Hidden just a block from Trolley square in Salt Lake City, sits a unique gem squirreled away behind houses and restaurants. Why is it called Gilgal, you ask? The park is associated with Mormonism. The name Gilgal Gardens is derived from the biblical location in the Bible, where Joshua ordered the Israelites to place twelve stones as a memorial.
This little known garden was started in 1945 by a man named Thomas Child. Unfinished, he worked on it until his death in 1963. He used his career as a stonemason to translate his love of philosophy and God into beautiful and puzzling sculptures for people of all ages to see and enjoy.
As a retired masonry contractor and Bishop in the LDS church, he wanted to use his skills to inspire visitors to his garden to ponder “the unsolved mysteries of life.” Only raw materials were used, and all work was required to be done on site. Childs painstakingly selected enormous rocks to bring into the garden, sometimes going to great lengths to obtain them. The public park contains 12 original sculptures and over 70 stones engraved with scriptures, poems, and quotes. The primary purpose of the garden is to make people think. “You don’t have to agree with me.” Childs said. “You may think I am a nut, but I hope I have aroused your thinking and curiosity.”
The Garden fell into disrepair for a short time in the 90’s, before a Canadian company wanted to buy the land and turn it into condominiums. The group who ended up calling themselves ‘Friends of Gilgal Garden’, run by Hortense Child Smith, the wife of Childs son, decided to try and raise funds to save the park. Receiving funds from Salt Lake County, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and The George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation, they managed to turn it into a public park for all to enjoy. From 2001-2005 the Utah Master Gardeners took to beautifying the gardens, and by 2005 the sculptures were being restored.
Today we see only a beautiful and odd place to sit and ponder. It is a peaceful place amidst a big city, full of oddities to discover, and history to be learned. Browse the inspirational quotes and find one just right for you. Kill some time staring at the head of Joseph Smith, prophet from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, on the body of a sphinx. Some rocks give simple wisdom, ‘Count Your Blessings’ while others tell stories from the bible. Soon, QR codes will be established by every stone sculpture so you can have an interactive learning experience while you stroll through the unique park. It is definitely a quirky must-see for visitors to Salt Lake City and residents alike!
Gilgal Gardens is the only designated “visionary art environment” in Utah, and runs on donations, gratefully accepted to continue restoration and upkeep. Visit them at www.gilgalgarden.org to donate or to learn more!
Want to visit Gilgal Gardens?
749 East 500 South, Salt Lake City, Utah
The public is invited to visit the garden seven days a week. There is no admission charge. Walking tour brochures are available at the garden. Visiting hours: April to September -8 am to 8 pm /October to March -9 am to 5 pm: Closed New Years Day, Thanksgiving, & Christmas.