LeGrand. A third child, Henrey, passed away at a young age.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the family dammed a creek on their land to create a pond for raising and selling trout.
Miller says the Majors would have been “well-off” pioneers. The house was the largest two-story house in the area, thus the name, “Major Mansion.” It included an indoor kitchen, uncommon during the time.
The Major Mansion was owned by the original family for 150 years until about a year and a half ago. That’s when Alison and Chris Anderson, and Scott and Pam Newman, historic preservation activists in Spring City, began negotiating to purchase it. At the time, there were rumors the 5-acres might be sold, the historic home torn down, and the site carved up for modern homes.
Miller, who was doing some remodeling work for the Andersons at the time, offered to purchase the portion of the one-time Major property containing the original buildings. The parties moved forward to make the purchase happen.
The Millers closed on the property June 1, 2021. For starters, Miller built a barn next to the home, using spruce wood to match the style.
Miller says there’s “so much more work [in a renovation] than starting over—everything you open up is a can of worms.”
With a stone foundation and a spring in the basement, the home sank on wet years. Miller believes the nearby creek flooded at times, leaving evidence of standing water beneath the house.
There was never a furnace—only three wood-burning stoves. The house wasn’t sealed very well either, allowing bugs to get in. And parts of the floor moved over time.
The Millers used a hand plane to re-level the floor. This made some of the floorboards too thin to keep. There were also layers of sheetrock, wallpaper and paint on the walls, with the last layer being a limewash.
The Millers washed off the lime to reveal the original paint from 150 years ago. Jhan was also able to uncover the original wood ceilings, which he will keep as is.
“We’ve corrected all [the issues],” Jhan says, by leveling the floors, replacing ruined floorboards, rewiring and adding more wiring for lighting, installing heat ducts, removing and restoring the adobe on the inside walls and more.
Miller plans to make the main portion of the home look as it would have in 1870. That will require restoring the adobe walls, spruce floors, ceilings and even the original windows and baseboards.
The aspects of the front half of the house that will not be kept in their original form will be the stairway and stone walls. Although in the original design, the stone walls would have been covered with plaster. The Millers will leave most of the stone exposed.
The change to the staircase is for safety reasons. Jhan Miller describes the original stairs as “almost a ladder for a staircase going up, and if you tripped, you came down and hit a stone wall.” The staircase will still be built with antique stair parts appropriate to the period.
During restoration, the Millers were able to uncover parts of the home that hadn’t been seen in decades. When cleaning under the upstairs bedroom floor, he saw what looked like a postcard that was dirty beyond recognition.
He gave it to Tracy, who cleaned it off and found a little oil painting on a card, which had been dropped under the floor during construction and left there for 150 years. The Millers plan to leave the oil painting on the mantel when the house is finished.
When the Millers bought the house, the fireplace was plastered over with the wood stove sitting in the middle of the living room. When Jhan Miller spoke with the grandson of William Major Jr., the grandson remembered helping his father clean out the fireplace.
So, Miller tore the plaster open and discovered the original fireplace behind it, with the stone and fireplace surround still intact. When Tracy stripped the white paint off the surround, the shadow of the original detail was still there.
Jhan Miller plans to restore the original design of the fireplace, as well as place the wood stove inside the fireplace, matching the English style of the period. The only difference will be a lining inside the fireplace to prevent chimney fires.
The back of the house, including the kitchen, will be torn down and rebuilt in a larger size, reusing original 22-inch oolite stone to match the style of the rest of the house. This will allow a larger kitchen, laundry room, bathroom and more for the Millers.
When the restorations are finished, Miller plans on placing pioneer furniture in the front room and a plaque outside the front door to “honor the family” (the Majors).
A granary on the property will be used as an art studio, and another outbuilding will be turned into a garage. Miller expects the restoration to take another year or so before completion.