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Brigham's home restored to original beauty

Brigham Young winter home in St. George. Renovated to original green color and exposed brick.
Brigham Young winter home in St. George. Renovated to original green color and exposed brick. Photo: Photo by Nancy Perkins, Deseret News

ST. GEORGE, Utah — Historically speaking, Brigham Young's Winter Home has misled a few visitors over the years with its bland paint job of white on white.

On May 31, the home was reopened after a several months-long renovation project that brought color to the home, inside and out, and smiles to its visitors.

Attending the ceremony was Brigham Young and several other early leaders of the Church — in the form of volunteer actors with "St. George Live" who performed in costume and delivered speeches to a crowd of several hundred people.

Brigham Young, second president of the Church, enjoyed color and surrounded himself with it in his home and gardens, said Steven Olsen, associate managing director of Church history.

"We found the original color of paint when we scraped off all the white paint," said Brother Olsen. "During our research we found that when the paint was ordered for the St. George Utah Temple, the wrong color was delivered. It was green instead of white. So a lot of the fences and homes around St. George were painted green."

From the home's natural adobe bricks topped by moss green eaves adorned with decorative carved brackets, to the finely carved wooden secretary in the parlor and furnishings in the upstairs bedroom, everything was ready for the grand reopening.

"This is just wonderful," said 86-year-old Gertrude Smith Cottam as she sat on the front porch with her new husband of eight days, Lory Free. "I grew up in St. George, but I don't really remember if the house was this color or not. It's just wonderful."

Her grandfather, Thomas Cottam, was one of two carpenters from England who was asked by Brigham Young to make furniture for his winter home. Although she didn't inherit any of her grandfather's chairs, she did get a photo of herself next to a rocking chair he carved that sits in the home's kitchen.

Brigham Young bought the back half of the home in the early 1870s, adding to it in 1873. He spent the final winters of his life there until he died in 1877, enjoying the area's warm weather and directing the construction of the temple.

"We began our research into the home two years ago," said Brother Olsen. "When you look at it from an engineering standpoint, we really wondered if we could do any good."

They learned that the home's walls were not reinforced, the roof wasn't structurally tied down to anything, the floor joists were cut into the adobe walls, the foundation was eroding and there was some water damage.

"It's amazing it withstood a number of earthquakes over the years," Brother Olsen said.

Ensign Engineering of Salt Lake City recommended several ways to make the home more seismologically sound, including driving pins through the top of the walls to bolt the roof down and sinking pins laterally through the three-foot-thick adobe walls every square foot in order to hold the house together.

A semi-permeable membrane was sealed over the face of the adobe and rain gutters designed after 19th century patterns were constructed and installed.

The Brigham Young Winter Home is at 67 W. 200 North, St. George, Utah, and is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Call (435) 673-2517 for information.

E-mail: [email protected]

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