“Endowment House,” Church History Topics
Between the exodus from Nauvoo in 1846 and the dedication of the St. George Temple in 1877, Latter-day Saints did not have a temple in which to administer baptisms for the dead, endowments, and sealings.1 Brigham Young did, however, authorize the performance of some temple ordinances outside of temples while the Saints settled the Great Basin and constructed temples in St. George, Logan, Manti, and Salt Lake City. In doing so, he followed a pattern established in a revelation given to Joseph Smith in 1841, which allowed the Saints to perform some temple ordinances outside of temples “in the days of your poverty, wherein ye are not able to build a house unto me.”2 In Nauvoo, Joseph had authorized baptisms for the dead to be performed in nearby rivers for a short period and later administered the first endowments in the upper room of his store.3
Only a small number of temple ordinances were administered between 1847 and 1850 while the Saints moved and began to settle in the West.4 Beginning in February 1851, endowments and sealings were performed more regularly in the Council House, Utah’s first large public building. The ground floor housed public events, including banquets, balls, and meetings of the territorial legislature and courts. The upper floor was used for endowments and sealings until April 1854.5
Eventually Brigham Young decided that a more secluded space was needed for administering sacred ordinances. But it would be many years before a temple could be completed in Salt Lake City.6 In 1854 President Young directed that a building be constructed on the northwest corner of the temple block in which the Saints could receive the endowment and have their marriages sealed. Completed in April 1855, this modest two-story structure was called the Endowment House. It served, in the words of architect Truman Angell, as a “Temple Pro Tem.”7
The Endowment House was the first structure laid out exclusively with the needs of administering endowments and sealings in mind and served as an inspiration for the interior features and layout of future temples. In 1856 a stone baptismal font was installed and dedicated in an addition on the west side of the building for use in both living and proxy ordinances.8 Another extension was built later that year to add space for temple workers to prepare for their work and to cook and eat meals.9
Between 1855 and 1889, the Saints performed more than 54,000 endowments, 68,000 sealings, and 134,000 baptisms for the dead in the Endowment House.10 Brigham Young taught, however, that some temple ordinances, including proxy endowments for the dead, could not be performed until a temple was completed. The first such ordinances were performed in the St. George Temple in 1877.11
As temples in St. George, Logan, and Manti became available for ordinance work, the need for the Endowment House diminished, though it was still used by Saints in Salt Lake because travel to other temples was not always feasible. In 1889, however, the solemnizing of plural marriages in the Endowment House became a point of contention in the Church’s legal and political battle with the United States government.12 Wilford Woodruff decided to demolish the building in October as a demonstration that he was serious about curtailing new plural marriages.13 The Endowment House was dismantled over the next few weeks.