As renovations proceed on the Salt Lake Temple, the Church History Library continues to receive numerous questions about the construction and history of this iconic structure at the heart of Temple Square. The Church History Library holds a wealth of information and documents associated with the development, construction, dedication, and expansion of the temple and its surroundings through the years; here are some of the highlights from our collections:
One of the most interesting collections is the corpus of architectural plans that have survived. Many of the elevations and floor plans are scanned and can be viewed online in the Church History Catalog.
Truman O. Angell, the principal architect on the temple, left extensive journals and other records providing much information on the construction of the temple.
For a general history with some wonderful vintage photographs, read The House of the Lord by James E. Talmage. The first edition, published in 1912, is available digitally in our catalog.
Another general history of the Salt Lake Temple’s construction can be found in Saints, Volume 2. It features numerous episodes from the multi-decade effort, beginning in 1853 when the temple’s cornerstones were laid. The volume’s index also has an entry devoted to the temple with subheadings on various aspects of the construction.
For 40 years, the temple could be seen slowly rising over Salt Lake City. Once completed, it would dominate the skyline and become a symbol of the city. Here are some views of the temple during its construction phase in the 19th century:
This collection contains over 900 images of life in Utah in the late 19th century. Here are the image numbers for some highlights depicting Temple Square during that period: 153–54, 157, 172, 189, 224, 240, 258, 265, 268, 271, 355, 366–67, 395–96, 399, 406, 411, 413, 424–25, 436–37, 439–40, 443–44.
The Church History Library collections also contain photos of some of those workers who labored diligently to build the temple, such as these:
The following photographs are of the capstone ceremony held on April 6, 1892. These include a close-up of the capstone and a view of the crowds that gathered for the event. The capstone contained a time capsule, which included a set of the standard works, a hymnbook, various Church books and pamphlets, images of early Church leaders, and a copper plate inscribed with the principal dates relating to the temple’s construction and a list of General Authorities. About 40,000 individuals attended the ceremony. A detailed description of the event can be found in chapter 6 of James E. Talmage’s The House of the Lord.
In the summer of 2020, as part of the Temple Square renovations, the capstone was removed from its position atop the temple and opened. Its contents, including hundreds of coins thrown into the time capsule by the capstone ceremony’s attendees, are currently being preserved and cataloged by the Church History Department.
The public open house was held on April 5, 1893, and the dedication took place over the next few weeks, from April 6 to April 24, 1893. About 500 dignitaries, politicians, and media representatives toured the temple before it was dedicated. Chapter 6 of James E. Talmage’s The House of the Lord, linked above, contains additional information on the event. Here are some interesting items of ephemera from the dedication:
20th Century Renovations
In 1962, after almost seven decades of continuous use, Church leaders decided it was time for much-needed renovations to the Salt Lake Temple, including a new temple annex. You can read about the changes in these articles:
Edward O. Anderson, “Salt Lake Temple,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1963, 1008
Albert L. Zobell Jr. and Edward O. Anderson, “The Salt Lake Temple Story,” Improvement Era, Aug. 1965, 684–87
The centennial of the temple was celebrated in 1993. The March 1993 issue of the Ensign contains reflections on this special house of worship.
Additionally, regular updates on the temple’s renovation are posted at templesquare.org.
For a deeper dive into the resources for researching the Salt Lake Temple, the Church History Library will soon be publishing a research guide dedicated to the Salt Lake Temple which will be available on the Church History Library website.
The Salt Lake Temple is the centerpiece of Salt Lake City as well as an iconic symbol of the Church. Understanding its history can foster greater appreciation of this unique structure and the devoted people who helped build it—and the current renovations will ensure that this beloved edifice is preserved for many generations to come.
Top image: Salt Lake Temple, tablet in east center tower and head of center tower’s first-story window, March 1855