Salt Lake City’s Gilgal Sculpture Garden earns honor from national historic group

Salt Lake City’s Gilgal Sculpture Garden is the first Utah site to enter the Distinctive Destinations program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, officials announced this week.

The designation, part of a new marketing program, showcases Gilgal as “a unique and special place in Utah,” said Kirk Huffaker, a Utah board member for the nonprofit in Washington, D.C.

Gilgal, a magical urban oasis and botanical garden, is tucked away in the center of a city block at 749 E. 500 South and contains 12 original sculptural arrangements and more than 70 stones engraved with scriptures, poems and philosophical texts.

The most well-known sculpture is the Sphinx, with its stones arranged to suggest a crouching animal and its face carved in the likeness of Mormon founder Joseph Smith.

The garden was created by mason Thomas Battersby Child, who began building it in his backyard in 1945. Each piece represents an idea that was important to him in his lifelong spiritual quest.

The stones, weighing many tons, were collected from Utah’s mountains and streambeds, along with remnants from large projects. The stones were brought into the yard, where the finish work was completed.

After Child’s death in 1963, the garden passed into the hands of new owners. In 1997, Friends of Gilgal Garden was established to prevent commercial development on the site and to ensure its preservation. It is open daily except Christmas, New Year’s Day and Thanksgiving.

(Tribune file photo) Sphinx in Gilgal Garden in Salt Lake City includes image of Mormon founder Joseph Smith.