H.W. Lawrence


Image from the Salt Lake Tribune, 09-24-1900.

While doing research for the soon to be released expanded Ghosts of West Temple online exhibit, we came across many intriguing stories that couldn’t all fit in the exhibit. We thought we would share some of those stories on this blog.

In 1880, a building was erected at the corner of West Temple and Second South.  Since the Salt Lake Tribune had its offices there, it became known as the Tribune Building. In 1891, the Tribune relocated and the building became known as the Commerce Building.[1] The building went through different owners and held many interesting businesses. We are going to highlight a few here, beginning with early Salt Lake businessman Henry W. Lawrence.

In 1901, the building’s owners, Henry W. Lawrence, Florence K. Woodruff, and Frank Godbe sold the building to P.H. Lannan for around $90,000.

Henry W. Lawrence was born in Ontario, Canada on July 13, 1835. When he was thirteen his family moved to Nauvoo, Illinois and became Mormons. In 1850, his family migrated to Utah along with around 260 people led by the Edward Hunter Company.

Lawrence was around 15 years old when he arrived in Utah. When he was a young man he began clerking in his brother-in-law, Hiram Kimball’s store. Lawrence later married Kimball’s niece, Jeanette. He became Kimball’s partner in 1859 and the two men ran a successful mercantile, Kimball & Lawrence, until Kimball died in November 1871. Lawrence continued to run the store under the same name after Kimball’s death.

The Salt Lake Herald reported that “Mr. Kimball has been in the valley many years; he never was a Mormon nor professed any belief in its faith, but he was an honorable man, a peaceable citizen and upright in all his dealings.”[2]

On the other hand, Lawrence seems to have embraced Mormonism, as he became a confidant of Brigham Young, paid his tithing, and became a polygamist (he had two wives). Over time, however, he began to question the church. While it is unclear, he may have continued to believe in most of the tenets of the LDS Church, but began to question Brigham Young’s leadership. Lawrence got involved with the Utah Magazine, the precursor of the Salt Lake Tribune, which at least in part lead to his excommunication. The magazine published an article which upset church leaders, many of the people involved were excommunicated right away, and others were called to testify as to whether they agreed with the article. Lawrence testified that he did indeed agree and was given some time to think about his stance. Brigham Young met with him and spent several hours trying to convince Lawrence to come around. After much introspection Lawrence decided to stand by his testimony and was excommunicated.

Lawrence became associated with the Godbeites, a dissident group who took exception to how Brigham Young was running the church, among other things. They were especially upset with the co mingling of church and church leaders’ personal finances. Lawrence and other leading Godbeites sued for return of all of the tithing they had paid unless Young could prove that none of the money went to him. The settlement of the case is unknown. We also don’t know what happened to Lawrence’s second wife. He was a polygamist and remained so after his split with the church, but his first wife, Jeanette Kimball Lawrence, is the only one mentioned throughout much of the remaining documents.

Lawrence was more focused on politics and played important roles in several political movements in Utah, including the Liberal Party, the People’s Party (Populism), and Socialism. He ran for office numerous times, although early on he was usually defeated, which did not come as a surprise to him. He ran even though he knew he would lose because he wanted to address a problem he saw in Utah politics. Much of his split with the church was because he took issue with the territory, then state, being run as a theocracy. Early on when voters went to cast their ballots they were often only given one choice for each office and could then either vote yea or nay, but either way the person running was guaranteed a win.

Before Lawrence split with the LDS Church, he was involved in much of church affairs, including the founding of ZCMI. According to the Deseret News, at a meeting of stockholders of the Co-operative Institution Lawrence offered to sell to them the entire stock that Kimball & Lawrence owned of the new store they had recently opened in Provo. The article noted, “The business done by this store since it was opened has been excellent, and it was made with a view to aid the cooperative movement.”[3]

Lawrence passed away in April 1924. According to his biographers, “As a person of vision and courage, Henry Lawrence was a man of considerable importance in Utah, and his present relative obscurity is undeserved.”[4]

Entry contributed by Dr. Michaele Smith,  Archivist,  Salt Lake County Archives.

[1] “The Salt Lake Tribune,” The Salt Lake Tribune, January 1, 1891.

[2] “Died,” Salt Lake Herald, November 11, 1871.

[3] “Co-operative at Provo,” Deseret News, February 17, 1869.

[4] John S. McCormick and John R. Sillito. “Henry W. Lawrence: A Life in Dissent,” from Roger D. Launius and Linda Thatcher, eds., Differing Visions: Dissenters in Mormon History, (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 237.

Additional Sources:

Ronald W Walker, Wayward Saints: The Social and Religious Protests of the Godbeites against Brigham Young, BYU Studies / Brigham Young Univ Press; 1st Edition edition (June 30, 2009)

“H.W. Lawrence, S.L. Financier Dies Aged 92,” Ogden Standard Examiner, April 5, 1924.

“His Long Life Filled With Public Service,” Salt Lake Herald, December 29, 1912.

“Decision of the Supreme Court of the United States,” Deseret News, June 18, 1873.

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