by Louise R. SHAW
LAYTON—Bill Sanders has a way of making history interesting.
August will mark 20 years since Sanders began work as the director and curator of Layton’s Heritage Museum, where he shares photos and artifacts that tell the stories of the city and the community inside it.
“Layton is a city of 60,000 people and most are newcomers,” said Sanders. “They come here to work in defense and in business and they’re curious and want to know its history – where it’s been and where it’s going.”
While a few “old timers” can trace their heritage to the first settlers, Sanders said 90 percent of Layton residents have no historical ties to the city but have a real curiosity about it.
History is something that has always interested Sanders as well.
The Kaysville native graduated from Davis High in 1955. That year, he will tell you, was the last year Davis was the only high school in the county. The next year Bountiful High opened. Soon Farmington High will open, the ninth high school serving county students.
Sanders studied journalism at Weber State, graduating with a minor in history. He taught journalism for eight years, then worked in public relations for Westinghouse Electric Corporation until 1995, when a merger and downsizing resulted in his taking early retirement.
His family lived in Pensacola, Florida, for many of those years while he was with Westinghouse, but they returned to Utah after his retirement.
With time on his hands, a friend suggested he serve on the board of the Heritage Museum of Layton and at his first meeting he was offered the job as director and curator.
The museum opened in 1980 and will celebrate its 38th anniversary this year, so Sanders will now have held the role for more than half of those years.
He speaks enthusiastically of the wonderful working relationship between the museum board and the city, which he calls “a really great partnership.”
He is excited about the recent move of an old log cabin to just outside the museum entrance, and he is quick to promote the changing exhibits inside the gallery that bring people back even after they’ve explored the museum and its offerings.
The current exhibit is called “Then and Now,” and showcases the trajectory of each of the features now included in a hand-held cell phone.
There are a variety of cameras from many eras, plus a grouping of calculators, a wide range of music-playing instruments, some varied games, and of course, a number of old phones and an old switchboard.
“Kids today have no idea about those old dial telephones,” he said. “When they come to the museum, they line up and are all excited to get a chance to dial this phone.”
Previous temporary exhibits have been on fashion, on trains and on lost industries that once thrived in Davis County.
“Agriculture used to be the economic strength in the county,” said Sanders. “We had four flour mills and four canning companies, plus businesses like Dr. Gleason’s Early Elberta peach fruit juice and the Layton Sugar Company that made Mountain Brand Sugar.”
The establishment of Hill Field “changed everything in Davis County,” said Sanders. “Before the ‘30s and ‘40s agriculture was the main staple for Davis County.”
As the base was built up during World War II, women and high school students were hired for positions and after the war, jobs at the base paid better than farming so men worked at the base and farmed on the side.
“By the early 50s, the canneries had run out of work,” he said. “There were no growers and the city went from agriculture to mostly the defense industry.”
Sanders can tell about the ranching and sheep-raising industries that were once big in Davis County and he can tell why they ended.
He can tell about the sugar beets that grew here and he can tell about the controversy that divided Layton and Kaysville.
He can tell you why it took so long for Layton to become a city (not enough people to incorporate until 1920) and he can tell you how valuable newspapers are to studying history (“I am in the Clipper digital newspaper archives every day”).
And to share what he has learned, he has written informational pamphlets for curious readers, including the 102-page “Kay’s Ward: Its Founders and Builders.”
Visitors to the museum can see everything from Native American artifacts to the railroad sign that once marked your arrival in Layton, from a mock-store front and what it might have carried to old dishes and clocks and farming implements.
Sanders, whose home is once again in Kaysville, was named a Hometown Hero by Layton City during their Liberty Days celebration in July. In addition, he was designated grand marshal of the city parade.
“It was quite an honor,” he said.
And in the meantime, he will continue his work sharing the stories of Layton.
“If we don’t know our history, we don’t know where we’re going,” he said. “Our history points to where we should be going by helping us look at the past.”