William Harrison Folsom

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William Harrison Folsom

Plymouth, Grafton County, New Hampshire, USA
Death 19 Mar 1901 (aged 85)
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Utah, USA
Burial Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Utah, USA
Plot D_4_3_1_E
Memorial ID 24642181 · View Source
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Son of William Fullington Folsom and Hannah Skinner

Married Zerviah Eliza Clark, 21 Aug 1837, Penbroke, Gene, New York

Married Elizabeth Gregory, 26 Dec 1863, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah

Married Lavinia Huff, 13 Oct 1865, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah

When William Harrison Folsom peacefully died at midnight on March 19, 1901, just six days short of his eighty-sixth birthday, he brought to a close a lifetime that had been anything but uneventful. A New England-born convert to the Latter-day saint church, he left a record of experience that reads like a summary of early Mormon history. He receives baptism in an icy river, became personally acquainted with Joseph Smith, assisted in the building of the Nauvoo Temple, preached and electioneered for the church, fought in the Battle of Nauvoo, and suffered with the expelled Saints in Iowa in the winter of 1864. Although hanged by an anti-Mormon mob, he lived to take part in the California gold rush, to cross the plains to Utah, to assume positions of leadership in the church, to take three wives, and to raise twenty-three children, one of whom became a prominent wife of Brigham Young. His most important contributions, however, were his accomplishments as an architect and builder. He was a talented architect, perhaps the most skilled designer of his generation in Utah, and he used his considerable abilities in a long and prolific career that included most of the significant buildings of the period. However, although his contributions to the history of Utah were substantial and although some of his best buildings are still standing today, Folsom's name has been almost forgotten.

William Harrison Folsom was third child of a carpenter. In William's youth, the family moved to Buffalo, New York, where his father established a building business and helped to construct the new city docks for the Erie Canal. William learned the trade of a carpenter from his father, and by the time he married Zerviah Eliza Clark at the age of twenty-two, he was already an accredited joiner.

William and Eliza had established a home in Buffalo and had added two children to their family when they first heard about the Latter-day Saints. In the fall of 1843 William went to Nauvoo, became personally acquainted with Joseph and Hyrum Smith, and began working as a carpenter on the temple. Here he met and worked with other skilled artisans and craftsmen who had joined the church: William Weeks, Truman O. Angell, Elijah Fordham, Miles Romney, and others. Folsom was assigned as a missionary to Ohio the following spring, and while preaching and campaigning in behalf of Joseph Smith's candidacy for president of the United States, he received word of the assassination of Joseph and Hyrum. He returned to Nauvoo in the fall and resumed his work on the temple.

When the main body of the church began to leave Nauvoo under the direction of Brigham Young in February 1846, Folsom was asked to remain behind to help complete the interior of the Nauvoo Temple. He was one of the small group present at the dedication of the building in May, and he remained in Nauvoo throughout the summer as the hostility of the surrounding community increased. In September, violence erupted as a force of over fifteen hundred men descended on the city. Folsom was one of the hundred and fifty men who offered futile resistance to the mob for several days in what became known as the Battle of Nauvoo. Hopelessly outnumbered, the Mormons were compelled to abandon the city. As part of this group, the Folsom family left without provisions and camped in the open for nearly three weeks on the Iowa shore of the Mississippi River awaiting the arrival of relief wagons from the main body of the church in Winter Quarters. During this most difficult period, Folsom was among the eyewitnesses of the "miracle of the quail," when a well-timed flock of birds landed in the Mormon camp, providing food for the desperate refugees.

When rescue wagons arrived, Folsom and his family did not return with them to Winter Quarters. Instead, they walked to Farmington, Iowa, where they shared a vacant house on the outskirts of town with another Mormon family. Anti-Mormon feeling was also present in this area. The Folsom's house was occasionally stoned, and once William came close to losing his life. Early in 1847 while in Farmington by himself, he was surrounded by an unfriendly and intoxicated group of men. According to a much later account of the incident, the group recognized him as a Mormon, tied a rope around his neck, threw it over the awning of a store, and lifted him off his feet three times. The third time he was left hanging while the men retired into the store. He was saved when an acquaintance arrived on the scene and released him. Shortly after this experience, Folsom moved his family to a safer location. Folsom was able to locate friends and employment in Keokuk, and his family remained there for the next two years while many of the Mormons headed west to the Great Basin.

In 1849 William Folsom turned his energies in a new direction. With financial backing from a friend, he left his wife and five children in Iowa while he departed for the gold fields of California. His route took him down the Mississippi to New Orleans and by ship to San Francisco via the Isthmus of Panama. He stayed in California for nearly two years, mining and doing construction work in two areas with appropriately colorful names, Rough and Ready and Coyote Diggings. In the spring of 1851 he helped to organize the Deer Creek Water Company and supervised the construction of a canal nine miles long. The following year he sold his share of the company and headed home with his earnings of $10,000 in cash and gold. For his return trip he took the longer but safer route, stopping in Hawaii, passing around Cape Horn, and arriving in Philadelphia in the fall.

