Only four days after the first Saints reached the Valley of the Great Salt Lake, President Brigham Young selected the site on which to build the new temple. This temple, the house of the Lord, would take forty long years to build. It would be a lasting reminder of the diligence and sacrifice of the early Saints, particularly of Truman O. Angell, the temple’s architect.
Truman Osborn Angell was born in 1810 in North Providence, Rhode Island, to James and Phebe Osborn Angell. The fifth of ten children, Truman learned responsibility at an early age. When he was only nine, his father left home for a time, and the young boy became responsible for much of the work on the family farm and was able to attend school for only two winters. At the age of seventeen, Truman was apprenticed to a joiner to learn the craft of carving and fitting beautiful wood trim for homes.
About this time, an important occurrence took place in his life. In his journal he wrote, “I felt an earnest desire to become a subject of Christianity.” For months he prayed for guidance, and his “mischievous life and shortcomings were laid aside.”
This change prepared Truman to accept the message of two Latter-day Saint missionaries a few years later, after he had moved to western New York. He was baptized, and so were his wife, Polly, and his mother. Then, fired with the spirit and happiness of the gospel, Truman and a cousin traveled east five hundred miles, preaching daily for nine weeks.
Truman had a desire to join the main body of the Church, and in 1835 he moved his little family to Kirtland, Ohio, where he found work waiting for him in the temple. Pulpits, pews, stairs, window casings, and doorjambs all needed to be built. The Prophet Joseph noticed his fine work and put him in charge of many other buildings in Kirtland.
When the Kirtland Temple was almost completed, Truman was ordained a seventy. Eagerly he prepared for another mission. But shortly before he was to go, Joseph Smith asked him to stay and build a store. Truman told the Prophet that he was now a seventy and wanted to serve a mission. The Prophet simply said, “Well, go ahead.”
After Joseph Smith left, Truman struggled with his thoughts: How could he bear testimony of a prophet of the Lord if he, Truman, was not willing to heed that prophet’s counsel? Truman remained in Kirtland and built the store and many other buildings that were needed. Joseph Smith prophesied that the joiner would have enough work for twenty men, and he did.
Continuing to move wherever the main body of the Saints settled, the Angell family suffered from mobs and persecution in Missouri and Nauvoo, and over the years several of Truman’s young children died. While the last of the Saints were being driven from Nauvoo, Truman and a few other brethren remained behind to complete the temple and dedicate it to the Lord. The young joiner must have been heartsick to hear how that sacred building was later desecrated and burned.
Truman was among the first group of Saints to enter the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Two years earlier he had been told in a patriarchal blessing that “thy calling is more particularly to labor in assisting the Saints to build cities and temples than travelling abroad to preach the gospel.” The young joiner’s abilities as an architect were recognized by Brigham Young, and soon Truman was busy designing homes, schools, churches, a sugar factory, forts, stores, a penitentiary, a theater, a governor’s mansion, and, most importantly, temples.
Many beautiful buildings still stand today as proof of Truman Angell’s architectural talent. The Salt Lake and St. George temples and Brigham Young’s Beehive House, Lion House, and Eagle Gate are just a few examples of his work.
Truman considered his work a calling rather than a job. Most workers donated a tenth of their time to Church projects, but full-time workers like Truman were paid in tithing scrip, which could be exchanged for groceries, clothing, and other necessities.
Truman studied architectural design and innovations in building. The constant pressure of being the Church’s architect was a strain on his health, so Brigham Young called him to serve a mission in Europe, where he was to not only preach to the people but also visit the great buildings and study the architectural styles there. He had been on his mission for thirteen months when he was called to return to help with the Salt Lake Temple.
Work on the temple did not progress very rapidly at first. There were several delays, such as the time President James Buchanan sent United States troops to Utah with a new governor to replace Brigham Young. The Saints, remembering the mob violence of the East, were not going to allow their new homes and lands to be plundered again. They stripped their homes of valuables and filled them with straw to be set afire if and when the enemy troops came. Even the foundation of the temple was covered with dirt, making it appear to be only a plowed field. Fortunately a peaceful settlement was reached before the troops arrived in Salt Lake.
As the building of the temple progressed, Truman sought the advice and counsel of President Young almost every step of the way. There were many details that had to be taken care of, and the work required Truman’s constant supervision. All his efforts were devoted to serving the Lord, despite constant poor health and personal heartaches.
The architect did not live to see the completion of the beautiful Salt Lake Temple, but the majestic structure will stand for many years to come as a monument to his and other Saints’ dedication in building the Lord’s kingdom here on earth.