Chapter 6 Section A
The Great Temple At Salt Lake City Utah Historical
Where in 1847 nought but a wilderness of sagebrush and sunflowers stretched from the Wasatch barrier westward toward the shores of the great salt sea, now appears a stately city, even as was then foreseen in prophetic vision. On the site selected but four days after the advent of the pioneer band of “Mormon” colonizers, stands a massive structure, dedicated to the name of the Most High. It is at once an object of wonder and admiration to the visitor, and a subject of sanctifying joy and righteous pride to the people whose sacrifice and effort have given it being.
On the east center tower appears an inscription, the letters deep-cut in stone and lined with gold:
Holiness to the Lord
THE HOUSE OF THE LORD
Built by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Commenced April 6, 1853
Completed April 6, 1893
In one of the upper rooms a splendid art window presents an excellent view of the completed building, with side inscriptions as follows:
Corner stone laid April 6, 1853, by
President Brigham Young Assisted by his Counselors
Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards
Dedicated April 6, 1893, by
President Wilford Woodruff
Assisted by his Counselors
George Q. Cannon, Joseph F. Smith
These memorial tablets in stone and jeweled glass give the essentials as to dates in the history of the great Temple; some further data, however, may be of interest to the reader.
The Temple Block, a square of ten acres, was laid off in 1847, and is today one of the choicest sites within the city. At the General Conference of the Church held in April, 1851, an official vote was taken whereby the erection of the Temple was authorized. Be it remembered that this action was that of a people despoiled and in poverty, struggling with the unsubdued desert, the while menaced by hostile savages; and that at the time the entire population of Utah did not exceed thirty thousand souls, of whom fewer than five thousand were living within the area of the prospective city. A general epistle issued by the First Presidency of the Church, April 7, 1851, is instructive in this connection:
“A railroad has been chartered to extend from the Temple Block in this city to the stone quarry and mountain on the east, for the conveyance of building materials; the construction to commence immediately. We contemplate laying a wall around the Temple Block this season, preparatory to laying the foundation of a Temple the year following; and this we will be sure to do, if all the Saints shall prove themselves as ready to pay their tithing, and sacrifice and consecrate of their substance, as freely as we will; and if the Saints do not pay their tithing, we can neither build nor prepare for building; and if there shall be no Temple built, the Saints can have no endowments, and if they do not receive their endowments, they can never attain unto that salvation they are anxiously looking for.”
It had been decided to surround the entire block by a substantial wall. The beginning of work on this enclosure was deferred through lack of material and men until August 3, 1852; but from that date it progressed with fair rapidity, and on May 23, 1857, the wall was finished, practically as it now stands. It extends a full city block,-one eighth of a mile in each of its four directions; and, it is interesting to note, these dimensions are practically the same as those which, according to Josephus, enclosed the grounds on which stood the Temple of Herod. The wall has a base of cut stone,-a red sandstone from the mountains on the east; the base is four feet in height, and supports courses of adobes which extend ten feet higher; then follows a coping of red sandstone one foot in thickness, giving the wall a total height of fifteen feet. The adobes are hidden by a durable dressing of cement. Passage to and from the square is provided for by large gates in the center of each of the four sides. When this wall was built, City Creek ran through Temple Block; the stream is now confined to a straight channel north of the block; and the arches under which the stream once passed may be seen in the base of the wall both on the east and west sides.
The construction of the wall, in itself a great and costly undertaking for people situated as were its builders, was but an incident to the greater labor of erecting the Temple. Interest in the work was never allowed to flag; it was the theme of both poet and preacher, and the ever-pressing duty was kept in public view. The people were given to understand that the commission to build the Lord’s House was theirs, and not that of their leaders alone.
The site was dedicated and ground first broken for the foundation February 14, 1853. The occasion was a notable one, and was observed by the Saints as a day of general rejoicing. Between the date of breaking ground and the time of the next succeeding conference of the Church, preparations for the laying of the corner-stones were carried on with determination and vigor. The glad event occurred on the 6th of April, 1853-the twenty-third anniversary of the organization of the Church,-and was celebrated by the people with such evidences of thanksgiving and genuine joy as assured their devotion to the work so auspiciously begun. Civic and military bodies took part; there were processions with bands of music, and solemn services with prayer. The mayor of the city was marshal of the day; the city police served as a guard of honor, and the territorial militia marched with the congregation of the Saints. The placing of the corner-stones was celebrated as an accomplished triumph, though but a beginning.
