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History never recorded exactly why a Salt Lake City businesswoman named Sarah Daft left $37,000 when she died in 1906 to help build a place for those who needed a home to grow old in.

"I like to think that as she started to age, she didn't have posterity and started to think about what does someone do when they become elderly, need help and have no family to turn to," said Marsha Namba, the current director of the Sarah Daft Home.

Whatever the reason, she was decades ahead of the rest of the country.

As the assisted living center at 737 South 1300 East in Salt Lake City celebrates its centennial year, the non-profit organization that operates it has tried to retain the vision of the businesswoman, who put forth the mission of providing "high quality care at affordable rates in a homelike setting" in one of the country's first retirement homes.

And so the elegant building that opened in 1913 under the auspices of a 75-woman volunteer board hosts disabled and senior residents to this day. Along with a more modern addition in the back that was completed in 1980, the facility is home to 39 residents.

On Monday morning, 83-year-old Virginia Lee Price was moving her belongings to the small room on the second floor where she can enjoy the old building's only private balcony, which overlooks 1300 East. Each of the 12-by-14-foot rooms have a small closet, sink and medicine cabinet. Residents in this wing share bathrooms and showers. The newer wing offers studio apartments with private bathrooms and one-bedroom suites.

Prices range from $1,446 to $2,834 a month and include meals, housekeeping service, linen changes, all utilities except telephone, basic medical services, transportation, grooming and activities. There is almost always a waiting list for rooms.

Price, who came last Nov. 22, described it as a safe place.

"It's like living with 39 roommates, all of whom are different," said the former U.S. Forest Service employee who enjoys sharing her writing. "I love every single one of them. It was very difficult to lose my car and my independence. I bawled and bawled."

So, on her first day, she went to every table in the dining room and introduced herself to each resident. Sitting on a plastic chair on the balcony decorated with a tiny birdhouse and a few plants, she said that this is where she needs to be.

Hazel Browning, who has worked at the Daft home for 23 years, loves people such as Price.

"They come and go, and I get attached to some of them as well as the other employees and the bosses," she said. "It's just a really nice place to work."

The Sarah Daft Home was constructed long before Social Security began in 1935 or Medicare became part of the American legacy in 1966.

Most nursing homes didn't come into vogue until the 1950s. Namba said other than one similar home in San Francisco, the Salt Lake City facility was one of the only ones of its kind in the West for years.

Sarah Daft and her husband Alexander came to the United States in 1856 and were married in St. Louis before eventually making their way to Utah. Alexander and his brother Robert constructed a building where the old Daynes Jewelry company was located at 128 S. Main Street.

Namba said Alexander operated a mercantile that supported the growing Utah mining industry. When he died 20 years before Sarah, she took over the business and grew her wealth.

A committee of 75 women headed by Jennie Froiseth came together around 1910. The women knew Daft left money in her will for "an old folks home." The group contacted the executors of Daft's will and ended up going to court, which ruled in favor of using the money to construct the home.

While a plot of land was purchased near East High on 1300 East at what was then the edge of Salt Lake City, the first Sarah Daft Home was a rented home in the Avenues. W.H. Lepper was the architect for the present-day building that was constructed for $25,000.

"What's incredible is that it hasn't been modified much in 100 years," said Namba. "That's a huge compliment to the 75 women on the board and the builders. They built a building that had permanence in mind, not a building meant to serve for 20 years. It has stood the test of time. Our nonprofit has been able to concentrate on the care of the residents, not necessarily in the preservation of the building. It is in remarkably great shape."

The spacious living room contains a gas fireplace surrounded by green tile, comfortable chairs, an ancient piano and two old desks. Namba said some of the early residents did not have a lot of money, so they bequeathed their estates to the home, which is where some of the beautiful furnishings came from.

"Our board is exploring how we might prepare for another 100 years," said Namba. "We'd like to add an additional wing, to serve an additional 20 people, and update the 1913 side of the building, which hasn't changed since Day One."

For now, the century-old building with its stately columns sits quietly on 1300 East, a big lawn and sycamore and maple trees guarding its entrance. It still serves those who Sarah Daft hoped to help well more than 100 years ago.

Twitter: @tribtomwharton —

Centenial celebration

When • Aug. 21 at 4:30 p.m.

Who • Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, residents, staff, community members

What • Fundraising dinner and auction

Where • Backyard of the Sarah Daft Home, 737 S. 1300 East

Contact • Marsha Lamba at 801-582-5104