Brooke Derr, Doug Fry, Jolene Despain, Steve Jorgensen with the Brighton Institute's records.

A Bright Future for the Brighton Institute’s Collection

Genesie Miller Utah State Historical Records Advisory Board

Each year, the Utah State Historical Records Advisory Board (USHRAB) awards grants to organizations throughout the state to assist with the preservation and public access of our state’s history. These grants are made possible by funding from the National Historical Records and Publications Commission at the National Archives. As we get ready for the USHRAB’s 2023 funding season, we’re going to spend the next couple weeks taking a look at some past and current projects and the work the Board does to make Utah history more accessible.

The Brighton Institute’s “Big Cottonwood Canyon Historical Society Archival Project” aims to reorganize and rehouse items in three of their collections: The Chas Nickerson collection, the Jolene Despain collection, and the Big Cottonwood Community Association (BCCA) collection. Many are interested in the history of Big Cottonwood because it was one of the first Wasatch Front canyons to be settled by pioneers and developed. The Big Cottonwood Canyon Historical Society (BCCHS) is considered by both the Brighton Institute (charged with promoting cultural and historical activities in the canyon) and the new Town of Brighton (established 2020) to be the group that preserves and articulates Big Cottonwood Canyon’s history. 

Sketch of Chas Nickerson.
Chas Nickerson

Chas Nickerson(1918–2013) was a former reporter for the Deseret News and the first local historian of the Big Cottonwood Community Council (serving as Secretary to the Board of Directors) and founded the Big Cottonwood Historical Society. The Chas Nickerson collection focuses on events in Big Cottonwood Canyon during Nickerson’s tenure as the Big Cottonwood Canyon Association (BCCA) historian, from 1950–1974. The collection has original photos, selected rare articles, pamphlets about fundraisers and other activities of the community council. The Chas Nickerson collection is important to the BCCHS, and to canyon and Utah residents, because it offers insights into five major stages of canyon development: settlement, roadbuilding, timber, mining and recreation. 

Jolene Despain grew up at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon and moved to Brighton in 1979. She and her husband, Don, owned and operated the Brighton Village Store for over 15 years, where they got to know and love the people of Big Cottonwood. She has worked as the secretary/treasurer for two water companies in the canyon since 2009. Part of the job is to keep the historical records for these companies.  This collection contains original papers of people’s stories and how the plans were laid for building the Brighton Chapel located in the Brighton Loop. Jolene knew many of the people who built and participated in the church and has been a member of the “Brighton Branch” since she moved to Brighton. She compiled the book in this collection, “Memories of Brighton.” The board of our Big Cottonwood Canyon Historical Society has a wealth of knowledge and memories of the canyon and we are enjoying collecting and preserving our history.

Photograph of Barbara Cameron
Barbara Cameron

The Big Cottonwood Community Association Collection consists of documents Barbara Cameron saved in her role as President of the BCCA. Cameron moved to Silver Fork in 1998 and quickly joined the Big Cottonwood Community Council. She was elected President in 2002. During that time she wrote the BCCA Newsletter, conducted monthly meetings, collected past BCCA-related items from neighbors, and compiled the material into a collection that reflects community history from the years 1973 to present. The Barbara Cameron collection is centered on the Big Cottonwood Community Council publications and activities from 1974–2021. The BCCA collection includes Big Cottonwood Canyon Association newsletters from 1974–2021, minutes from the BCCA meetings, printed materials from the Wayside Tales of the Wasatch canyon history series, and original pamphlets and booklets featuring mining, wildflowers, and family stories about Big Cottonwood Canyon. This collection represents a history of the advocacy of private property holders, governmental relations, fire mitigation, forest health and environmentalism that has taken place in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. 

Prior to beginning this project, the records held by the Brighton Institute were organized by subject matter. However, after taking USHRAB’s Archives Fundamentals course, the team at the Brighton Institute was inspired to rearrange these collections to be more reflective of the origins of the records. This new arrangement will help when the team develops new finding aids, which will be available on the Brighton Institute’s website. In addition to making these records available to the public, the records were kept in non-archival storage boxes and needed new, acid-free protective housing for long term storage. Thanks to the USHRAB grant of $1,304, the Brighton Institute was able to purchase these supplies and is in the process of completing their rearranging and cataloging. We are looking forward to seeing the results of this year-long project at the end of June 2023.

Brooke Derr, Barbara Cameron, Steve Jorgensen, Kara John of the Brighton Institute.
Brooke Derr, Barbara Cameron, Steve Jorgensen, Kara John of the Brighton Institute.

If your organization has records in need of organizing, arranging, and protecting, consider applying for a USHRAB grant to fund your project. You can make your records discoverable for researchers and preserve them for your community.

The USHRAB’s grant program is funded by a State Board Programming Grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission at the National Archives. The USHRAB assists public and private non-profits, as well as non-Federal government entities throughout the State of Utah in the preservation and use of historical records.