Truman Angell: From Apprentice to Church Architect

Anne R. Berryhill, Reference Librarian
22 June 2017

A temporary exhibit at the Church History Library features sketches and other items from early Church architect Truman Angell. Learn more about his life and about the exhibit in this post.

Truman Angell photo, William Weeks drawing.

The Church History Library is currently featuring a short-term exhibit of architectural records dating from 1840 to 1865. Many of these records are the designs of Truman Angell, architect of the Salt Lake Temple and Utah Territorial Statehouse. Drawings by Angell’s mentor and colleague, William Weeks, are also on display.

Who was Truman Angell?

Truman Osborn Angell was born June 5, 1810, in North Providence, Rhode Island. He was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in January 1833. He helped build the Kirtland, Nauvoo, and Salt Lake Temples. He then immigrated to Utah in 1847 and had a hand in designing many of the major buildings in Utah. He became Church architect in 1848. Read a brief biography of Angell here.

How was Angell trained in architecture?

Much of Angell’s training was received through a formal apprenticeship and on-the-job training. He attended school infrequently during his childhood years and began his formal apprenticeship as a carpenter and joiner at the age of 17. After finishing this apprenticeship, he began working on buildings in his hometown.

In 1835, two years after he was baptized into the Church, he and his wife moved to Kirtland, Ohio, where he almost immediately began working on the Kirtland Temple. Later, he was appointed the first foreman on the Nauvoo Temple construction, and he worked directly with architect William Weeks in constructing his design. During his years in Nauvoo, Angell also helped build Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo Mansion House.

What did Angell learn from working on the Nauvoo Temple?

By working on the Nauvoo Temple, Angell learned three important things: (1) He learned about the temple design process and likely saw that process from its inception to completion, (2) he learned about the relationship between Church architect and Church President, and (3) he learned how to look to existing buildings and published sources for design inspiration.

As Angell worked closely with William Weeks to construct the Nauvoo Temple, he learned about planning a new type of building—one that would accommodate sacred meetings and allow for the newly implemented ordinance work to be performed. He learned to plan functional spaces, and he learned to borrow design elements from familiar sources. Angell also likely gained a deeper interest in ornamental detail from William Weeks.

Drawing by Truman Angell

As he worked on the Nauvoo Temple, Angell saw, at least indirectly, the working relationship between William Weeks and Joseph Smith, with the Prophet offering much input on the temple design. Angell likely viewed this relationship as a pattern and drew from this during his later work with Brigham Young while acting as Church architect.

Through his close working relationship with William Weeks, Angell learned to look to existing buildings and architectural pattern books for design inspiration. He was even sent to Europe in 1856 to study the buildings there and glean inspiration from them.

Did Truman Angell design anything other than temples?

Yes. In addition to designing temples, Truman designed a number of other important buildings in Utah. One example is the Utah Territorial Statehouse, only a portion of which was ever built. The statehouse, built in Fillmore, Utah, was designed by Angell as a grand, domed building with four projecting wings. The only wing that was completed echoes the designs of existing Greek Revival buildings but with much more ornamental detail. Another inspiration for the statehouse may have been the Nauvoo Masonic Hall, known as the Cultural Hall. Designed by William Weeks, its influence can be seen in the design of the Utah Territorial Statehouse.

Another example of Angell’s designs is the Lion House, where Brigham Young and his family lived. The building is simpler in design than the statehouse but features a lively sculpture of a lion.

The work and drawings of Truman Angell show the continuation of a pattern begun by the first Church architect, William Weeks. The pattern is that of a trained builder-architect working with Church leaders to design and construct unique and grand edifices, combining design elements from existing buildings and published sources.