Brigham Young's winter home: Residence offers visitors glimpse into the life of 'the American Moses'

Historic St. George residence offers visitors glimpse into the life of 'the American Moses'

By Ray Boren

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Dec. 13 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

At top, Brigham Young's winter home, now a pioneer-era museum. Above, cotton, a "Dixie" crop.

Ray Boren

One in an occasional series revisiting the people, places and history of the provisional state of Deseret.

ST. GEORGE — It is coincidental that the exterior wood trim of pioneer leader Brigham Young's winter home is painted in pleasing shades of green and red — colors we associate with Christmas, a time of year when the great Mormon colonizer took up residence in St. George in his later years.

The story goes, Elder Lloyd Collings says, that in the early 1870s the builders of the St. George LDS Temple ordered white paint to coat the Mormon community's planned centerpiece. With sandstone walls that were to be plastered and then whitewashed, the temple was to become the first completed and dedicated by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in their sprawling, proposed "State of Deseret," more generally known by this time as Utah Territory.

When the paint arrived, however, half of the wagon delivery was white and half was green, Collings says. Brigham Young and the settlers did not alter their concept, though, and today the temple is, as they envisioned, a gleaming white sentinel in the midst of modern St. George.

The abundant green paint did not go to waste. According to oral history, "They made good use of it throughout the town," Collings says, applying it to many fences, houses and mercantile establishments. Green Gate Village in downtown St. George derives its name, and sections of its décor, from the tale.

Some of that paint seems to have been used on the then-new adobe-brick and wood-trimmed residence that Brigham Young, then the LDS Church president, was building on the southeast corner of the intersection of St. George's 100 West and 200 North streets.

During restoration work on the winter home, layers of paint were scraped away to reveal the original colors, Collings says, and that is what is re-created for us to see today: eaves and porches, banisters and pillars painted a jade green, pleasingly accented by strips of cranberry red.

Collings and his wife, Sister Janet Collings, are missionaries from Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada, called by the LDS Church to be guides in St. George in part because they speak French. An incredible number of visitors to the American Southwest, including Utah's Dixie, are French or French-Canadian, Collings says.

As a Daughters of Utah Pioneers historic placard on the front of the Young residence notes, "During the construction of the St. George Temple, President Brigham Young found the climate in the vicinity beneficial to his health, and decided to have a winter home built in St. George. On December 15, 1873, he arrived from the north (Salt Lake City) and moved into his new house."

After going through a variety of owners over a century and a half, today the residence is operated as a museum by the LDS Church. Missionaries, including couples like the Collingses, lead the tours.

"The winter home of Brigham Young is lovely," a traveler from Florida recently observed on the website TripAdvisor, "but the real value of this free opportunity comes from the personal tour and education provided by the Mormon docent. Not only will you learn about the house and its history, but also of the pioneers who settled St. George and their beliefs that live on to this day."

During the 1850s, '60s and '70s, Brigham Young was not content to sit in his home office in Salt Lake City, or to simply direct Mormon settlers from the pulpit. He regularly, even annually, journeyed to new settlements north and south to meet with, observe and rally the colonizers of Deseret. He and his entourage were welcomed by local brass bands, banners and feasts — and he addressed dozens of impromptu meetings each trip.

"These excursions gave Brigham a personal knowledge of the country and aided in laying plans for new settlements," historian Gordon Irving wrote in the Utah Historical Quarterly in 1977, the centennial of Brigham Young's death.

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