Thursday, July 18, 2013

Salt Lake LDS Temple

Historical photo courtesy of Digital Collections.  Photo dated ca. 1887

On the 24th of July, 1847, pioneers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as Mormons or LDS) arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.  A mere four days latter, the 28th of July, Brigham Young, the leader of the Mormons, drove his cane into a spot of ground and declared that the location would be where the LDS members would build the Salt Lake Temple.

Constructing the temple was a long, 40 year affair.  Truman O. Angell, Sr. was named head architect of the building.  He traveled to Europe to study the cathedrals located around the continent.  Young gave Angell a very rough sketch of the building that he wanted constructed.  "Brigham Young drew upon a slate in the architect's office a sketch, and said to Truman O. Angell: 'There will be three towers on the east, representing the President and his two counselors; also three similar towers on the west representing the Presiding Bishop and his two counselors; the towers on the east the Melchisedek priesthood, those on the west the Aaronic priesthood.  The center towers will be higher than those on the sides, and the west towers a little lower than those on the east end.  The body of the building will be between these.'" 

Young originally called for the site of the temple to be forty acres but later reduced it to ten acres to make it compatible with the ten-acre blocks proposed for the city.  The reduction in the lot size left the Salt Lake Temple on what is the northeast quadrant of the present site rather than what would have been the middle of the originally proposed forty-acre site.

The temple holds a central location in Salt Lake geography.  Salt Lake is laid out in a grid with South Temple and Main Street, which previously was called East Temple, serving a zero.  Every block traveled from those roads, the address increases by 100.  It can be a horribly confusing system for visitors, but once you finally figure it out, it makes it incredibly easy to get around anywhere in the Salt Lake Valley.  It also makes it so that every address in Salt Lake Valley refers to how far that location is from the Temple.  For example, 900 E 900 S is nine blocks east and nine blocks south of the Temple and Temple Square.

In 1852, construction began on the 14 foot wall around the temple block, now known as Temple Square.  During a conference held in October 1852, Heber C. Kimball asked whether the temple should be built using sandstone, adobe, or "the best stone we can find in these mountains."  The congregation voted for the best stone possible.  In the mid 1850's, deposits of granite were discovered in Little Cottonwood Canyon, twenty miles southeast of Salt Lake City, and it was determined that it should be quarried for the temple's construction.  The temple site was dedicated on Fedruary 14, 1853.  Some claim that the photo below is a image of the groundbreaking ceremony.

Photo courtesy of Digital Collections

The Utah War started in 1857, sending US troops to Utah.  To protect the temple grounds, pioneers covered the temple foundation to make it appear as if it were a farm.  After the tensions eased in 1858, the foundation was uncovered only to discover that several of the sandstone blocks originally used had cracked.  These stones were removed and replaced with granite stones from the Little Cottonwood Quarry.  Rebuilding the foundation proceeded slowly; the foundation did not reach ground level until 1867, fourteen years after the original cornerstones were laid.  The picture below shows Temple Square and the temple's foundation in 1867.

Photo courtesy of Digital Collections

In 1869, a solution was found to the extremely long trip required to haul stone by oxen.  In 1869 the transcontinental railroad had been completed at Promontory Summit and in that same year a rail line called the Utah Southern was completed towards Utah County.  Near the south end of the Salt Lake Valley, this rail line curved towards the east, following the current TRAX line in Draper, to make the Little Cottonwood Quarry more accessible.  Shipping the stone blocks to the temple via rail car rather than oxen saved considerable time and dramatically sped up the temple's construction.

Historical photo courtesy of Digital Collections.  Photo dated 1886.

Construction steadily continued until April 6, 1892, when LDS members gathered at Temple Square to hear "The Capstone March" played by a local band.  That day the capstone, the circular ball on the center eastern spire, was placed.  The ball was hollowed out and filled with scriptures, books, and historical mementos, including music, coins, photographs, and "a polished brass plaque inscribed with historical information."  Later that day the 12.5 foot tall statue of the Angel Moroni, the first on any temple in Utah, was placed atop the 210 foot tall eastern spire. 

Photo courtesy of Digital Collections

Photo courtesy of Digital Collections

 Photo courtesy of Digital Collections

After construction was completed, then-president of the LDS church Wilford Woodruff asked that the interior of the temple be completed within one year.  Carpenters, artists, glassblowers, and seamstresses worked almost constantly to complete the project within the proscribed timeframe.  Woodruff dedicated the temple on April 6, 1893, exactly forty years after the cornerstone was laid.  At the time of construction, the temple cost $3.5 million to complete.

