How exactly did an oasis spring out of the Lehi desert? Here's the unabridged history.
When Alan and Karen Ashton, co-founders of WordPerfect Corporation, purchased the property now known as Thanksgiving Point on Valentine's Day, 1995, it had 580 dairy cows and more than 350 acres of hay, barley, and alfalfa fields. Initially, the new owners bought the land for a farm where their children could enjoy riding horses and caring for farm animals. But their plans soon expanded to include beautiful flower gardens and extensive vegetable gardens.
"During the early days of Thanksgiving Point, new and better ideas for the property surfaced every week," says Karen. "I wanted incredible gardens with lots of roses, pansies, geraniums, and tulips. Alan wanted gardens with tomatoes, carrots, squash, and pumpkins. New ideas were prayerfully considered, researched, and then added to the master plan or discarded. It was exciting to imagine the possibilities for education and discovery."
"We wanted to create something for the people around us," says Alan. "We had been blessed financially and with a large family. We wanted to give something back to the community and the families in our area. Our vision for engaging educational activities was constantly expanding; line upon line, precept upon precept. Each time we got an idea there were additional things that complemented that idea, so it has grown. It has been exciting for us to think about the beautiful and wondrous things that gladden the heart and enliven the mind."
Leonard Grassli, a noted Salt Lake City landscape architect, joined the team to survey the land and design the garden spaces. With Grassli, the Ashtons created the first master plan for Thanksgiving Point, detailing where the animals and gardens would be located. The old milk barn was torn down and a small office trailer was brought in to accommodate the small, but growing, staff.
Plans for the flower gardens were moved to the large natural bowl on the northwest end of the property, the groundwork was set for a farmer's market and restaurant, and production greenhouses were added to provide plant material for the project. The Farm developed into a public educational display, Farm Country, where the community could enjoy the animals while learning about agriculture, conservation, and animal care.
On October 19, 1995, Thanksgiving Point hosted a ground-breaking event near the site of the present day Thanksgiving Point Golf Course. More than 500 guests braved the cold autumn weather to catch a glimpse of the latest master plan and witness the ceremonial first shovel. Alan spoke of the recreational facilities, Farm Country, and the restaurant. Karen enthusiastically described the greenhouses, nurseries, and Thanksgiving Point Gardens. Together they introduced the mission statement and expanded on the educational emphasis. Then they invited golf professional Johnny Miller to announce the construction of a Johnny Miller Signature Championship Golf Course on the property. Next it was Leonard Grassli's turn to describe in great detail the scope of the large fifty-five acre estate gardens that would someday attract visitors from around the world. To commemorate the event, Karen turned a shovel of dirt, Alan smashed a tennis ball, and Johnny Miller drove a golf ball across the Jordan River. One year after the ground breaking, what is now Harvest Restaurant, the Emporium, and Farm Country were ready to open. For four days in October, 1996, more than 45,000 curious spectators visited Thanksgiving Point's Open House. Guests were invited to tour the facilities, sample the cuisine, and provide feedback on their experience and impressions. Shortly after the Open House, Thanksgiving Point opened for business. Within the year Thanksgiving Point opened the Deli and Ice Cream Soda Fountain.
In the summer of 1997, the Thanksgiving Point Golf Course opened. This beautiful championship course is the longest course in the state, with each hole having at least five tee boxes. Utah's Golf Hall of Fame is now located in the Clubhouse.
By the summer of 2006, the nonprofit institute included the fifty-five acre Thanksgiving Point Gardens-with fifteen themed gardens and the Children's Discovery Garden; Museum of Ancient Life-the world's largest dinosaur museum; Farm Country-a working farm and agricultural exhibit with pony rides and wagon rides; Show Barn for concerts, meetings and special events; Electric Park for fairs, festivals, expos, company parties and other large-scale outdoor special events; Harvest Restaurant; a Deli and Ice Cream Soda Fountain; eight large conference and banquet rooms; the Emporium with gracious offerings for your home, ten acres of beautifully landscaped reception areas; a 4,000-seat outdoor waterfall amphitheatre, and; an 18-hole championship golf course.