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British mason worked magic with rocks

James Henry Brown was a descendant of William the Conqueror, who, among other things, built the Tower of London. So maybe it's not surprising that stonemason genes seemed to run in the family.

"They were all stonemasons — back to the 14th-15th century," said Mark Redford Brown, a grandson of James Henry who now lives in Salt Lake City (and will soon turn 90).

The trade served James Henry Brown well both in England and later in America. It provided a way for him to earn a fairly well-to-do living. But it could also be noted that his work has served well the citizens of both Utah and Idaho, and in particular, the residents of Providence.

James Henry Brown is the man who built the Old Rock Church in this northern Utah town, a building that has stood for more than 135 years as an expression of faith, a symbol of community and a work of art.

He was born in 1831 in Warwickshire, England, where he learned to work with stone at a young age. According to family records, he came in contact with the LDS Church at age 18. "He heard of a 'Mormon' meeting and with some friends went, hoping to see some fun. He became interested however, and as he expressed it, 'went to scoff, but remained to pray.' "

He was soon baptized. One day at church, "he became ill and fainted across the lap of Annie Bullock, who had joined the church with her family. They thus became acquainted and fell in love."

James Henry and Annie were married in 1852. Shortly after, he was one of about 5,000 men from all over England who went to help with the building of the Crystal Palace, the great showpiece built by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. He received a workman's ticket to attend a concert there by Jennie Lind.

The Brown family later moved to London; then in 1861 journeyed across the seas and across the Plains to Utah.

There, Brown obtained work as a mason on the Salt Lake Temple.

In 1864, he met William Budge, who he had known in London. Budge was then a bishop in Providence, and he asked Brown to move north, which he did.

In 1869, when the townsfolk decided to build a church to replace their log meeting house, the contract for the rock work was given to Brown for $1,000. The building took three years to complete.

In addition, nearly all of the rock houses in Providence, Logan and Smithfield built before 1878 were the work of Brown. He also built the old ZCMI (First National Bank) in Logan, did the original part of the Cache County Courthouse and the O.S.L. Depot. "Brown's Roll Off," nine miles up Logan Canyon, where he used to roll logs down the mountain to the river, is named in his honor.

He also worked on both the Logan Temple and Tabernacle and traveled to St. George to work on the temple there.

Early in 1879, Brown moved to Logan, where he started the Pioneer Monument Co. "Most of the early headstones in Cache Valley cemeteries were his work," said Mark Brown. The family also bought a hotel in Logan, which Annie ran while her husband operated the monument company.

Later, they moved to Richmond and then to Montpelier, Idaho, where he started the Bear Lake Marble Works. (Along the way, Brown also took a second wife — and spent a term in the penitentiary because of it.)

Brown died in 1905 and was buried in the Providence Cemetery.

At his funeral, it was said, simply, "he was a good man." And his legacy lives on, not only in his works and his family, but also in the beautiful stonework that remains to this day.

"He was like a lot of the pioneers," said Mark Brown. "He did remarkable things, but to him they were ordinary."

Historic photographs in the Old Rock Church capture the aura of earlier times. Pictures of the Hopkin Matthews and the Hyrum Campbell families, for example, are a reminder of a particularly interesting chapter in Providence history, said Karl Seethaler, current owner of the building.

Hyrum Campbell and his brother were the first settlers to come to the area, directed there in 1856 by Peter Maughan, who had colonized Wellsville a year earlier.

But shortly after the Campbells arrived, the threat of Johnston's Army meant that all people from outlying settlements were re-called to the Salt Lake Valley.

In 1859, when it was safe to come back, the Campbell brothers packed up and moved north once more — only to find that Hopkin Matthews and his family had got there before them and had staked a new claim on the same land.

"You have to assume that there might have been some tension, some feeling between the two groups," Seethaler. "But in the end, everything turned out all right. A Campbell boy married a Matthews girl," and any trace of a Hatfield-McCoy feud was avoided.

The Campbells and the Matthews were later joined by other emigrants, quite a number of German and Swiss origin, and Providence established its place on the map.