The Lion House was constructed in 1856 for Brigham Young, the second President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the first Governor of Utah Territory. As the father of 57 biological children and several more adopted, fostered and stepchildren, the residence was built to make room for his large family. It adjoins the historic Beehive House on the west, which acted as the official governor’s residence. During the 1920s, Lion House served as the location of the domestic science department of Latter-day Saint’s University. Today, the ground floor houses a functional, cafeteria-style restaurant known as “The Lion House Pantry.”
Born to John Young and Abigail “Nabby” Howe in Whitingham, Vermont, Brigham Young began his young career as a traveling carpenter and blacksmith. He converted to the Mormon faith in 1832 where he would go on to perform missionary work in Upper Canada, help establish a religious community in Kirtland, Ohio, and aid in organizing the exodus of Latter-day Saints from Missouri in 1838. After the 1844 murder of Joseph Smith, the founder, and First president of the Church, the question of succession brought Brigham Young’s name to the forefront. Three years after the death of Smith, Young was named the second President of the Church and inherited all the trials and tribulations of his predecessor.
Certain earlier practices of the Mormon faith, such as the acceptance of slavery and polygamy, garnered a negative reputation among Gentiles, a name for non-members of the church. As a result of the conflicts that arose from this, Young and his constituents were forced to relocate to the Salt Lake Valley, a part of Mexico at the time. He organized an exodus that would first take 2,500 Mormon pioneers to Nebraska from 1846 to 1847 and then move on to the Salt Lake Valley. At the time of their arrival on July 24, 1847 (now recognized in Utah as “Pioneer Day”) the area had come under American Control as a result of their war with Mexico.
Initially, Young petitioned Congress to create the State of Deseret from those lands gained by America from the Mexican Cession. This resulted in the Compromise of 1850 that drew out the boundaries of Utah Territory. On February 3, 1851, as colonizer and founder of Salt Lake City, Brigham Young was officially selected as the territory’s first governor and superintendent by President Millard Filmore. Later, President James Buchanan would instead install a non-Mormon governor after being made aware of the reports of widespread and systematic obstruction of federal officials in Utah. Along with his choice of new governor, Buchanan also sent troops to garrison forts in the new territory. When Young received word of these actions, he retaliated by calling on his militia to ambush the federal force. What resulted was the Utah War (1857 – 1858), where Young managed to hold the U.S. Army at bay for an entire winter before eventually relenting and agreeing to step down as governor. He was later pardoned by President Buchanan and continued to serve as President of the Church until his death in 1877.
Constructed in the year preceding the Utah Wars, the historic Lion House originally served as a more private residence for Brigham Young and his family than official residence, the Beehive House. It is also where the Young Ladies’ Department of the Ladies’ Cooperative Retrenchment Association was founded in 1870. In 1931 that same association received approval from the First Presidency to use the Lion House as a social center for girls and women after the departure of Latter-day Saints' University's domestic science department from the location. The Lion House overcame the threat of demolition in the 1960s and, after going through a series of renovations and restorations, it was eventually reopened as a restaurant and reception center. The Lion House Pantry has gained international fame for their rolls and has even appeared in an episode with Bobby Flay’s on the Food Network.