07 January 2022

The First Utah Law Signed on a Special Table - The Utah Table

Today, Jan 7 1896, the Utah State Legislature first met in a special session and passed Utah’s first law on a special mosaic table made for the occasion.

Salt Lake City and County officials invited the new Utah Governor and Legislature to use the recently completed City and County Building (Image 1-2) for the state’s business. The building continued to serve as the seat of Utah’s government for several years, until the new Utah State Capitol building was completed in 1916.
Salt Lake City and County Building in 1896.
From UDSH. Colorization by author.
Interior of Salt Lake City and County Building in 1896. The abundance of American flags suggests this is one of the rooms used by the first State Legislature following Utah's statehood in Jan 1896. From UDSH. Colorization by author.

Utah achieved statehood on Jan 4 1896, and the first Utah Legislature (Image 3) met in special session and passed their first bill on Jan 7 1896. (The first bill was for the convening of the state legislature in regular session).

First Utah State Legislature, held at the Salt Lake City and County Building, 1896. Top image is the House, bottom image is the Senate.  The women in the photos are likely staffers. Image from UDSH.

Utah Governor Heber Wells signed the first bill into law that same day, Jan 7, on a specially crafted table (Image 4-5) made specifically for this occasion by SLC resident and carpenter, John R. Wilson. Governor Wells dramatized the occasion and made special mention of both the table and the pen he used to sign Utah’s first law.
Author's illustration of what the Utah State Table may have looked like. 
Illustration in the Deseret Weekly May 4 1895 based on the description from its maker, John R. Wilson.

Wilson’s table became known as the Utah State Table. It was crafted from special pieces of wood donated by each of the other 44 states and the 4 territories. These historically significant pieces of wood were wedged around a Utah native hardwood circle. The table measured 3 ft square and 2 ft 6in high.

Some notable examples of wood contributions include:
  • California tree planted by the Spanish monks in 1800
  • Wood from the Charter Oak Tree where the Colony of Connecticut hid its charter from King Charles II in 1687 (Image 6)
  • Black Mulberry where a treaty with Native Americans was made in 1631 in Maryland
  • Floor joists of William Penn’s house in Pennsylvania
  • Stock of an anchor stock of the USS Constitution, the oldest ship in the US Navy
  • Wood from the framework that supported the Liberty Bell
  • Keel of the HMS Augusta which was defeated in the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War in 1777
  • Wood from a tree from the Hill Cumorah in New York (important to the LDS religion- where the Golden Plates were found by Joseph Smith)
  • Wood from Brigham Young’s table and a wagon that crossed the plains to Utah
  • Charter Oak, 1857, oil on canvas. By Charles De Wolf Brownell.
    From Connecticut Historical Society. 
Wilson did not donate this table to the State of Utah. He sought payment for it from the first legislature of 1896 in the amount of $2,500 (~$83K today), which the legislature declined to authorize. He then sought to sell it to the highest bidder by sending a descriptive pamphlet throughout the US; in response, the 1899 Utah Legislature authorized $250 (~$8.4K today) payment to Wilson for the table.

The table was used in the Governor’s offices for several years; in 1913 a secretary for Governor Spry remembers it being used in his conference room in the City and County building.

In 1945, Wilson’s daughter, Matilda Bingham, sought to locate the table because she believed important papers were hidden in a secret compartment of the table and were to be opened in 1946, 50 years after the table was first made. Newspapers from 1896 describe a hidden compartment in which a copy of the Utah Constitution and other “historical documents” were to be enclosed.

At the direction of the Governor, searches were made to locate the table in 1945-1946. Both the City and County and the State Capitol buildings were searched but the Utah State Table was never relocated and is likely now lost to history.

Deseret Weekly 1895-05-04; New York Times 1896-03-30; Salt Lake Herald 1895-12-26; Salt Lake Tribune 1896-01-08; Salt Lake Herald 1896-01-08; Times Democrat 1896-04-08; Salt Lake Tribune 1896-04-10; Salt Lake Herald 1897-02-10; Salt Lake Herald 1899-03-30; Post Register 1945-03-05; Salt Lake Telegram 1946-03-02; Deseret News 1946-03-04; Utah History to Go – Utah’s Constitution

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