Let it not be imagined that the work was carried through without hindrance or set-back. The foundation was commenced at the south-east corner June 16, 1853, and was completed July 23, 1855. A course of rubble was laid on the actual foundation and this was succeeded by courses of flagstone. The work had gone forward but slowly, when, in 1857, a serious interruption occurred. At that time the people prepared to abandon their homes, temporarily at least, and seek an abiding place elsewhere in the desert. The cause of the portending exodus was the approach of an armed force sent by the United States government to subdue an alleged rebellion in Utah. This military movement had been ordered through an utter misunderstanding of facts, based on vicious misrepresentation. The coming of the soldiery had been heralded with dire threats of violence; and while the people knew themselves innocent of any act of disloyalty toward the government or its officers, they had not forgotten the harrowing scenes of organized persecution in Missouri and Illinois, due to misapprehension, and they preferred the uncertainties of the desert to the dread alternative of a possible repetition of the past. In the saddening preparations for departure, the people carefully covered the foundation work on the site of the Temple; excavations were re-filled, and every vestige of masonry was obscured. At that time no part of the foundation had been carried above ground-level. When the covering-up process was complete, the site showed nothing more attractive than a remote resemblance to the barren stretch of a roughly plowed field.
It is pleasing to note that a peaceable adjustment between the army and the people was effected. The Saints returned to their homes; and the soldiers established a camp,-afterward to become a post,-at a distance of forty miles from the city.
The interruption in building operations thus occasioned was followed by a short period of comparative inactivity, after the return of the people. The foundations were uncovered; but, before the resumption of stone-laying, it was found that the rubble overlying the foundation proper and immediately under the flagstone layers seemed to have less stability than was required; and straightway both flagging and rubble were removed. Stone of best quality was substituted, and the work of actual construction was continued with renewed energy. The reconstruction was a work of years.
The temple enclosure was for a brief period the communal center of mechanical industry,-the one great work-shop of the intermountain commonwealth. The Church had established there its public works, comprising a power plant in which the energy of City Creek was harnessed to the wheel, air-blast equipment, iron foundry, and machine shops for the working of both wood and metal. Much of the work here done had no connection with the extensive building operations on Temple Block.
Beside the interruptions and delays already noted, other hindrances were inevitable, and, under the best of conditions progress could be but slow. Not until years after the “move” incident to the entrance of the federal soldiery, had the material of the main structure been decided upon. As far back as the October conference of 1852 the question of material had been considered. Oolite from the quarries in Sanpete County, red sandstone from the hills near-by, adobes with intermixed pebbles,-each had been suggested; and the matter was brought to vote, though it must be admitted, the question presented was somewhat indefinite in form. At the forenoon session of the conference on October 9, 1852, President Heber C. Kimball submitted the question: “Shall we have the Temple built of stone from Red Butte, adobes, rock, or the best stone the mountains afford?” In reply a resolution was adopted by unanimous vote to the effect “that we build a Temple of the best materials that can be obtained in the mountains of North America, and that the Presidency dictate where the stone and other materials shall be obtained.” The action is significant as showing the faith, reliance, and determination of the people. The Temple they were about to rear should be in every particular the best the people could produce. This modern House of the Lord was to be no temporary structure, nor of small proportions, nor of poor material, nor of mean or inadequate design. It was known at the outset that the building could not be finished for many a long year, for decades, perhaps, and by that time this colony would have become a commonwealth, the few would have grown to a multitude of souls. The Temple was to be worthy of the great future. Sandstone, oolite, adobe blocks, each and all were considered, and in turn rejected. The decision was to this effect,-the walls should be of solid granite. An enormous deposit of this durable stone had been discovered in the Cottonwood canyons, twenty miles to the south-east, and to those faith-impelled people it was enough to know that suitable material was available. At whatever cost of toil and sacrifice, at whatever toll of self-denial and suffering, it should be procured.