Stories of Sacrifice and Devotion: The People Who Built and Loved a Temple

Stories of Sacrifice and Devotion: The People Who Built and Loved a Temple

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In March 1893, Lucy Flake and her husband embarked on a long, perilous trip from their Arizona home to Salt Lake City to participate in the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple.

"We went by team," she explained in her journal, "as we hadn't the money to go on train." The journey by wagon was "a cold hard trip, through snow and mud."

Such stories of sacrifice and devotion fill the journals and histories of a people inextricably linked to the building of a temple to their God in the mid-to-late 1800s.

The Salt Lake Temple, an enduring image of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and of the community, was central to the faith of the pioneers who settled the Salt Lake Valley. Unlike Latter-day Saint meetinghouses, where anyone may attend Sunday services and other meetings, temples are open only to faithful Church members for the performance of their highest, most sacred rites.

More than 40 years before Lucy Flake's journey, an anonymous member of the Church who attended the icy groundbreaking ceremony on 14 February 1853, wrote, "I went through frozen mud and slush with my feet tied up in rags."

This Church member wore only thin Scottish-plaid pants, a calico shirt and a straw hat that day. "These were all the clothes I had," he noted. "It was go that way or stay home ... I was not alone in poverty; ... there were many who were fixed as badly as I was."

The building of the Salt Lake Temple was an unprecedented undertaking at that time in the early history of the Church and in the history of the United States.

It was accomplished by generally impoverished pioneers who suffered through two national economic depressions, harassment from the federal government, crop failures and food shortages.

In 1856 Charles Rockwood, another early settler, noted: "After the bran was all consumed we were three weeks without bread, meat or milk. [We] only had to sustain life from what could be gathered as greens from the fields consisting principally of cat tails, roots, thistles, pig weeds and other greens."

Daniel H. Wells explained the inaccessibility of manpower at the time: "Circumstances render it impossible to go on with the Public Works; we have enough work to do but do not have provisions to keep the laborer ... We have got along from hand to mouth in order to conduct the matter on the present limited scale, and are obliged to stop operations until after the harvest."

Despite these hardships, early Church members pressed forward in their efforts to build their sacred temple while establishing and fortifying a fledgling community.

Countless numbers of Latter-day Saint men worked on the temple's exterior granite stone, quarried from a deposit in Little Cottonwood Canyon some 20 miles southeast of Temple Square.

The Church maintained a permanent camp at the quarry during the early years of construction. At any given time it could accommodate from 30 to 40 men who worked 10-hour days, six days a week.

These men split all of the granite stones for the temple from boulders -- some weighing as much as 3,700 tons. Each stone weighed between 2,000 and 6,000 pounds.

The stones were hauled by wagon from the quarry to the temple site along a road that was riddled with hills and gullies, streams and sandpits. Three or four yoke of oxen and full-time teamsters were required to make the four-day round-trip journey from the quarry to the temple block.

The road was littered with broken wagons and lost stone. Joseph Fielding Smith, a young man at the time who later became president of the Church, recalled: "In the summer much of my time was spent in Little Cottonwood Canyon, and there I watched the men digging and blasting the great granite blocks and preparing them for delivery to the temple. I can remember the days of the ox teams and how they tugged with their heavy loads, and how at intervals down the canyon road rough-cut blocks had skidded from the wagons and were lost."

The task of cutting and dressing the stones was arduous. James Moyle, a quarry worker, said, "Not only days, but weeks, were required to dress some of the stones."

Latter-day Saints contributed in many other ways toward the building of the Salt Lake Temple.

Truman O. Angell, a carpenter, was appointed Church architect in January 1850. Several years later he began work on plans for the temple, then traveled to Europe for further training.

The Church also sent several young, aspiring Latter-day Saint artists to Paris to study their fields of art for the benefit of the Church and the temple.

Margaret Shelton Kinsey, as a teenager in the 1880s, had no money to contribute to the project. She collected patches of wool that sheep left behind on twigs and barbed-wire fences, formed the wool into small balls and then sold the wool for money that she contributed to the building of the temple. Years later she would tell her grandchildren that in her own way, she had helped pay for the temple.

Among other quiet contributors were Latter-day Saint wives, mothers and sisters who lifted no stones, but worked in a myriad of other capacities toward the building of the temple. Many worked at home to support their families.

John Nicoll worked for two years cutting stone in the quarry. His pay came only in the form of food for his family, so it became necessary to find a way to acquire other necessities. Nicoll's wife, Betsy Elizabeth, made buckskin gloves and work clothes that she sold to the other stonecutters. She also had two good cows and made butter and cheese that she sold to the Church.

The Salt Lake Temple was completed in 1893, more than 40 years after construction officially began.

In a great display of devotion on 6 April 1893, an estimated 2,500 people crowded the large assembly room on the fourth floor of the temple for the first of 31 dedicatory sessions that were conducted over approximately three weeks.

But Church President Brigham Young, leader of the historic Mormon Pioneer trek across the American frontier, did not live to see the temple's completion.

He had marked the spot for the temple, overseen its initial design and construction, and engaged the talents of the many men who spent their entire adult lives building it.

Eugene Bertrand Fullmer was one of these men.

Fullmer's daughter, Rhoda Jane Fullmer Keaton, wrote: "My father was a stone mason by trade. He was called by Brigham Young as a missionary to work on the Salt Lake Temple, from the cutting of the first cornerstone to the laying of the capstone, which was begun and finished under his supervision. He accepted the call and remained faithful to this trust until the last detail was completed. This proved to be his life's mission."

John Moyle's sacrifice over much of his lifetime is a remarkable demonstration of how deeply these Latter-day Saint pioneers loved their sacred place of worship.

A stonemason from England, Moyle worked on his farm in Alpine, Utah, only on Friday nights and Saturdays. Every Monday morning he walked 20 miles from his home to the temple block in Salt Lake City to work on the temple.

Following an accident and the excruciating amputation of his leg, he made himself a wooden leg so he could continue making the long journey from his home to the temple block.

The account provided by his family relates how Moyle "climbed up the scaffolding on the east side of the temple and carved 'Holiness to the Lord,' as his contribution to the temple building."

Today, for more than 12 million Latter-day Saints around the world, these words represent the belief that temples are "houses of the Lord," where the teachings of Jesus Christ are reaffirmed and where marriages, baptisms and other sacred ordinances are performed to unite families for eternity.

Although modern technology has provided a more efficient method of etching "Holiness to the Lord" on many of the more than 100 Latter-day Saint temples that now dot the earth, the hand-carved letters on the Salt Lake Temple are a sobering reminder to Church members everywhere that pioneer families more than a century ago sacrificed nearly all they had for a legacy of temples.

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