He met his family in Ohio, and, after a brief visit with his father in Buffalo, returned to Keokuk. His visit to Buffalo added another dramatic incident to his biography. Warned by a mysterious voice not to board a boat bound for Cleveland, he delayed his departure and escaped a disastrous collison that took the lives of nearly all the passengers.

Back in Keokuk, he divided his fortune with the friend who had paid the expenses of his voyage to California and invested his own share of the money in a grocery business. In 1854 Folsom sold his business and fitted himself out with three wagons to come west. He arrived at the Missouri River more than a week too late to join the last wagon train of the season, however, and took his family to Council Bluffs for the winter. He quickly found work in the area, since Omaha across the river was experiencing a building boom as the new territorial capital of Nebraska. Folsom stayed in Council Bluffs for the next six years, operating a successful construction business and serving as branch president for the church. His most notable professional achievement during this time was his work on the territorial capitol in Omaha.

In 1860, at the age of forty-five, William Folsom made preparations for the second time to go to the Great Basin. Together with his wife and six children, he joined a wagon train led by Joseph W. Young, brother of Brigham Young. This was a well-organized company, the first to make the round-trip from Utah to the Missouri River and back again in a single season. On October 3, 1860, the Folsoms finally arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. Shortly thereafter, William Folsom opened a shop on Main Street and announced his intention to do business as an architect.

When Folsom arrived on the scene in Salt Lake City, he brought with him experience and skills that were unique in the territory. He had traveled extensively in the United States, visiting Saint Louis, New Orleans, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Cleveland, and other cities. In addition, he had lived in the Midwest for more than a decade longer than many of the pioneers. During this time he had gained experience and confidence as a builder, and he had profited from the opportunity to learn about the newer styles of architecture that had become popular since the departure of most of the Mormons. As a result, the buildings he designed in the next few years reflected a greater sophistication and a better understanding of architectural styles than those of most of his Utah contemporaries.

Folsom's career was also aided by the fortunate timing of his arrival. Trade with the recently arrived United States Army had brought increased prosperity to the Mormon settlements. Salt Lake City was expanding rapidly, and a great deal of building was underway. Moreover, Truman O. Angell, the overworked church architect who had designed most of the principal buildings of the city, was in poor health. Consequently, Folsom's abilities were recognized quickly. He was appointed assistant church architect within a few months of his arrival, and he was soon entrusted with the design and supervision of important projects.

His first work for the church was the preparation of plans for the Seventies Hall of Science, a building to be used for instructional meetings. Shortly after beginning his work on the Seventies Hall, however, Folsom was assigned to make plans for his first major building, the Salt Lake Theatre. This project was carried out under the personal direction and patronage of Brigham Young. Constructed on the corner of State and First South streets on a lot owned by the Mormon leader, it was largely financed by the windfall profits Young had made in his purchases of surplus property sold by the United States Army as it returned east to enter the Civil War.

When completed, the structure was eighty by one hundred forty-four feet at the foundation and stood ninety feet high, making it the largest building in the city. It was built with local materials, even the huge roof trusses being constructed with locally produced nails and wooden pegs. The interior of the building was finished in elaborate fashion. The three balconies formed a graceful curve around the rear and sides of the auditorium, supported on slender classical columns. The stage was surrounded by an arched proscenium that included four elaborately decorated boxes. The building was modeled after the famous Drury Lane Theatre in London.

Shortly after construction of the Salt Lake Theatre was begun, Truman O. Angell's health declined to the point that he resigned as church architect, recommending William Folsom as his successor. In the October conference of 1861, Folsom was officially sustained in this position. The following year he was ordained a high priest and sustained as a member of the High Council of the Salt Lake Stake. In this capacity he spoke frequently at church meetings and occasionally accompanied Brigham Young and other church leaders on their tours of outlying settlements. His standing among the leaders of the church was further enhanced in January 1863 when, with the marriage of his daughter Amelia to Brigham Young, he became a father-in-law to the Mormon leader who was fourteen years his senior. The same year, Folsom purchased two-and-one-half acres of land on the corner of South Temple and First West streets, a neighborhood occupied by many church leaders. This lot was to be his home for much of the remainder of his life.

In his new calling as church architect, Folsom had a major role in the construction of several important buildings in the city. The foundations of the Salt Lake Temple had been buried during the preparations to defend the valley from Johnston's army in 1858, and no work had been done on the building since that time. Folsom supervised the reexcavation of this stonework. Fears that the foundations were too weak to provide a permanent base for the huge building precipitated the decision to rebuild part of them before resuming construction. Folsom directed this and other work on the temple throughout the next five years.

