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Layton Utah Temple site belonged to this 'honored' family for over a century

LAYTON — Joseph Morgan slept in a crude dugout on Holmes Creek up on the Layton bench for three years after he walked across the plains to Utah in 1853.

Eventually, the single, illiterate Englishman established a homestead that, after more than a century in his family, will become the site of a new temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The church officially announced Monday that the temple will be built on 11.8 acres of Morgan family pasture land at the corner of Oak Hills Drive and Rosewood Lane.

Morgan's great-great-grandchildren sold the land their own father considered a sacred family possession to the church in 2018. The sale was completed just two days before President Russell M. Nelson announced a temple for Layton during the faith's April 2018 general conference.

"It's kind of a tear-jerker to see it go," said Mark Morgan, 87, who with his wife Elaine placed the land in a trust for their children 20 years ago. "We're pleased and happy with it, and it'll be an honor to our family and to our grandparents and great-grandparents for it to go here."

The Morgans sold the church another acre, including Mark and Elaine Morgan's home. The deal allows them to live out their lives on the property.

Mark Morgan and his son Todd said developers frequently approached them about selling the land for housing developments.

"I've been executor of that estate for 20 years and wondered what to do," Todd Morgan said. "The whole family is excited. We feel great about it. I got a call from the church early this morning saying they were going to announce it today. I'm glad they finally announced the site."

He said the children didn't feel comfortable about selling the parcel to developers for some reason. Like their ancestor Joseph Morgan, who converted in Hereforshire, England, the Morgans are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"Joseph Morgan has a lot of posterity that lives around here," Todd Morgan said. "A lot of them have called and expressed really positive feelings that this is happening."

His mother, Elaine, expressed gratitude that Monday's announcement halted rumors that the temple would be built on other potential sites.

"There's been much speculation as to where it may go," Layton Mayor Scott Freitag confirmed, "but it'll be wonderful to have this facility located high enough up on the east bench that it could be seen throughout all of Layton City and will be a reminder to our residents and visitors of the pioneer heritage of our city."

Layton will celebrate the 100-year anniversary of its incorporation next year.

Freitag said the area already has nearby shops that may be popular with templegoers.

"Probably the two most famous restaurants along Gentile, a little farther to the west, would be Sill's (Cafe) and the Burger Stop. They're just right both down the road and are pretty popular. The other one that may be popular, just because of the culture of the of Latter-day Saints, is the Baskin Robbins that is close by, too."

Road improvements will be easier to make because the state already had planned to beef up an intersection to the east, where Oak Hills Drive meets U.S. 89. That improvement is part of extensive upgrades to the highway to make it a major east-west thoroughfare through Layton to I-15, Freitag said.

Mark Morgan said he'd been told the temple will be a large one. In fact, a news release issued by the church on Monday said it will be a three-story edifice of about 87,000 square feet.

The church did not release a timetable for construction and completion or any other details.

The pasture recently has been home to cows, which helped provide money to pay property taxes.

"It's a sad time for us to see things change, but it's also a pleasant, happy time to know what's going to happen," Mark Morgan said. "The temple is going to be an honor to many of our ancestors and to many of our early settlers here."

The church negotiated a four-year option to purchase the land about nine years ago. When that expired, it took another four-year option. The Morgans and the church closed the sale at the end of that option in 2018, Morgan said.

The church has 17 operating temples in Utah with additional temples announced in Layton, Saratoga Springs, Tooele County and Washington County. The church has 171 operating temples around the world.

Temples are different meetinghouses where church members gather for Sunday worship. Temples are closed on Sundays and open throughout the week. They are considered to be the "house of the Lord," the most sacred places on earth. Church members use them for holy ordinances, including marriages.

Contributing: Katie McKellar