 Historical photo courtesy of Digital Collections.  Photo dated 1908

Historical photo courtesy of Digital Collections.  Photo dated 1911

While constructing the Temple, the Mormon pioneers crafted several symbolic features into the building's stones.  One of the most prominent is the Big Dipper, which is on the west side of the building.  The constellation references how the temple can help people find their way back to heaven.  One of my favorite symbolic additions are the "moonstones", stones with the moon cut into them, near what would be the top of the 1st floor.  These stones, which represent life in all of its phases, if followed from right to left successively represent the moon's new, first-quarter, full, and third-quarter phases.  If you'd like to read more about the symbolism in the building, click here.

While Temple Square is the most popular tourist attraction in Utah, only Mormons with a temple recommend can enter inside of the building.  In 1911 a man named Gisbert Bossard took several photos inside the temple.  The photos were given to Max Florence who attempted to sell them in New York while conducting a series of lectures using the photos.  This controversial issue died once a buyer could not be found, and the LDS church published the book House of the Lord, which contained higher quality photos of the temple's inside.  Currently photos of the interior can be seen in the South Visitors Center and a very elaborate diorama of the inside of the building can be viewed at this KSL site.

Photo courtesy of Digital Collections

Photo courtesy of

A common rumor associated with the Salt Lake temple is that Brigham Young had the foresight or revelation from God to keep the pillars hollow, which were later used as elevators.  Unfortunately, this is just an urban myth and is not true.  The areas were kept hollow for elevators, but the technology was already know by the temple's builders.  In fact, the technology existed long before the construction of the Temple; the Palace of Versailles had an elevator installed as early as 1743.  

Another common rumor about the Temple are about the numerous tunnels leading to and from the Temple to various locations around Salt Lake City.  Utah Stories did an excellent summary of the tunnels, discussing that there are tunnels and many are used on a daily basis by temple patrons.  There is the possibility of other tunnels, which is not unusual of any city older than 100 years.  Finally, Utah Stories discusses additional tunnels found around Salt Lake City, including the tunnel from the City and County Building to what was previously the jail, now currently the public library.

Probably the most fantastic legend regarding the temple is about the statue of the Angel Moroni.  Rumors claim that the statue is made of pure gold, although it is actually made of bronze and covered in gold leaf (one story I heard claims that someone once tried to steal the statue using a helicopter because they thought that it was solid gold).  Many claim that the gold came from the Lost Rhodes Mine, a mine somewhere in the Uinta mountains.  One website states, "The story begins with Brigham Young adopting and baptizing Chief Wakara, of the Ute Indians, as a member of the Mormon Church.  Wakara made an agreement with Brigham that he could designate one man as his representative and Wakara would show him where a fabulous gold mine was located.  Brigham designated Thomas Rhoades as his representative.  Wakara took Rhoads to the secret place where the gold was hidden, only after he and Brigham had agreed that no other man would ever know it's location.... According to the story the mine was located in the Unita Mountains, in an area approximately 75 miles long from Hanna to White Rocks."  Legend says that the mine brought a bounty of gold wealth to the early Mormon church, but all attempts to find it since have been fruitless.

Historical photo courtesy of Digital Collections.

Thanks to the follow sites that assisted me in researching about the Salt Lake Temple:, Wikipedia, Brigham Young University,,, and Utah History to Go.

LOST IN HISTORY: Although the Salt Lake Temple was the first temple that the Mormon pioneers in Utah started constructing, it was not the first to be completed.  Which temples in Utah were completed before the Salt Lake Temple?

Answer to the previous "Lost In History": The historical item that was attached to the center spire of the Assembly Hall was the angel attached to the top of the Nauvoo Temple.  Although this angel is often associated with Moroni due to Moroni's prominence atop LDS temples, the angel was of no individual in particular.  As opposed to the current image of the angel Moroni, which stands vertically, the angel atop the Nauvoo temple laid horizontally.


  1. Great post as always. Ive never heard the story about the helicopter heist, though I have heard that moroni is full of bullet holes.

    The first temples were St. George, Logan and Manti...right?

  2. Thanks. I haven't heard of the bullet hole story but it is entertaining. I'm sure there are a million more out there (and I love hearing about them).

    Correct, three were completed before the Salt Lake and they were the St. George, Logan, and Manti temples.

  3. Love the post. The diorama was really interesting. Thanks for writing such a wonderful reminder of why all streets point towards the temple.