Dugouts were common starter shelters. The dugout on the pioneer site is called a half-dugout, because it is half above ground, half underground. Dugouts could be dug out of the hillside, or in the ground, with minimal timber used to finish them off. When settlers first came to Cache Valley, the majority of the wood available was cottonwood, willow and aspen, from along the rivers like we have here in the hollow. Then men and older boys would have to hitch up the horses and wagons and go to nearby canyons to get pine to build cabins. The dugouts use less timber, making this type of shelter quicker to build.
The dugout at the AWHC is a replica based on the journals of Charles Nibley, (who settled the town of Nibley.) His family built a dugout that looked just like this one in Wellsville in 1860, when he was 11 years old. He recorded and described the exact dimensions and how the dugout looked. The eight member Nibley family lived in the dugout from 1860-1862.
Because it is partially dug out of the ground, the dugout temperature stays between 60 and 70 degrees. This makes it warm and insulated in the winter and nice and cool in the summer. After traveling over a thousand miles over every type of terrain, families were glad to have somewhere to call home. Charles recalls “I do recollect that my dear old mother has stated on many occasions that no queen who ever entered her palace was ever happier or prouder of her shelter and the blessings of the Lord than she was when she entered that completed dugout.”