Capitols & churches: Mormon marmalade on the rocks in the Beehive State

Utah State House; Dedicated in 1916

Utah State House/photo by Gary Flanagan

By Gary Flanagan

They had to separate so that their values do not separate. Salt Lake City, Utah can easily claim to be the most unique study on my separation of church and state tour of “Capitols & Churches.” The geography of the state is quite diverse: mountains, desert, canyons, arches and the Great Salt Lake miles from the nearest ocean. When it comes to religion, 62 percent of its population follows the Mormon faith, which has evolved into The Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints. No other state can claim that majority of dedication to an ideal.

The Beehive, the motto of the citizens of UtahHow did a land named for the Native American tribe, Utes, become known as the Beehive State? The answer lies in the industrious nature of the descendants of John Smith and Brigham Young. These founders originated in upstate New York, migrated through the Midwest and eventually settled in Salt Lake City. They built a rock-solid community of like-minded people—an industrialized society worthy of any productive beehive.

To reach the Capitol requires a disciplined climb through The Marmalade District of the city. Why is it called “The Marmalade District?” It is due to the early settlers that imported and planted a number of fruit trees on the western slope of Capitol Hill. These included apricot, quince and almond, all of which were used to make their marmalade jam. Quince, in particular, has been speculated as the proverbial apple produced in the Garden of Eden. A quince cannot be eaten like a pear or apple, but must be baked or frozen to eliminate acidity.

Old Rock Church

Old Rock Church/photo by Gary Flanagan

Approaching the top of the hill from the West, one will reach the “The Old Rock Church” of the LDS community. This church was built in 1928 by George Ashton, the contractor and first bishop of Capitol Hill Ward. He hauled in the large stones for the exterior from a quarry in the nearby mountains. Tours of the church are available from May to October. It is here that one can learn how the LDS church is organized through branches, wards and stakes.

When leaving the tour, take a few steps across the street to the neoclassical revival Corinthian-style Capitol. The views from the front steps are nothing short of stunning. To the left are the majestic snow-capped Wasatch Range, home of the 2002 Winter Olympics. Directly in front, two distinctive buildings with unique histories of their own stand out: White Memorial Chapel and Council Hall. Off to the right, over the tree line lies the home of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir in a downtown cathedral.

Standing near the East entrance to the Capitol is a large statue of Chief Massasoit, which may sound familiar, but is out of place. Massasoit was not a member of the native Utes of the region, but was the Indian sachem that became friendly with the pilgrims of Plymouth Rock 2,000 miles to the east in present-day Massachusetts. He was also instrumental in giving Roger Williams refuge from Massachusetts before he founded Rhode Island.

How does a statue of Massasoit relate to Utah? The answer lies in the name Cyrus Edwin Dallin, an American sculptor who created more than 260 works of art. His pieces include a statue of Paul Revere in Boston, the angel Moroni that rests on top of Salt Lake Temple and his most well-known piece “Appeal to the Great Spirit,” which is a permanent installation at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He was born in Utah in 1861 and moved to Boston at the age of 19 to study sculpture. He sculpted “Massasoit” in 1920, which stands at Coles Hill, opposite Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. An additional five casts of Massasoit stand at the Utah State Capitol, Brigham Young University, his hometown of Springville, Utah, Kansas City and Dayton, Ohio.

The 11th stop of my tour was a fascinating mix of learning: pioneer spirit, beehives, marmalade, rocks and Native American history from a distant shore combined to tell the unique story of separation of church and state in Salt Lake City, Utah. Where will my journey take me next?

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