Valentine's Day and the history of the Salt Lake Temple

Published: Monday, Feb. 14 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

PROVO, Utah – It’s Feb. 14, 1853, in Salt Lake City. The Saints have been in the valley now for nearly six years and have worked hard to establish the city.

It had been nearly six years since President Brigham Young — just four days after arriving in the valley — put his cane in the ground on July 28, 1847, and said, “Here we will build a temple for our God.”

The initial knee-jerk reaction was, “No,” said Susan Easton Black at BYU’s Campus Education Week. “Why? They said ‘everywhere we’ve built temples, we’ve been persecuted.’”

The Saints had left the temple in Kirtland, Ohio, and only the cornerstones had been laid for a temple in Far West, Mo., but many more had been planned there. As the pioneers walked down Parley Street in Nauvoo, Ill., they gave one last look to the temple before crossing the Mississippi River.

“But I can see it right before my eyes,” President Young said on the day he put his cane into the ground. There were six towers — three for the Melchizedek Priesthood and three for the Aaronic Priesthood.

And he also made a promise: “This one will stand through the millennium.”

However, given their history of moving around, many of the pioneers “were positive they weren’t going to stay long,” Black said.

The temple, as well as President Young's office, was built on a 10-acre parcel of land, and the city slowly built and developed around it.

President Young, who was a carpenter, glazier and painter, said to cancel everything on Valentine's Day in 1853. He said he was going to go work on the temple and if people wanted to talk to him, they could bring a pick or a shovel, Black said.

The foundation

From 1853 to 1856, they worked on the foundation. Blocks of red sandstone, which were 16 feet high, were brought in from the canyons surrounding Salt Lake City.

When word came from Orrin Porter Rockwell that General Johnston’s army was coming, work stopped on the temple. The foundation was buried and made to look like a farmer’s field.

“People were told to leave their homes empty with hay and leaves inside,” Black said. They were determined to not let the army take their homes.

During the army’s four-year stay, there weren’t any meetings, including church services. They had prayer circles where the Saints prayed for the army to leave, Black explained. After the military left to go back and help with the Civil War, President Young put out a call for help to unbury the temple’s foundation.

“Some of the little children at the time thought there was an entire temple buried in that square,” Black said.

When the foundation unburied, cracks were discovered in the red sandstone.

For four days, President Young could be seen sitting on the foundation. The cracked sandstone wouldn’t last until the millennium, so they needed to start over.

But how could these stones, which were viewed as sacred by the Saints, be taken from Temple Square? In order to keep them there, a Tabernacle was built and the exterior included some of the red sandstones, Black said.

Stone for the temple

“What does every woman want in out kitchens” Black asked. “Granite.”

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