Walking around Temple Square today


the Salt Lake Temple is surrounded by scaffolding in March 2023. Finial stones from the spires and sides of the temple have been removed for cleaning and installation after seismic upgrades are completed. (Sicily Stanton)

Recently I went to Temple Square in Salt Lake City to see what I could learn about the original construction of the temple as well as the status of earthquake retrofitting and other current renovations.

Through this experience, I was reminded of the sacrifice, love and hard work of those who came before us to build such a marvelous temple at the heart of the Beehive State. Remembering those early Saints gives me a newfound appreciation for the sacredness and holiness of the Salt Lake Temple that still stands proudly today, 130 years after it was dedicated.

Crossing the street into Temple Square is still allowed with large fences restricting access onto temple grounds. As I walked on, sister missionaries were there to greet me offering tours and information. They led me to the large barriers separating the rest of the square and the temple construction site. 

Lining the walls were old photographs of the original construction of the temple with snippets of information behind the inspiration and logistics the early pioneers followed during construction beginning 170 years ago. 

One old photograph of the temple printed onto the wall had the caption, “Find Refuge: Temple architecture represents a place of safety and protection.” Another reads, “Look Up: Each temple feature points to the Lord.”

Toward the center of the barrier, the walls became transparent and I peered into the construction site where the ground drops off and the foundation of the temple was exposed. Machines and crews in bright orange vests and hard hats surrounded the temple as they got to work. 

I made my way just north of the temple to the Conference Center, used to host the semiannual worldwide broadcast of the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Displays in the Conference Center offered even more insight into the original construction of the temple and the progress being made on it now. 

Up the stairs on the second floor and just to the right, I found sister missionaries offering to play a video produced by the church on the original construction of the temple. 

The video began by explaining the innate need of the pioneers to build a temple in this newly discovered land that they had walked so far to find. When the first of the pioneers settled in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, they focused immediately on building a temple. 

The Church Newsroom offers more insight in an article titled, “Granite and Faith: The Story of the Salt Lake Temple.” It states that within days of the pioneers’ arrival, Brigham Young, the prophet at the time, waved his hand over a spot of ground and declared it as the location that the temple would be built on. 

Once the location of the temple had been chosen, the rest of the city was built around it. The temple was symbolically at the center of each of the pioneers’ hearts, but literally at the center of their new city. Each street counts down to the temple as 200 West means two blocks west of the temple and 500 South, is five blocks south. 

Building the temple was labor-intensive and slow. Granite was extracted from Little Cottonwood Canyon, now home to Alta and Snowbird ski resorts, and then transported the nearly 20 miles back to the temple site. 

Quartz monzonite (similar to granite) was used for the exterior of the Salt Lake Temple. (Sicily Stanton)

The blocks of granite were huge, weighing from 2,500 to 5,600 pounds each, and were then transported by ox-drawn wagons which could take up to four days to make the journey. However, everything changed when the railroads were built, cutting the time significantly. 

After finishing the video in the Conference Center, I walked up another flight of stairs to find an exhibit overlooking the temple with artifacts from the original construction. Among these was a slab of granite like the ones extracted from Little Cottonwood Canyon. 

The plaque next to it read, “Generations of Latter-day Saints donated their time to quarry the stone, transport it to the temple site, shape it, and place it in the temple walls.” Behind the slab of granite was a blown-up photograph of the quarrymen who cut the stones at the temple quarry in the 1860s. It explained that giant boulders in the canyon were cut into small blocks before being moved to the temple site.

Throughout the construction of the temple, Brigham Young called upon many skilled artisans to add their talents to the temple interior. Most of this work was donated labor as the early pioneers would take breaks from building and establishing their own homes to adding beauty and craftsmanship to the temple. 

On the third floor exhibit of the Conference Center, I saw samples of the detailed and ornamented pieces from the work of the talented early members of the Church. The exhibit included a column capital that shows how the rich ornament was built and the variety of finish colors used in the temple. There was also a parquet floor sample on display to show that even the flooring of the temple was beautifully designed. There is a massive door key that was used to lock some of the exterior doors of the temple in the early 20th century and plaster samples that were used to finish the ceilings of the temple. 

Close by was a blown-up photograph of some of the carpenters, plasterers and painters that worked on the temple in 1892. Stacked in front of them were the architectural finishes for the room, including woodwork, radiators and some of the tools used to build the temple. It was fascinating to be able to see the faces of some of the workers that made the temple into what it is today. 

Besides the magnificent artistry incorporated into the temple, as technological advances became more available, they were included into the construction such as indoor heating, plumbing and electrical light fixtures. These modern advancements were dazzling to the early members of the Church as most of them couldn’t afford them in their own homes. 

After watching the video at the Conference Center and perusing the exhibit on the next floor, I couldn’t help but think what a blessing it truly is that the temple took as long as it did to complete. Although it took so painstakingly long and must have been a real trial of patience, the time it took allowed for modern advances to be incorporated that made it as Brigham Young once said, “(built) not for today nor tomorrow, but for all eternity.”

Several situations arose that halted the construction or set it back throughout the 40-year period it took to complete. On one of these occasions, one or two blocks of granite had to be taken down and reapplied as construction workers had been using chips of granite between the blocks in order to minimize the use of expensive mortar to save money. Brigham Young reminded the workers that quality was the priority because the temple needed to last into the eternities. 

At another point, workers began to notice large cracks in the foundation walls and had to start all over again, removing all of the stones from the bottom layer and replacing them with higher quality stones. Once, construction was even halted at a point and the foundation was buried as a U.S. Army contingent was sent to occupy the territory and Church leaders were still wary of the government after being failed so many times in the East. 

As construction came to a close in 1892, tens of thousands of people gathered around the temple littering the streets and nearby rooftops to catch a glimpse of the final capstone of the temple being put into place.  

That final capstone, a sphere of concrete at the base of the angel Moroni, contained a time capsule which many in attendance contributed to including books, photographs, letters and coins. That capstone would be opened by Church historians and the First Presidency 128 years later as the earthquake retrofit began, revealing long-concealed treasures. 

One year after that capstone was placed on the top of the temple signifying its completion, the temple was dedicated in April 1893 by Wilford Woodruff, the fourth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Things have certainly changed since the original construction of the Salt Lake Temple. The current renovations may be taking longer than originally expected but it is nowhere near the grueling 40 years that surely tested the patience and diligence of the early Saints. 

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