Historical Highlight: Peteetneet Museum and Cultural Arts stands as testament to Payson Citizens

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There is a lot of history found throughout Payson, but the Peteetneet Museum and Cultural Arts Center stands above the rest.

This former school sits just off 100 North at the eastern end of Utah Avenue in Payson. The building, which is part of the National Register of Historic Places, has undergone massive restoration and yet, has still been able to maintain its historical look and structure for over 120 years.

Peteetneet Academy came out of necessity when in 1897, the four one-room schools throughout the city were nearing capacity. Discussions were held to decide on a solution to build a school big enough to house first grade through eighth grade students from the area.

The city offered the then-Payson School District the gravel bed on the east side of town. Many at that time believed putting the school on the east side would be a hardship for students since many lived on the west side.

Payson offered the double block to the school district with a clause that the land would return to the city if the district ever decided to no longer use the site. With all that in writing, district officials moved forward with the plan. 

Utah County Architect Richard C. Watkins designed the building with a Victorian style. Much of the material came from John E. Spencer’s sawmill in Payson who provided lumber, while red sandstone came from Spanish Fork Canyon. 

It wasn’t just materials that were sourced locally, but many Payson locals worked on the school including general contractor Henry Erlandson with woodwork, David P. McDowell on masonry, and John Powell on painting.

The school featured a belfry, but never had a bell installed. Local resident Charlie Long included in his will the means of adding one, but that wish never came to pass.

The school officially opened its doors in January 1902. It carried the name of Chief Peteetneet, the leader of the Timpanogos Ute tribe who was friendly with the early settlers.

The school housed first through eighth graders before adding ninth graders in 1905. The upper grades, however, slowly began moving to other schools. 

The school did host a six-week summer kindergarten in 1935, but it did not last long. A school-year kindergarten did join the school in 1951.

Peteetneet Academy also hosted a hot lunch program starting in 1936. This program saw expansion over the years. 

The school itself also expanded as it opened a new wing on the north side of the building in 1959. The new wing was home to a large auditorium — which also doubled as a dining area — a kitchen, additional classrooms, and a library.

Despite all these expansions, the school began to deteriorate in 1988. Due to this, Nebo School District opted to abandon the school, moving students to newer facilities within the city. The abandonment of the school put the building and land back into the possession of the city. 

Payson had plans to demolish the school,  but local residents had other plans. Larry Brown and Dr. Gordon Taylor banded together with local residents to form the nonprofit organization, People Preserving Peteetneet, saving the school from demolition.

Residents donated their time to restoring the school with some working 8-16-hour days. People Preserving Peteetneet also worked to secure grants, including $100,000 from the Utah Department of Transportation, due to the fact that the school sits on the Nebo Loop Scenic Byway.

The school became a museum and cultural art center. Exhibits within the museum include glimpses of the past as well as various art and artifact galleries. Peteetneet also serves as a civic center as it hosts various classes and activities throughout the year.

A variety of activities happen at the old school and its surrounding grounds including weddings, cultural activities, concerts, and many other events.

In a written history of the building, the city states that the old school stands as a testament of civic pride and passion of the Payson citizens.

“Not only is it the restoration and preservation of a beautiful historic school building, but it is a gathering place for children and adults who want to enjoy the facility and what it has to offer,” the document states.

The museum is typically open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Those interested in visiting can call ahead at 801-465-5265 or 801-465-9427.

There is a lot of history found throughout Payson, but the Peteetneet Museum and Cultural Arts Center stands above the rest.

This former school sits just off 100 North at the eastern end of Utah Avenue in Payson. The building, which is part of the National Register of Historic Places, has undergone massive restoration and yet, has still been able to maintain its historical look and structure for over 120 years.

Peteetneet Academy came out of necessity when in 1897, the four one-room schools throughout the city were nearing capacity. Discussions were held to decide on a solution to build a school big enough to house first grade through eighth grade students from the area.

The city offered the then-Payson School District the gravel bed on the east side of town. Many at that time believed putting the school on the east side would be a hardship for students since many lived on the west side.

Payson offered the double block to the school district with a clause that the land would return to the city if the district ever decided to no longer use the site. With all that in writing, district officials moved forward with the plan. 

Utah County Architect Richard C. Watkins designed the building with a Victorian style. Much of the material came from John E. Spencer’s sawmill in Payson who provided lumber, while red sandstone came from Spanish Fork Canyon. 

It wasn’t just materials that were sourced locally, but many Payson locals worked on the school including general contractor Henry Erlandson with woodwork, David P. McDowell on masonry, and John Powell on painting.

The school featured a belfry, but never had a bell installed. Local resident Charlie Long included in his will the means of adding one, but that wish never came to pass.

The school officially opened its doors in January 1902. It carried the name of Chief Peteetneet, the leader of the Timpanogos Ute tribe who was friendly with the early settlers.

The school housed first through eighth graders before adding ninth graders in 1905. The upper grades, however, slowly began moving to other schools. 

The school did host a six-week summer kindergarten in 1935, but it did not last long. A school-year kindergarten did join the school in 1951.

Peteetneet Academy also hosted a hot lunch program starting in 1936. This program saw expansion over the years. 

The school itself also expanded as it opened a new wing on the north side of the building in 1959. The new wing was home to a large auditorium — which also doubled as a dining area — a kitchen, additional classrooms, and a library.

Despite all these expansions, the school began to deteriorate in 1988. Due to this, Nebo School District opted to abandon the school, moving students to newer facilities within the city. The abandonment of the school put the building and land back into the possession of the city. 

Payson had plans to demolish the school,  but local residents had other plans. Larry Brown and Dr. Gordon Taylor banded together with local residents to form the nonprofit organization, People Preserving Peteetneet, saving the school from demolition.

Residents donated their time to restoring the school with some working 8-16-hour days. People Preserving Peteetneet also worked to secure grants, including $100,000 from the Utah Department of Transportation, due to the fact that the school sits on the Nebo Loop Scenic Byway.

The school became a museum and cultural art center. Exhibits within the museum include glimpses of the past as well as various art and artifact galleries. Peteetneet also serves as a civic center as it hosts various classes and activities throughout the year.

A variety of activities happen at the old school and its surrounding grounds including weddings, cultural activities, concerts, and many other events.

In a written history of the building, the city states that the old school stands as a testament of civic pride and passion of the Payson citizens.

“Not only is it the restoration and preservation of a beautiful historic school building, but it is a gathering place for children and adults who want to enjoy the facility and what it has to offer,” the document states.

The museum is typically open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Those interested in visiting can call ahead at 801-465-5265 or 801-465-9427.

Josh Martinez
Josh Martinez
Josh Martinez is a graduate of Southern Utah University and Arizona State University where he studied communication and journalism. He has written for numerous publications in both Arizona and Utah on a bevy of topics including sports, city government and education. Martinez is a 2009 graduate of Springville High School and lives in Springville with his high school sweetheart and two kids

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