Gilgal Gardens

Gilgal Gardens are located on half an acre of land, at 749 E 500 S, in what used to be the backyard of a man named Thomas Battersby Child, Jr. If you”ve lived in Salt Lake City for very long, you”ve probably driven by it on 700 E more times than you can even remember, and may never have known it was even there.

Thomas Child (1888-1963) was a devoutly religious LDS stone mason. In 1945, when he was 57 years old, he decided to build a garden filled with stones and symbolism to honor the ideas and people who were most important to him, and then he spent the last 18 years of his life creating it.

The garden became the final passion of his life. He read art books and trained himself as an artist. He had huge stones hauled onto his land, and his son-in-law, a welder and trainer named Bryant Higgs, helped him use an oxyacetylene torch to sculpt them. One of Bryant Higg”s students was a sculptor named Edmund Brooks. Brooks carved the face of Joseph Smith, Jr. onto the most famous statue, a sphinx, and also helped carve some of the other features in the garden.

Child made a total of twelve original sculptures and 70 or more stepping stones engraved with scriptures, quotes, and poetry. He built a monument to the trade of masonry, a monument to his wife, and a monument to peace. On his wife”s monument, he wrote: “Sole partner and sole part of all my joys, dearer thyself than all.” Eagles, salvaged from the Bamberger Railway Station, symbolized patriotism; a birdhouse symbolized liberty. He built symbolism-packed tributes to priesthood, to Ecclesiastes, to Elijah, Daniel, and Job.

The result was an eclectic, religiously based collection of words and sculptures, all of which were intended to make visitors think and be curious. It is a combination of religion and folk art that is unique. There is a name for what Child created: visionary art. This garden is the only example of it in the state of Utah.

When he died, his neighbor, a man named Henry Fetzer, bought Gilgal Gardens. The Fetzers maintained it for many years, but they had problems with vandalism and the work of maintaining it, and finally decided they had had enough. They planned to replace the garden with an apartment development. However, a group of people organized themselves, gave themselves a name (“The Friends of Gilgal Garden”), and launched a campaign for donations. They purchased Gilgal Gardens for $679,000 and gave it to Salt Lake City as a park on October 21, 2000. The Friends of Gilgal Garden are its caretakers. From April to September, it is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily; from October to March, weather permitting, the hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed Christmas, New Year”s Day, and Thanksgiving.

For a fascinating glimpse into each part of this wild, remarkable, beautiful and very odd garden, visit


By Salt Lake Digs Contributor, Susan Morgan

 Photos courtesy Travis Lucas

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