Folsom also figured prominently in the construction of the Salt Lake Tabernacle. Since the early 1850s, many of the meetings of the church had been conducted in the Old Tabernacle, a simple adobe structure with a gable roof and a semicircular apse which had been designed by Truman O. Angell. In 1863 Brigham Young asked Folsom to prepare plans for a larger tabernacle to be built to the west of the temple.

Only a few months after the commencement of the new tabernacle, preparations were made for the erection of a new city hall on First South just east of State Street. Folsom submitted plans for the new building in January 1864. The building was a handsome and substantial structure, an impressive achievement for the time and place.

During his tenure as church architect, Folsom also participated in a variety of other activities. Besides his supervision of the theatre, city hall, tabernacle, and temple, he consulted in the design of other church buildings, including the beautiful tabernacle in St. George. He participated in the organization of the short-lived Deseret Academy of Art in 1863 with such other notables as E. L. T. Harrison, C. R. Savage, George M. Ottinger, and Daniel Weggeland. He also served on a civic committee which protested the pollution of the city's water supply by the army camp in Red Butte Canyon. In 1864 he formed a partnership for contracting and building with George Romney, an association that Tullidge later described as the "leading contractors and builders in the city."

The responsibilities of church architect weighed heavily on Folsom, and he finally requested to be released from this position. Truman O. Angell returned as church architect in April 1867, and William Folsom and Truman Angell, Jr., were sustained as his assistants.

Much of Folsom's attention in the next few years was directed toward private construction projects that included some of the more important buildings of the city. Together with George Romney, he built several large commercial buildings, including the Ransohoff Building and the much-admired Amussen Building on Main Street. The latter, a fireproof structure, was one of the first local buildings to have indoor plumbing. It included both a jewelry store and a residence. A large porch on the second floor extended over the sidewalk providing a place for Sunday band concerts. In another venture, Folsom and Romney combined with Thomas Latimer and George Taylor to set up the first steam-driven planing mill in the valley. Folsom's interest also extended to the construction of various types of vehicles, and he served for a time as secretary to a local group of carriage, wagon, and sleigh makers. The Gardo House, also called Amelia's Palace, was located on the southwest corner of South Temple and State streets.

In October 1869 Folsom was called on a short-term mission for the church. He spent the winter in Buffalo, New York, returning the following spring with his sister, stepmother, and half-brother. Following his return, he visited Provo at the request of Brigham Young to remodel the old seminary building and tithing office. In October of the following year, Folsom was called on another mission during which he visited Ohio, New Jersey, Virginia, and other eastern states, preaching and observing architecture in these areas. He returned to Utah the following spring.

Folsom's business ventures continued to prosper in the next few years. In 1873 he and Romney built a three-story brick building for the Dinwoodey Furniture Company. The same year, he also built a short street through his own property in order to subdivide and develop the land. The street, Folsom Avenue, still bears his name today. During this time, in association with Joseph Ridges, the builder of the tabernacle organ, Folsom designed and constructed one of the most famous residences in the city, the Gardo House that Brigham Young intended to use for entertaining important guests. Although begun in l 873, construction on the house progressed slowly and the building was not completed until after Brigham Young's death. In 1874 Folsom supervised the addition of a new wing to the famous Devereaux House that was then owned by William Jennings.

In May 1874 Folsom was chosen to be a counselor in the presidency of the Salt Lake Stake, the presiding council for the church in all of the Salt Lake Valley and surrounding areas. In the fall of the same year, he was asked to go to St. George to direct the work on the temple there. The superintendent of construction, Miles Romney, had broken his leg in a fall. Folsom sold his interest in his construction business before leaving. His health deteriorated in St. George, however, and he returned to Salt Lake after only a few months.

In 1875 Folsom formed a partnership with Obed Taylor, a recently arrived architect from San Francisco, and began work on yet another important monument in the city, the handsome iron-fronted building for ZCMI, the church department store. Folsom had seen iron-front buildings in his travels in the East, and Taylor was familiar with the many Italianate iron commercial buildings in San Francisco. Folsom and Taylor not only designed the building, but they also made the forms and fabricated the iron parts of the structure.25 Begun in 1875, the structure was completed the following year. While ZCMI has been expanded and remodeled many times in the century since Folsom designed this building, its cast-iron front has been preserved.

In 1875 Brigham Young made preparations for the construction of two regional temples, one in Logan and the other in Manti Because Truman Angell was occupied with church projects in Salt Lake City and St. George, other architects were appointed for these buildings. Truman O. Angell, Jr., was appointed for the Logan building, and Joseph A. Young, Brigham Young's oldest son, was assigned to Manti. However, when Joseph Young suddenly died during a visit to the Manti site in the summer of 1875, William Folsom was appointed to serve in his place. Folsom was sixty-two years old at the time.

