Like so many things in life, there are two ways of looking at history.
Henry Ford once said, "History is bunk."
Cicero, on the other hand, called history "the witness of the times, the torch of truth, the life of memory, the teacher of life, the messenger of antiquity."
Here in Payson, the long-simmering debate over the value of history has boiled over once again. The Rim Country Heritage Park, scheduled to be built on a 5,434-square-foot parcel of land at the northwest corner of Main Street and McLane Road, is threatened by a potential referendum.
One of the more historically significant places in Payson, it was the site of Boardman's Mercantile Store, the first non-wood building in Payson. It also housed our first bank, first post office, and official clock.
Meanwhile, down Main Street a ways, the sawmill whistle has gone silent -- stilled by a mechanical snafu caused when annoyed neighbors asked Sawmill Crossing to tinker with its schedule.
The historic whistle, which once announced the beginning and end of the work day and the lunch hour, began blowing again last year following a grassroots campaign by descendants of the mill's employees and a group of Payson Elementary School students.
As of yesterday, the town had decided to proceed with the early phases of the heritage park despite the threat of a referendum.
Gordon Whiting, vice president of property management for Kaibab Industries which owns Sawmill Crossing, is attempting to negotiate a compromise with concerned neighbors over the whistle.
As we struggle to resolve these issues, the words of town historian Stan Brown come to mind. When asked in an interview several years ago why history matters, Brown called it "a humanizing force" that "helps you to realize that you aren't the first person to experience whatever, that other people have had to cope with the things you're coping with, and that gives encouragement and hope."
Brown also believes those of us who are not Rim country natives need to adopt the history of the area.
"It's important," he said, "to have a sense of ‘rootage.' I may move in here as an outsider, but I can feel more quickly at home if I know I have moved into a history, something that has a background."
It's ironic that these latest challenges to our own history are unfolding against the backdrop of the war in Iraq -- where some are looting that nation's storied heritage into oblivion.
We are reminded of the adage that those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it. And of the words of the German poet August Schlegel:
"The historian is a prophet looking backwards."
If we don't preserve the past, what will we build our future on?