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Temple Quarry: 70-year-old monument moved and rededicated

SANDY, Utah — As a 17-year-old, Joseph B. Wirthlin was present on Sept. 29, 1934, when a monument was placed at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon honoring the hardy souls who quarried the rock from which the Salt Lake Temple was constructed in the latter 19th Century. His father, Bishop Joseph L. Wirthlin, then of the Presiding Bishopric, was a member of the Utah Trails and Landmarks Association, which erected the monument.

Almost 70 years later, on Sept. 25, Elder Wirthlin, now a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, rededicated the monument in a service organized by the Temple Quarry Chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers.

The chapter has recently moved the six-ton structure to a more suitable location at the head of the paved Temple Quarry Nature Trail that winds through a park of lush canyon foliage, sheer cliffs, boulders and rocks. The park was created in 1993 and is administered by the U.S. Forest Service. It was the subject of a Church News feature article a year ago. (See cover and page 6 of Oct. 4, 2003, issue.)

A marker placed by the Church in 1994 gives the history of the quarrying and temple construction. But the 1934 monument had been languishing unnoticed and partly obscured by trees and brush a short distance from the entrance to the trail. Gerald B. Haycock, past chapter president, oversaw the monument relocation and refurbished it, repairing bullet holes inflicted by vandals on the bronze plaque. He said a time capsule encased in the concrete base of the original structure contains the names of 175 prominent quarrymen who worked at the site. Fearful that the contents would not have been well-preserved, the chapter elected to leave it undisturbed, he said, but he added that a new capsule will be placed under a new rock marker commemorating the monument's relocation.

In his dedicatory prayer, Elder Wirthlin said, "Today, we who are present honor our parents, our grandparents, great-grandparents for the privilege that they have given us to enjoy the fruits of the gospel." He prayed that the monument would "stand for many, many years and give inspiration to the youth and to all who come here."

In comments to the gathering, Brother Haycock spoke of a prophecy of Joseph Smith that the saints would be established in the Rocky Mountains where all Israel would be astonished at the work they accomplished. "They came to the valley and built temples and cities," he said. "The area you are now sitting in used to be full of large boulders, some of them as large as houses, others as big as elephants. . . . There was one that was 70 feet long and about 50 feet wide. They got over 3,000 building blocks out of that one stone."

In an interview, he mentioned several prominent Salt Lake City structures constructed from the "temple granite" of the quarry, including the Conference Center, State Capitol, Federal Building, Church Administration Building, Brigham Young Monument, Assembly Hall on Temple Square and This Is the Place Monument.

Nelson W. Clayton, a descendant of quarry workers and a long-time resident of the area, spoke of his role in the construction of the Church's Granite Mountain Vault, located across the highway from the quarry. In the cold-war era, with the threat of nuclear war looming, the Church was concerned about preserving its extensive microfilm collection of genealogical records. Brother Clayton said he suggested the canyon as an ideal location for the vault, where an excavation could be made into the side of the mountain through solid rock. He said the suggestion was considered, and the Church later bought three old mining claims from the Utah Granite and Marble Co. along the face of the mountain, and the vault was constructed in the mid-1960s.

Eugene Hilton, a former stake president in the area, spoke of his home in nearby Wasatch Resort, a home built and occupied by Wilford Woodruff, who came there at the behest of President Brigham Young to oversee the quarrying for the temple.

Known commonly as "temple granite" or "white granite," the rock quarried from the site is actually quartz monzonite, according to a Forest Service marker along the trail. Brother Haycock said the composite, with its familiar salt-and-pepper appearance, contains mica, which gives it its characteristic sparkle.

In addition to the paved path, the park features a well-used dirt mountain-biking trail that Brother Haycock said is on the bed of a former railroad used to transport the rock down the mountain. A picturesque, dry creek bed covered with "granite" boulders once carried water that generated electricity and supplied valley culinary systems. Today, the water serves the same purpose but flows through underground pipes, Brother Haycock said.

E-mail: rscott@desnews.com