One Cane, 40 Years of Hard Work, 100 Years of Celebration

by CAMERON DeWITT

Several days after the Latter-day Saints (LDS) pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847, Brigham Young stood over a dry spot of ground. He drove his walking cane into the dirt and exclaimed, “Here we will build the temple of our God.” (Gates & Widtsoe, 1924)

Construction on the temple began on February 14, 1853, with President Young turning the first shovelful of dirt during the groundbreaking ceremonies. The construction of the temple took a total of forty years to complete, during which time three other temples — St. George, Manti, and Logan —were all constructed in Utah.

Two months after the groundbreaking, in April 1853, the cornerstones were laid. Workers hauled large blocks of granite across the valley to the temple site at 50 W. North Temple St. At the site, the stones would be hewn, shaped and put into place. It would sometimes take up to eight painstaking days for workers to haul one large stone block of granite from the quarry at Little Cottonwood canyon to the temple block. (Gates & Widtsoe, 1924) The giant stones were used to create the temple walls that were 9 feet thick at the base and 6 feet thick at the top. Each granite block weighed between 2,500 and 5,600 pounds and was hauled by oxen. As the 40 years of construction evolved so did the workers’ ingenuity. They abandoned the use of oxen and instead used the railroad; trains traveled from the Little Cottonwood quarry some 20 miles southeast of the temple site.

Work on the temple moved steadily ahead until a U.S. Army led by Col. Albert Sydney Johnston was sent in 1857 to occupy the Utah Territory. The LDS workers buried the foundation to hide the construction. The LDS pioneers had lost two temples due to destruction prior to the Salt Lake Temple and they weren’t about to lose another one. Johnston’s Army settled in Camp Floyd neat present-day Fairfield, and work on the temple resumed. However, upon uncovering the foundation, defects were discovered and the completed portions were removed and redone to ensure the highest quality and stability of the temple. President Young determined that this temple would “stand through the millennium.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 15, 139) President Young was determined to complete the temple’s construction and knew that with his own faith and the faith of the LDS members it would be a monument of biblical proportions.

The temple cost an estimated $4 million in 1893 dollars, according to historian Leonard Arrington. (Campbell) Measured by today’s standards, the temple would be costly to duplicate. Local Utah contractor Ted Jacobsen, president of Jacobsen Construction, estimates that the temple would cost anywhere from $85 million to $95 million to build today. In addition, the cost wouldn’t include landscaping or Temple Square’s distinctive wall. By comparison the Delta Center, now EnergySolutions Arena cost $66 million. (Campbell)

However, President Young did not live to see the temple completed. It would be President Wilford Woodruff who would lead the dedication of the temple on April 6, 40 years after its groundbreaking. The dedication would run from April 6 to April 24.

April 6, 1943, marked the 50th anniversary of the Salt Lake Temple. A picture of the temple and three men filled 40 percent of the front page of The Salt Lake Tribune. The image was used to depict the landmark and included 69 words describing the men who made up the presiding bishopric of the LDS church. (“LDS Leaders”) The Park (City) Record discussed a jubilee program where the first ward held a dedication ceremony on April 11 and performed songs from the original dedication. (“Jubilee Program”) On the day of the ceremony a dedication was held by a local church where the following hymns were sung: “Come, Come Ye Saints”; “O My Father”; “Now Let Us Rejoice”; and “Praise to The Man.” The Salt Lake Tribune described the performances by the radio group the KSL Players and the Tabernacle Choir. (“Tribute To S.L. Temple”)

News for the 100-year anniversary began early. The Deseret News published an article in 1991 detailing the massive plan for the temple’s cleaning in preparation for the centennial mark. Scaffolds were placed to clean towers. Preparations were made to gather granite from the original quarry site in Little Cottonwood Canyon to replace existing granite that was showing weather damage. And wood window seals were to be cleaned and painted. All of this work started three years prior to the centennial, demonstrating the pioneers’ faith, grit, and ingenuity. The last time the temple was pressure washed was in 1962. (“S.L. Temple To Get Cleaning”)

The LDS church planned a plethora of events to help boost the 100-year celebration event. Activities included: a major exhibit at the Museum of Church History and Art; a satellite broadcast of the feature-length film, The Mountain of the Lord, between sessions of general conference; and the Days of ’47 Parade, which featured a special focus on the temple. (“Special Events”)

The temple’s centennial was centered on an exhibit at the LDS Museum of Church History and Art in downtown Salt Lake City titled, “The Mountain of the Lord’s House.” The exhibit featured a unique collection of documentary photographs, original architectural drawings and art work, and temple artifacts. Eyewitness accounts from personal letters and diaries from those who participated in the construction were used to personalize the experience. To help streamline the event for patrons, the exhibit was organized into 10 sections: initial planning and design stages; groundbreaking and cornerstone laying ceremonies; biographical information on the architects, builders and craftsmen; details on building materials, techniques, and challenges; particulars on why the temple took 40 years to complete; temple symbolism and religious significance; the means by which the $4-million building was financed; design and construction of the temple’s exquisite interior; and the long awaited dedication ceremonies. (“Exhibit Highlights”)

President Spencer H. Osborn researched the original dedication by President Woodruff and saw that he, his counselors, and the First Presidency set aside two days of dedication sessions to include children who were under age 8. (Older children were admitted to general sessions.) In recognition of that event, President Osborn sought approval from the First Presidency and in consultation with the Primary general presidency he invited children in the stakes of the temple district to come for a special tour. “About 45,000 primary children came during three months in the summer,” he said. “About 1,000 children came each Saturday of May, June and July [1993]; some weeks there were 2,000.” (“Special Events”)

Today the Salt Lake LDS Temple is still a recognizable icon for Utahns and LDS members alike. The attention to detail and the members’ dedication to their beliefs are stamped on the temples’ interior and exterior of Utah’s most visited tourist site. The temple is a symbol of the pioneer faith, grit, and ingenuity.

Cameron DeWitt graduated with a degree in organization communication from The University of Utah. He is working on a masters in public health at Westminster College in Salt Lake City.

Sources

The Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (1854-1886).

“LDS Leaders Mark Temple’s Dedication 50 Years Ago,” The Salt Lake Tribune, April 3, 1943, 1.

“Jubilee Program,” The Park (City) Record, April 8, 1943, 8.

Tribute To S.L. Temple: Drama Tells Story Of Building,” The Salt Lake Tribune, April 16, 1943.

S.L. Temple To Get Cleaning For Its 100th Anniversary,” Deseret News, June 28, 1991.

Exhibit highlights temple’s 100th anniversary,” Moscow-Pullman Daily News, February 12, 1993.

Special Events To Mark Temple’s Anniversary,” Deseret News, February 7, 1993.

“Salt Lake Mormon Temple Turns 100 Years April 6,” The Prescott (Ariz.) Courier, February 26, 1993.

“LDS Leaders Mark Temple’s Dedication 50 Years Ago,” The Salt Lake Tribune, April 3, 1943, 1.

Joel Campbell, “Temple Marks First Century,” Deseret News, April 6, 1993, 1.

Susan Young Gates and Leah D. Widtsoe, Life Story of Brigham Young: Mormon Leader, Founder of Salt Lake City, and Builder of an Empire in the Uncharted Wastes of Western America (New York: Ayer Co. Publishing, 1924).

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