On Oct. 19, David Amott of Salt Lake City, who holds a Ph.D. in architectural history, and is Executive Director of Preservation Utah, spoke at the Paris Elementary School about why he feels the City of Paris and the Bear Lake County Courthouse are historically important.
Amott told those attending that architecturally speaking, Paris is one of the richest of the Pioneer-era Latter-day Saint towns; that the Old Bear Lake County courthouse was built more or less in tandem with the Bear Lake Stake Tabernacle. From Amott’s perspective, these two buildings are really a pair.
He feels there isn’t a lot of knowledge about the courthouse among residents of the county, and he wants people to understand this before they demolish the building. In his words, “Don’t say ‘historic’ before you understand what “historic’ means.”
Ammot said that the history of Paris and the courthouse tells a very compelling story. According to Ammot, the courthouse was designed by Truman Angel, Jr., the son of the most prominent architect of Utah, Truman Angel, Sr., who designed the Lion House, the Beehive House, the Territorial Capital Building in Filmore, and the Salt Lake Temple. Truman Angel, Jr., was the assistant architect for the LDS Church, assisting his father, at the age of 12.
While working on the Salt Lake Temple, Angel, Jr., was reassigned to the Logan Temple. At the same time, Angel, Jr., was also assigned to design the Cache County courthouse in Logan. Shortly after, he was assigned to design the courthouse in Paris. That is why the two courthouses looked so similar, until the one in Logan was remodeled.
Amott said where it gets interesting is, this work is going on in the mid 1880s at the exact same time the State of Idaho is trying to obtain statehood. One of the big barriers to getting statehood is the Latter-day Saint “problem” of polygamy. Idaho finally passed the “Idaho Test Oath,” which said that the Saints couldn’t vote, couldn’t serve on juries, and couldn’t hold certain elected offices at the county level. This allowed Idaho to get statehood, but it basically disenfranchised the Saints. The courthouse then became a symbol of the encroachment and persecution by the government and represented the rights the Saints were then not able to claim for themselves.
The Saints in the county fought this in several ways. According to Amott, Bishop Budge of Paris is recorded to have excommunicated members long enough for them to vote and then reinstated them. According to newspapers, they also stole voting records so that the votes were cast, but there were no records of who cast them. Then they all railed against the government by speaking out in conferences about a government that no longer represented the Saints. Amott said, “One speaker was quoted to have said, ‘Essentially, they may have their courts to represent the law here on earth, but we have God, and his law is supreme.’”
Also, they chastised their own members, and even disowned members who were polygamists and decided not to cooperate. Truman Angel, Jr., who, because of all the commissions he was working on, and because he was getting money from the government, decided to cooperate with the Feds on his own polygamist case. The Deseret News in Salt Lake City actually called him a “Fallen Angel.” He was called a bad example by cooperating and was said to be showing his true colors.
According to Ammot, in 1885, you have Truman Angel, Jr., in Paris finishing the courthouse approximately the same time they decide to build the tabernacle a half block away. The courthouse is seen by the people of Paris as a symbol of government who is persecuting them. So who do they bring in to design the tabernacle? They bring in a man who views the tabernacle as the Saints trying to build something bigger than the courthouse as a statement of power. They bring in Joseph don Carlos Smith Young, who sees himself as the son of the founder of the LDS Church, Joseph Smith, as well as the son of the second president of the Church, Brigham Young, both polygamists.
So, Young was brought in to design the tabernacle, the embodiment of the very principal of polygamy. Ammot said, “This was not a place to gather the faithful, but a statement of LDS resistance.”
Ammott’s final words were, “During the period of construction and immediately following, there was tension between what was not just the secular courthouse but anti-mormon representation of government and the tabernacle. The story these two buildings tell together is central to the very identity of the city of Paris and the larger identity of Bear Lake County.
“This story should be known and celebrated, and more research should be done on these buildings. Its a story that everyone who lives in Paris should know. These two buildings are partners in telling the story of the effort those people and the ancestors of the people of Bear Lake went through to show that they weren’t going away, that the government could not force them out. So it bothers me when people say this building is ‘historic’, because it’s such an easily dismissed word. You have to know the history.
“This story comes out of Paris in a very pivotal time in the city and county’s history. The efforts of the ancestors who lived in this town should not be celebrated by demolition.
“Even with the tension between the architects, the ideologies, the state, and the local people, eventually the Saints won. The Saints took the county ....”