The Anthony W. Bessey Home
415 North 300 West in Manti, Utah
Anthony Bessey probably had this small stone house built shortly after his arrival in Manti in 1858. The home has a long association with the Bessey family and certainly construction features indicate an early building date. The house is historically important because as one of the first group of homes built outside the Manti forts, it represents the initial stage of local community development. Architecturally the Bessey House is significant as one of a number of typical house types utilized by the early Utah settlers and becomes an important example of Sanpete vernacular building.
The town of Manti, settled in 1849 by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, was the first town in the Sanpete Valley Colony. Colonists arrived in the fall of 1849 and after wintering in dugouts and wagon boxes, laid out a city in the spring and summer of 1850.1 By the winter some 20 log homes had been erected and work was beginning on a meetinghouse. One year later travelers to Manti reported seeing “several handsome two-story adobe houses, many one story dwellings, a good grist mill and a sawmill.” Threat of Indian attack caused a general pattern of fort building in the 1852-1854 period. Mormon forts were erected to enclose rows of small dwellings and the Walker War (1853-1855) made the security of protected habitation attractive to Manti residents. Peace in the later years of the decade allowed Manti residents to move out to their city lots and begin again the process of city building It was about this time, in 1858, that Anthony Bessey arrived in Manti.
Anthony Wayne Bessey was born in 1835 in Bethel, Maine. In his early years Bessey followed both the cabinetmaking and shoemaking trades. By the 1850’s Bessey had joined the Mormon church and in 1857 he migrated westward to “Zion” in Utah. At first he made shoes in Salt Lake City but in 1858 he moved his family south to the Sanpete Valley and settled in Manti. Here Bessey farmed and pursued his shoe making trade and by 1870 had a personal value of about $700 in property. For 18 years Bessey occupied a position on the high council of the Sanpete Stake of the Mormon church. In 1873-1875 he served as City Mayor and was elected to the city council in the years 1883-1890. Bessey probably had this small stone house built shortly after his arrival in Manti, c.1860. The house is an excellent example of the sturdy homes the Mormon pioneers built during the early stages of great basin settlement. In selecting a house design, Bessey followed a well-known traditional plan.
The Anthony Bessey House, built c.1860, is a 1-1/2 story square cabin folk/vernacular house type (see plan drawing). Measuring 22’x 17′ on the exterior, the house is one of the larger single unit square homes to be found in Utah. The second story is quite spacious and is reached by a boxed staircase which runs along the south wall. The stairs to the cellar run underneath those leading to the upper floor. On the north wall is the fireplace which is extremely large, more than 6′ in width. The interior has been remodeled to contemporary standards.
Externally the Bessey House is in excellent condition and virtually unaltered. The wall material is oolite limestone most certainly extracted from the “Temple Hill Quarry” several blocks to the east. The façade is
coursed ashlar; the mortar is flush with incised lines emphasizing the geometrical coursing. Other walls are less handsomely treated and while they are cut-stone they lack the even coursing present on the façade.
The house has a simple gable roof with stone fireplace at the north located internally in the wall. The stone end walls extend up to the ridge of the roof in the gables. Decoration is minimal with the heavy stone lintels over the façade openings the only suggestion of ornamentation. The façade itself is unusually asymmetrical. The front door is placed centrally, but windows occur only to the right or north side. The upstairs window is a “half” window, typical of 1-1/2 story structures. To the left of the door the wall is blank. This fenestration pattern is distinctive in its unabashed asymmetry but can possibly be partially explained by internal factors. On the south wall, beginning right at the southeast corner, the staircase extends about 3′ into the room. Windows on this end of the façade would be partially blocked by the staircase so were deleted from the overall design.
Alterations which detract from the home’s historic appearance are few. There is a one story plastered adobe room added to the rear. This west room is gabled with a brick stone flue chimney and is undoubtedly a 19th century addition to the original square house. A modern gabled front door canopy is the only serious alteration of the original house.
The square bay (roughly square) evolved as a folk building unit in England during middle ages and was employed extensively in cottage construction. The house appeared as a one-room type (with or without upper loft) as was utilized extensively throughout the English American Colonies.” Advancing westward, the “square-cabin” type house is ubiquitous on the American frontier. Mormon examples have been recorded at Nauvoo, Illinois and the square cabin house was extensively dispersed throughout the IDS western communities. Anthony Bessey most certainly would have been familiar with such a square house plan in his native Maine and opted for this rather modest design in his new western home.
The Bessey House is one of a number of folk building types employed by Manti residents in the first stages of settlement. The house is typical of smaller, more inexpensive homes built by the pioneers. Despite its rather distinctive façade, this house gains its architectural and historical significance through its unexceptional nature, i.e., its ability to define the capabilities of the average. There are both larger and smaller homes in Manti, built by people who had both more and less than Anthony Bessey. Bessey’s home, taken in the larger context of vernacular building tradition of the area, helps expand the historical record to include the total population, not just a small percentage of exceptional individuals.