SALT LAKE CITY — Two historical landmarks on the southeast corner of Temple Square were originally built for Brigham Young’s large family. More than 70 people used to live in the Lion House alone.
More than 155 years later, the Beehive and Lion houses have become gathering places for thousands of families and friends while continuing to reflect a rich pioneer heritage.
In the Beehive House, visitors can tour and capture a glimpse of frontier family life in the 1860s and 1870s.
The Lion House, remodeled in the 1960s, played a role in the organization of the young women’s program and has become a popular location for wedding receptions, banquets and birthdays. A cafeteria-style restaurant now also offers sweet aromas and delicious food.
"There is a spirit here that kind of grabs you. It’s a wonderful place,” said Julie Ulrich, banquet manager at the Lion House for 32 years. “You feel comfortable and warm. It’s inviting.”
After settling in the Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young was concerned about caring for his large family. He needed a big house.
The Beehive House was designed by Truman O. Angell, started in 1853 and completed in 1855. The home served as Brigham Young’s main residence until his death in 1877. From his Beehive House office, he served as the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, territorial governor and superintendent of Indian affairs, as well as a husband and father.
The home itself was a beehive of activity.
Originally, the structure had 14 rooms — bedrooms, parlors and kitchens, along with rooms for school and play. There is also a storeroom where family members used credit to get clothing, food and other supplies. Art, nice furniture and music were also an important part of the home’s furnishings.
While women ran the household and children did chores, schoolwork and played, President Young entertained more than 6,000 dignitaries and other guests, including the emperor of Brazil; U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant; Mark Twain; and William H. Seward, U.S. secretary of state during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency.
“I think a lot of them were very curious,” said Sister McNaught, a tour guide and missionary from Idaho Falls, Idaho. “What would bring so many thousands of people to the middle of the desert? Brigham Young was able to build relationships with them.”
After President Young’s death, the home was sold to his son, John Willard Young. He remodeled and increased the number of rooms from 14 to 27. Following John Willard Young’s ownership, the home was eventually purchased by the church and became the official residence for church presidents. Lorenzo Snow and Joseph F. Smith inhabited the home from the turn of the century until President Smith died in 1918.
Shortly before his death, it’s interesting to note that President Smith received the revelation that became Doctrine and Covenants 138 while sitting in the parlor room of the Beehive House.
For a time, the majestic home sat vacant. The Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association obtained ownership in 1920, and for the next several decades the Beehive House became a boardinghouse for young women.
In 1959, LDS Church leaders opted to restore the home to its 1854-77 appearance. Approximately 21 rooms were restored. Upon completion, it opened to the public for free tours on July 24, 1961, the 114th anniversary of the pioneers’ arrival in the Salt Lake Valley.
“What is amazing about this home is that it highlights so much about the gospel that people ask questions,” said Sister Beecraft, a missionary from Maryland. “Anyone can relate to this house because it reflects family and faith.”
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