The memory of the first home of what is now Brigham Young University has been preserved in brick and mortar at This Is The Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City.
President Gordon B. Hinckley on July 21 dedicated Smoot Hall at Brigham Young Academy. The 9,000 square-foot structure replicates Lewis Hall, where Brigham Young Academy was established in Provo, Utah, on Aug. 27, 1876, with an enrollment of 27 students.
The academy was founded at the behest of President Brigham Young, who called Karl G. Maeser to direct the new institution. Enrollment exceeded 400 by January 1884 when fire destroyed Lewis Hall. Abraham O. Smoot assumed the financial burden to construct a new building for the academy, which opened in 1892. The Smoot Administration Building on today's BYU campus is named for Brother Smoot.
Interestingly, it was Stanley Smoot, a descendant of Abraham O. Smoot, and his wife, Mary Ellen Smoot, who provided funding to see through to completion the replica of Lewis Hall, which stands at the entrance to the park's Old Deseret Village. He is a great-grandson of Abraham Smoot; Sister Smoot is a former Relief Society general president.
In remarks prior to his dedicatory prayer, President Hinckley said the building is "a memorial to the desire upon the part of our people to be educated, to partake of the learning of the world, to qualify themselves to take their place in the society of mankind."
He said it is also a memorial to Brigham Young, whose dream to establish a place of learning "has been realized far beyond, I think, what he originally saw, the outgrowth of these pioneer beginnings into the present stature of Brigham Young University."
And he said it is "a memorial to the tremendous effort of Abraham O. Smoot. I don't know of any other individual in the history of the Church who has given more except those who have given their lives than Abraham Smoot did in keeping alive the dream, the vision of Brigham Young Academy. He went there a very wealthy man. He made money while he was there. And he spent all he had, more than he had, to keep this great institution alive. How profoundly grateful all of us ought to be for his tremendous efforts."
In remarks to the audience, Paul Williams, president and CEO of This Is The Place Foundation, said initial funding for the new replica building had come from surplus funds from the BYU Women's Conference, but by February of this year, only the shell of the building had been completed. He said foundation officers approached the Smoots "and asked them to complete a building that still had a price tag on it of well over a half million dollars."
"We had spent the last three years approaching many donors and asking them to help us complete this building and had come up against no success at all," he said. But the Smoot family expressed their willingness to take on the project. "And in addition to that, what was amazing to me was . . . they came to us with ideas well beyond those things we had originally asked them to help us with."
Those ideas resulted in a film, funded by the Smoots, that is shown on the main level of the building to visitors, "a virtual tour of This Is The Place Heritage Park, that allows those people who are unable or don't have the time, to visit the entire park." Also, he said, "their efforts in the family history center on the lower level went well and far beyond what our initial ideas were and our initial intent was of that floor." Thus, visitors to the lower level will be able to answer a computerized questionnaire with the answers then composed into a "personal history" with a bound cover that the visitor can take home. Also, in an adjacent "green room," visitors can have a video history made.
The upper floor of the new building will house administrative offices for the park.
Elder Merrill J. Bateman of the Presidency of the Seventy and past BYU president, said the Lewis Building was on Center Street and about 300 West in Provo. "It was a building given to the academy by Brigham Young himself; he personally owned it. . . . . I wonder if we really appreciate the incredible faith that it took for the saints in Utah to really try to educate their children. This school was established in 1875 by Brigham Young. But it came at a time when the immigrant people into these valleys had only been here about 25 years, and this place was still a desert. The economy was still a barter economy. There was almost no money in circulation. . . . People were extremely poor at the time, and yet they prized knowledge, both secular and spiritual, and they were willing to sacrifice in order to educate their children. In this environment, Brigham Young University had its beginnings."
Elder Bateman said that when fire engulfed the Lewis Building, Karl G. Maeser was standing next to Reed Smoot in the fire brigade. "And as they watched the building come down, Reed said to Brother Maeser, 'That's the end of Brigham Young Academy.' Maeser quickly replied, 'It's the end of the building, but not the academy.' "
He recounted that Karl G. Maeser had a dream six years earlier in which Brigham Young, who had died some time earlier, appeared to him and took him on a tour of a new building. The dream was so vivid that Brother Maeser awoke and sketched the building, but he didn't know what it meant. The paper languished in his chest of drawers for six years.
"The night the Lewis Building came down," Elder Bateman said, "Maeser knew what the dream was about. He went home, pulled the paper out of his chest of drawers and the next morning took the paper to Abraham O. Smoot and said this will be the new building. The replica of that building is now the restored building in Provo, Utah. But there's not been any replica of the original Lewis Building built" until now.
Sister Smoot said, "I'm grateful for our children who came together and determined that this was a high priority. They supported us 100 percent. We are grateful for our heritage; we stand on strong shoulders."
Brother Smoot said the building had sat uncompleted for three winters. "Water had gone inside. We dug around the foundation in order to plaster the foundation so water could not get in the lower level." But the Smoot family was motivated by these words from President Hinckley uttered on an earlier occasion: "It is good to look upon the virtues of those who have gone before to gain strength for whatever lies ahead."
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve gave the invocation and Calvin E. Smoot, great-grandson of Abraham O. Smoot and a brother to Stanley Smoot, the benediction. The building was accepted by Randon Wilson, chairman of This Is The Place Foundation.
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