While working on the Manti Temple, Folsom also directed other projects that were to be among his most lasting contributions. In 1878, after lightning struck the tower of the St. George Temple splitting the wooden cupola in half, Folsom designed the new cupola under the supervision of Truman O Angell, the original architect of the building. While Folsom was living at Manti, local church leaders requested that he prepare designs for two tabernacles to be built in the area.

In 1882 Folsom was chosen as architect for another important building, the Provo Tabernacle. The local church leaders had decided to construct a building of approximately the same dimensions as the newly completed Assembly Hall in Salt Lake City, a creation of Folsom's former associate, Obed Taylor.

Other buildings also absorbed some of Folsom's attention during the 1880s. He worked on plans for a theatre in Provo and meetinghouses in Panguitch and Mona. In addition, he consulted on the design of the Salt Lake Temple. Despite these many projects, however, the focus of his attention remained with the completion of the Manti Temple. Work at Manti was complicated by a variety of problems. The remoteness of the site made construction difficult in many ways, since the town was not connected with Salt Lake by either rail or telegraph lines. Folsom's letters to the church leaders show concern with his difficulties in raising money from the local population, while the responses from Salt Lake reflected the uncertain financial situation there as well.

Personal problems also plagued Folsom. A polygamist, he had to take precautions to avoid arrest by federal marshals. His home included a secret hiding place in the back of a closet. Once he had to flee from the county disguised as a prospector in order to avoid capture. The extent to which precautions were necessary in this regard was illustrated by a note from President John Taylor to Folsom regarding a meeting of the church architects in Salt Lake City:

The nights are so very bright that a meeting cannot be held of the architects perhaps for a few days. When a suitable time arrives which will be in a few days hence, we will advise you, or if there should be a cloudy day. In the meantime we hope you can wait without inconvenience.

Folsom suffered from asthma from time to time, and during his years in Manti his health declined. However, he was able to continue his supervision of the building to its completion in 1888. In the temple dedication, which included both a dedicatory prayer by Lorenzo Snow of great length and thoroughness and various spiritual manifestations, William Folsom was permitted a few words. The Deseret News reported:

Elder W. H. Folsom felt that words were inadequate to express his joy at being present at the dedication of the Temple, a pleasure he did not expect, a few years since, to live to enjoy.... Felt to praise and bless and thank the men who had labored upon the temple. Knew that the Temple had been accepted of the Lord and that His Spirit was present.

The completion of the Manti Temple had been the crowning achievement of Folsom's career, and perhaps the crowning achievement of nineteenth-century Mormon architecture. Inside and outside, it was an expression of Folsom's personal artistic skill and religious dedication.

Folsom returned to Salt Lake City following the completion of the temple. Two years later, at the age of seventy-five, he was arrested for bigamy and fined by the court. An old man in failing health, he sold his house in Manti to pay the fine. In the years that followed, he participated in a business venture with his sons and served for a time as a building inspector for the city. He also worked in the Endowment House, served as a home missionary, and became a familiar speaker in church meetings and firesides. In 1900, at the age of eighty-five, he was ordained a patriarch, although his health prohibited him from actively officiating in this position. The same year, at a birthday celebration in his honor, Folsom sermonized his descendants and friends, encouraging them to be faithful to the church and expressing his own lifelong dedication to craftsmanship and perfection in his work despite the criticism of others. He also allowed that he did not expect to see another birthday. As he predicted, Folsom quietly died at home the following year, only six days short of his eighty-sixth birthday. The Deseret News eulogized him in an editorial:

In the demise of Patriarch W. H. Folsom, Utah loses one of her oldtime and most worthy citizens. He was identified with many of the finest structures in the State as their architect and builder, and was respected by all classes of the community.... His excellent qualities of mind and heart endeared him to a host of friends, and his material works stand as monuments to his skill and accuracy in both design and execution.

William Harrison Folsom's legacy to the people of Utah and the LDS church was generous. His numerous descendants have included a number of architects, some of whom are still in practice today. Although his name has not become familiar to most students of Mormon history, his work has not been forgotten. All of his remaining major buildings are listed on either the State Register or the National Register of Historic Places, and the Manti Temple has become one of the landmarks of the West.

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  • Created by: SMSmith
  • Added: 15 Feb 2008
  • Find A Grave Memorial 24642181
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for William Harrison Folsom (25 Mar 1815–19 Mar 1901), Find A Grave Memorial no. 24642181, citing Salt Lake City Cemetery, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Utah, USA ; Maintained by SMSmith (contributor 46491005) .