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Devereaux House: Salt Lake City’s stately estate

Historic mansion has hosted U.S. presidents and other dignitaries

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For decades, Devereaux House was one of Utah Territory's toniest addresses.

Built in 1855 as a two-story home, it was expanded in 1867 to become Utah's first mansion. In its heyday, Devereaux House hosted the territory's most prestigious visitors, including presidents and generals, foreign dignitaries and the celebrities of the time.

In an article in the Nov. 29, 1963, Deseret News, Dexter Ellis summed up the building's glory years:

"This pretentious manor, built by the Hon. William Jennings, pioneer industrial leader, occupied one half of one of the city's big 10-acre blocks between 2nd and 3rd West.

"The Jennings' parties were, understandably, the last word in genteel socializing. People of the highest rank both from within and without the state were guests there."

After the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad Depot was built, the mansion lost its appeal as a residence. Over the years, when it didn't lie vacant, it housed a clinic to treat alcoholics, a mining equipment office and warehouse, restaurants and reception centers.

It was purchased by the state in 1978 and almost destroyed by fire in 1979. The Devereaux House was painstakingly restored with public funds in 1984, when it regained its place as one of the jewels of Salt Lake City's historic buildings.

Photo researcher Ron Fox has found dozens of photos of the Devereaux House in the Deseret News archives. Many of these photos can been seen now at the newspaper Web site, deseretnews.com.

The original two-story, adobe residence was built in 1855 by William C. Staines, a convert to the LDS Church from England.

The home earned a place in Utah history when it became the site of the 1858 meeting between Brigham Young and Gov. Alfred Cumming during the "Utah War" when Young told Cumming and Thomas Kane that if the U.S. Army, which had been sent to Utah to quell a purported uprising, entered Salt Lake City, "they will find here only a charred and barren waste." As a result of the meeting, a major confrontation was avoided.

Ed D. Penrose wrote about the mansion in the June 21, 1930, Deseret News Saturday Magazine:

"It was way back in 1867 that Mr. Jennings purchased this property from the Hon. Joseph A. Young, who had previously purchased it from William C. Staines. He added to the original lot several pieces of reality in the same block and superseded the Staines cottage with this then pretentious mansion, building onto the cottage. While retaining and importing the rare orchards, flowers and shrubs of almost every kind, the place soon became noted for its beauty and the hospitality as a place where distinguished visitors were entertained with a lavish hand."

Jennings, a pioneer entrepreneur who was neither Mormon nor rich when he arrived in Utah with a wagonload of groceries to sell, became both. He became Utah's first millionaire operating the Eagle Emporium, which became the first store in the ZCMI chain. He named the half-block after his birthplace, Devereaux estate at Yardley, near Birmingham, England.

President Ulysses S. Grant and the first lady were entertained at Devereaux, as were Gens. Phillip H. Sheridan and William Tecumseh Sherman, President Rutherford B. Hayes, Lord and Lady Fredreick Dufferin and Sir Richard Burton.

By the early 1900s, the building was leased to the Keeley Institute, which ran an ad in the Dec. 17, 1904 Deseret News proclaiming: "Drunkenness is a disease that can be cured." By 1943, the building was a warehouse and office for J.J. Coan Company.

Since its 1984 restoration, the building has served as a restaurant and as a reception center, and it was used by the state to woo visiting dignitaries and professionals during the 2002 Winter Games.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints acquired the property in 2005 and continues to operate the Devereaux House as a reception center.

e-mail: mhaddock@desnews.com