Oxen, Temple Stones, and a Playground


And inasmuch as my people build a house unto me … , my glory shall rest upon it (D&C 97:15).

Oxen, Temple Stones, and a Playground

Almost all the families living in the valley came on Valentine Day 1853 to see the ground-breaking ceremonies for the Salt Lake Temple, conducted by President Brigham Young. At the close of the service, after Brother Brigham turned the first shovel of dirt, many of those present rushed forward to do the same. Twelve year old Wilford Woodruff, Jr., joined his father and grandfather as they each “flung out dirt for this important temple.”

After that, there seemed to always be noise at the Temple Block. Hammers and saws were heard as the men worked on the buildings being erected on the ten acres now known as Temple Square. Three of the buildings you see there today—the Assembly Hall, the Tabernacle, and the Temple—were all built by these workmen in the 1800s. It must have been a very busy place.

In 1867 young Brigham Thomas Higgs lived a block away from the temple on North Temple Street. B.T., as he was known by his family and friends, was nine years old when his father, Thomas, began working on the Tabernacle, which was being built next to the temple. B.T. and neighborhood friends could often be found at the Temple Block, delivering lunches or messages to brothers and fathers who worked on the Tabernacle or the Great Temple.

A few of the young boys even worked part-time with their dads at the Temple Block on the various construction projects there. B. T. used a wheelbarrow to deliver to the other workers the wooden pegs his father made for the Tabernacle rafters. There was always some cleaning up or moving of piles of lumber or tools for the young men to help with.

Henry Moyle, a curious young boy, could be found having lunch with his dad on almost any day at the Knox Carpenter Shop on the Temple Block. Known as the “Lunch-Bucket Brigade,” many of the young boys joined workmen gathered at the shop to discuss the topics of the day as they ate lunch together. Young Henry gladly took his father’s lunch to him and lingered as long as possible to listen to the conversation. Later, the young man helped his father, James Moyle, a stone mason, build the temple itself.

Henry and B. T. spent most of their after-school and after-chore time, however, playing ball or another game with friends on the nearby dusty streets. B.T.’s favorite game was “mumble-peg.”

A favorite game for all the young boys and girls in the neighborhood was hide-and-seek. The Temple Block was a perfect place to play this game because there were many large granite stones there to hide among. You could find B.T., Henry, and their brothers and sisters and friends playing among the huge stones on the warm days throughout the year.

Before the railroad came to Salt Lake City, the temple stones were brought to the Temple Block by ox teams from the quarry twenty-five miles south of the city. Annie Wells recalled seeing the “sight of the great stones one at a time being hauled along the streets by two yoke of oxen.” When the oxen slowly marched through town to the Temple Block with their “sacred load,” Annie, like other children, stood and watched them pass “with a feeling of awe and reverence,” praying for the day the temple would be completed. The children wanted to go into Heavenly Father’s house. They knew that they could be a “forever family” after they went to the temple.

When the railroad came to Utah, the oxen were no longer needed to make the long trip from the quarry to the Temple Block. A train line between Salt Lake City and the quarry brought the heavy stones right to the temple site in just a few hours instead of days, as before. The oxen were still used, however, to haul the granite stones down to the train station at the mouth of the canyon.

During hot summer months many mothers and fathers in the city took their children to the shaded groves and cool streams in the nearby canyons. One of the young boys, Joseph Fielding Smith—later a Church President—recalled watching the men loading stones there to be brought to the city for the temple. He remembered the “ox teams and how they tugged with their heavy loads” and that sometimes, when the loads were too heavy, the “rough-cut blocks skidded from the wagons.”

The Temple Block seemed to change every week or so as new stones were brought to the area. Everyone was always anxious to see what new hiding places could be found. As the stones were put in place, the temple walls reached higher and higher in the sky, and the children knew that the temple would soon be completed.

In order to finish the temple, the prophet Wilford Woodruff asked everyone to make special contributions to the temple fund. Even young children were encouraged to give whatever they could. Many children worked on holidays and gave all their earnings to the temple fund. Other children asked to do extra chores around the house in order to earn some money to give.

During this time, one young Primary boy was trying to earn enough money to buy something for himself. He found work at a neighbor’s farm. After working very hard, he was paid twenty-five cents—a lot of money in those days—for his efforts. He “clutched the coin and ran home” excitedly to show his father how much he had earned. “Pa, look what I have!” he proudly announced. “The next time you go to Provo,” he continued, “I can get a new pair of jeans with this money.”

His father reminded him of the prophet’s request for funds for the temple. “President Wilford Woodruff needs ten cents of this quarter for the Salt Lake Temple. Here, I’ll give you fifteen cents for the coin, and we’ll go together to give the dime to our bishop, who will send it to Salt Lake City.” The boy gladly took the money to the bishop so that he, too, could help build the temple.

It took the workers forty years to complete it. President Woodruff dedicated the temple on April 6, 1893, during the first dedication service. All children eight years and older were invited to attend special dedication sessions held in April. Many of the children felt a special spirit during these meetings in the temple, and several saw angels in the room, just as the children had seen angels at the Kirtland Temple’s dedication in 1836.

On Saturday, April 22, 1893, a special session for children under eight years of age was held so that many more Primary children could attend. Seven-year-old LeGrand Richards, later an Apostle, attended this session with his mother. He was impressed when he saw the prophet in the temple that day. He said later, “I always remembered exactly what President Woodruff looked like and what he wore on that day for the rest of my life.” Unlike his older sister, who saw an angel during an earlier dedication session, LeGrand said, “I looked around for angels, but I didn’t see any!”

Primary children were almost always present during the forty years of construction of the Salt Lake Temple. They all helped in some way to build the Great Temple. And during the dedication services, as many as fifteen thousand of them attended the special meetings—one hundred years ago.

(Note: The information in this article is from Every Stone a Sermon, a history of the building of the Salt Lake Temple, by the author.)

[illustrations] Illustrated by Scott Greer