Monday, March 23, 2015

Too Little Credit Where Much Credit Was Due: Joseph Ridges

This nice little marker is just outside of my local sandwich shop near the corner of State Street and South Temple, across from Brigham Young's Lion House, Territorial and Church Offices, and the Beehive House. One of the architects is noted as Joseph H. Ridges, my 3rd-Great-Grandfather.

He is better known for building another "structure" or two, principally, the original Tabernacle Organ, now modernized and mostly replaced in all its intricate parts, but still retaining the essential features of Joseph's design. In the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Museum is a composite photograph reproduced here in a church publication:

Comparing the two structures, there are similarities in the rounded wood holding the organ pipes and the elaborate window frames and peaks of the Gardo House.

Joseph built a much smaller and modest home for his family, but with some nice architectural features. The home was on 3rd North past 4th West in Salt Lake City, just behind where West High now sits and before the railroad tracks. I have not yet found a photo of that house.

Recently, I came across a very interesting letter not by, but about Joseph. I think it's an important part of his story:

                                                                                                Salt Lake, Oct 9, 1910

Charles W. Nibley, Esq.
Presiding Bishop

Dear Brother Nibley: –

                Perhaps it is not generally known that the builder of the Tabernacle organ is still living in Salt Lake, at 427 West Third North, in fact. I realize that you re a busy man, but I seek indulgence and submit the following which you would not learn from either Joseph H. Ridges or his wife.

                When Joseph H. Ridges was engaged in building the famous organ which has subsequently delighted so many thousands and afforded pleasant thoughts of Salt Lake to tourists on their return home, President Brigham Young stated on several occasions, “Brother Ridges, you shall never want for anything.”

                True to this word Joseph H. Ridges received an allowance from the church. I do not know how much it was, but it was paid monthly.

                In 1894 one of his daughters was married, and, naturally, there was a gathering of friends in the evening.

                Subsequently A__S__, then bishop of the Twenty-second ward, visited the home and in effect said, “Brother Ridges, if you can afford to give a wedding reception I do not think that the Church is called upon to assist you.” Following that announcement the allowance from the Church ceased.

                Brother Ridges has never mentioned the subject to me. The wedding reception was a modest one and I know that the few dollars it cost were not paid out of the Church allowance, because I was the son-in-law.

                Some years ago Bro. Ridges was “discovered” by Heber J. Grant and Angus M. Cannon. It was found that he was an old man deserving of assistance, and a splendid benefit was given him in the Tabernacle, the proceeds of which netted enough to build a little cottage.

                Bro. Ridges rented this cottage and built himself, unassisted, a three-room rustic home in the rear of the lot, mortgaging his property to complete the job. This mortgage has been paid off and at present the property is unencumbered.

                Two years ago one of his daughters rented the cottage. Today the breadwinner is an invalid unable to make more than enough for the daily slim groceries.

                Nothing daunted, the old organ builder undertook to rent two of the rooms of his own home, but found he could not find a tenant for such small quarters.

                He then proceeded to build two more rooms on to his cottage with his own hands. He is 83 years of age and he completed the job last week.

                He has now rented his own home furnished and moved into the two rooms with his wife. They have a few sticks of furniture and no comforts.

                He came to me last week and asked me to loan him $150. to pay the lumber bill and the coming taxes. I was so situated that I could not do it, or I would not be writing this letter.

                He has mortgaged his place time and time again in the past and he promised his wife last time that that would be the final occasion.

                He cannot live much longer and his wife, under the stress of circumstances, is aging fast.

                Both are distinctively sensitive and would feel keenly hurt if they knew I had told their private affairs to anyone, but I think that you should know of existing conditions.

                Personally I have always felt the injustice of Bishop S___’s action. If the Church feels that it has done enough for Bro. Ridges could some scheme be devised whereby my note could be taken on long time (for my installments on my home and family affairs leave me meager leeway) so that Bro. Ridges could not feel that everybody had deserted him?

                I wish to state that neither my wife nor myself ever expects to benefit by his death for he has daughters, one especially in polygamy in Colorado, who need assistance, and I always hope to be in a position to care for my own.

                I am not looking for another benefit for him, in fact such a proposition would be undesirable, but I do think that there are many less deserving in the Church who are being cared for.

                Trusting that you will take this communication in the spirit in which I intended writing it.

                                Yours faithfully,

                                Geo. E. Carpenter

Bro. Ridges appears to have ended his years in very humble circumstances. It's not entirely clear if he got his stipend back. More research is required. I do know that his descendants remain justifiably proud of him and the famous Tabernacle Organ.


  1. That was truly fascinating! And I have fallen in love with Gardo House...

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.


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