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Building Zion

The Material World of Mormon Settlement

2014
Author:

Thomas Carter

Building Zion

What the built environment shows us about the complex and evolving nature of nineteenth-century Mormon social and religious life

Building Zion is, in essence, the biography of the cultural landscape of western Latter-day Saints settlements. Thomas Carter explores the key elements of the Mormon cultural landscape and how it draws its singularity from a unique blending of sacred and secular spaces, a division that characterized the Mormon material world in the late nineteenth century and continues to do so today.

Building Zion surpasses all earlier studies of the Mormon cultural landscape. Through his astute readings of the buildings and towns of Utah’s Sanpete Valley, Thomas Carter offers a persuasive new interpretation of the Latter-Day Saints’ formative years. This book is required reading to understand how the built environment contributes to historical understanding.”

Dell Upton, UCLA

For Mormons, the second coming of Christ and the subsequent millennium will arrive only when the earth has been perfected through the building of a model world called Zion. Throughout the nineteenth century the Latter-day Saints followed this vision, creating a material world—first in Missouri and Illinois but most importantly and permanently in Utah and surrounding western states—that serves as a foundation for understanding their concept of an ideal universe.

Building Zion is, in essence, the biography of the cultural landscape of western LDS settlements. Through the physical forms Zion assumed, it tells the life story of a set of Mormon communities—how they were conceived and constructed and inhabited—and what this material manifestation of Zion reveals about what it meant to be a Mormon in the nineteenth century. Focusing on a network of small towns in Utah, Thomas Carter explores the key elements of the Mormon cultural landscape: town planning, residences (including polygamous houses), stores and other nonreligious buildings, meetinghouses, and temples. Zion, we see, is an evolving entity, reflecting the church’s shift from group-oriented millenarian goals to more individualized endeavors centered on personal salvation and exaltation.

Building Zion demonstrates how this cultural landscape draws its singularity from a unique blending of sacred and secular spaces, a division that characterized the Mormon material world in the late nineteenth century and continues to do so today.

Awards

Vernacular Architecture Forum — Abbott Lowell Cummings Prize

Honorable Mention: Mormon History Association – Best Book

Building Zion

Thomas Carter is emeritus professor of architectural history in the University of Utah’s College of Architecture and Planning. He is coauthor of Utah’s Historic Architecture, 1847–1940: A Guide and Invitation to Vernacular Architecture: A Guide to the Study of Ordinary Buildings and Landscapes.

Building Zion

Building Zion surpasses all earlier studies of the Mormon cultural landscape. Through his astute readings of the buildings and towns of Utah’s Sanpete Valley, Thomas Carter offers a persuasive new interpretation of the Latter-Day Saints’ formative years. This book is required reading to understand how the built environment contributes to historical understanding.”

Dell Upton, UCLA

An interesting take on the history and building of a community where many have the same faith and where church and government leaders were initially one and the same.

Deseret News

Building Zion effectively rewrites the narrative of the settling of the Great Basin as much less weird and un-American than it has been traditionally represented. In doing so, it pushes back against perceptions of Mormons as perennial outsiders. Instead, Thomas urges us to think of Mormons as the fringe of stereotypical America but not—as many others have argued—the fringe that defines the center.

InVisible Culture

Truly a lifetime project, this thoughtful, reflective, nuanced study of relationships between geographical space and social culture is more interpretive and sophisticated than Leonard Arrington, Feramorz Fox, and Dean May's Building the City of God.

CHOICE

Detailed and richly illustrated, Carter proves himself a historian at heart.

Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum

Thomas Carter’s lifetime work on Building Zion is a remarkable introduction to landscape and Mormon settlement. . . A classic.

Journal of Mormon History

In this important volume, Carter deftly and thoroughly explores the human, physical, and spiritual landscape of the Mormons in Zion. . . This book is required reading to grasp how the built environment contributes to the understanding of this history.

Bench Press

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the nineteenth century Mormons of Utah. His novel approach of using evidence from built landscape studies contributes valuable insights to the understanding of this history.

Association for Mormon Letters

Building Zion is an important book, and it will take its place among the works of Glassie and Upton and others that have markedly influenced how landscape and architecture scholars view the worlds we study.

Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review

Building Zion deserves a prominent and abiding place on the bookshelves and in the classrooms of all who take seriously the academic study of the Latter-day Saints. Intellectually and rhetorically, the study is thorough and sophisticated. At the same time, Building Zion is also a distinct pleasure to read.

BYU Studies

Building Zion

Contents

Preface
Note on Illustrations

Introduction: A Landscape of Difference

1. Faith and Works: A Historical Framework
2. The Settlement Matrix: Towns and Temples
3. According to Need: Family Stewardships and the Distribution of Resources
4. Frontier Fashion: Domestic Architecture and Individual Display
5. Polygamy and Patriarchy: Women in the Landscape
6. Business as Usual: The Americanization of the Mormon Main Street
7. Meetinghouses: The Search for Mormon Identity
8. Mansion on the Hill: The Temple as Ritual Space

Conclusion: The Enduring Zion

Acknowledgments
Notes
Index