A History of the Salt Lake Mormon Temple

March 21, 2011  
Filed under Salt Lake City Mormon Temple

By Richard.

The 150 temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon Church) dotting all four corners of the earth are all equal in magnificence and power. However, the most popular is the Salt Lake Temple with its distinctive spires and overall appearance which stands as a symbol of the Church. Spanning an area of 253,000 square feet ― it is the largest Mormon Temple in the world. Its Romanesque/Gothic architectural design, which is similar to the great castles in Europe, has amazed millions of temple goers and visitors from across the globe.  For more than a century since its construction, it has stood as a symbol of the faith, dedication, and sacrifice of the early Mormon pioneers, who consecrated all that they possessed for the furtherance of the Lord’s work.

salt lake mormon templeThe Mormons Arrive at the Salt lake Valley

After a long and tedious march from Nauvoo, Illinois, and Winter Quarters, Nebraska, the Mormons entered the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847 under the leadership of a Mormon prophet, Brigham young, who succeeded Joseph Smith as President of the Church. Most of them were afflicted by mountain fever, including Brigham Young himself. Four days after they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young walked a short distance with some members of the company to survey the area. When they reached the spot he saw in a vision, he planted his walking stick on the ground and declared, “Here we will build the temple of our God.”  Six years later, on 14 February 1853, he presided over the groundbreaking for the new temple, and the cornerstone was laid on April 6th of the same year.

Building the House of the Lord

Due to insufficient funds and difficulty in obtaining materials for construction, the building of the Salt Lake Temple was slow, and frequently encountered interruptions. The foundation and footings were composed of sandstone from nearby Red Butte Canyon, while the walls were made from huge blocks of granite from a vast mountain deposit in little Cottonwood Canyon, some twenty miles from the temple site. As many as 150 men worked on the temple at any given time, consecrating their time, effort, talent, and money for the building of the sacred edifice.

Transporting granite to the temple site was done using teams of oxen, a four-day round trip, which proved to be a real challenge for the workers. The arrival of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 solved the transportation problem, which significantly sped up the construction work. In 1855, the entire foundation was completed.

However, in 1858, the construction was stopped temporarily due to the arrival of Federal troops during the Utah War. Brigham young advised the saints to completely evacuate their houses and abandon the unfinished temple.  Before they left, they filled their houses with hay and dry leaves, and buried the entire temple foundation, making it to appear like unto a farmer’s plowing field to avoid unwanted attention.

The saints returned to the construction site when the tension dissipated. When the foundation was uncovered, huge cracks were found, making it apparently insufficient to support the weight of a granite temple. After much prayer and meditation, Brigham Young ordered the Latter-day Saints to tear down the foundation, which had taken them 9 years to build, and replace it with Quartz monzonite (similar to granite) from Little Cottonwood Canyon, 20 miles southeast from the temple site.

Laying the Capstone

The lengthy construction of the external part of Salt Lake Temple finally reached its completion with the laying of the capstone on 6 April 1892. Soon after, the 12.5 feet high, gold-leafed copper statue was placed on top of the center eastern spire of the temple.

The statue represents an angel named Moroni, who appeared to Joseph Smith and directed him to the gold plates containing sacred records of some early inhabitants of Ancient America, which he (Joseph Smith) translated by the power of God, and published as the Book of Mormon. The same statue can be found atop each Latter-day Saints Temple nowadays, representing both a messenger of the restoration of the gospel, and a herald for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Around fifty thousand Mormon Church members occupied Temple Square and the adjoining streets on the day of the Capstone Ceremony. Within one year, the interior of the House of the Lord was completed through the spirit of unity among members of the Church, who consecrated all that they could offer. Both men and women gifted with talents and skills in wood and stone carving, painting, designing, sewing, and embroidery were brought into service, while others outside the temple were busy preparing food and drinks to sustain the workers inside.


On April 6, 1893, exactly 40 years after the laying of the cornerstone, the Salt Lake City Utah Mormon Temple was dedicated amidst rejoicing and tremendous spiritual outpourings. President Wilford Woodruff, the fourth President of the Church offered the dedicatory prayer. The first of twenty-three dedicatory sessions was attended by more than 2,200 Latter-day Saints, filling the large assembly room on the fourth floor of the temple.

The Salt Lake City temple is the fourth operating Mormon temple and the sixth temple built by the Church. During its construction, 3 more temples were started and completed: the St. George Utah TempleLogan Utah Temple, and Manti Utah Temple.  The dedication, faith, and sacrifices of the early Mormons who participated in the construction of this sacred structure are a fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 2:2:

“And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.”








2 Responses to “A History of the Salt Lake Mormon Temple”
  1. Paul Thomas Smith says:

    For seventeen summers, three men from the Church Educational System, including me, presented lectures at the site of the first Temple quarry in the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon. We did so in behalf of the U.S. Forest Service and the seminary and institute program.

    I would like to correct a couple of errors in Richard’s account. First, despite popular belief, only a small portion of the sandstone was removed and replaced. Second, the stone quarried from Little Cottonwood Canyon was quartz monzonite, a “cousin” to granite. Granite was never used in the construction of the Temple, because large quantities were simply not available.

    The privately-owned Wasatch and Jordan Valley Railroad, utilizing narrow-gauge rails, was constructed a mile up the canyon in 1873. The railway was used to transport silver ore to smelters in the valley below. The Church paid the railroad company a fee to ship the quarried stone from the canyon to a standard gauge track that ran to Salt Lake City. A spur line ran along South Temple and onto the south side of the Temple. Shipping stone by railroad meant that as much as 40,000 pounds of stone could be transported to Temple Block within a four hour period.

  2. aaron says:

    I really like the comments that Paul Thomas Smith made, my son is doing a history fair project on how building the railroad revolutionized the building of the salt lake temple. I am wondering if Paul can share a little more information and link as to where he found information about the railroad and temple.

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