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Godbe Exchange Building

Godbe’s exchange building was located on the southeast corner of First South and Main Streets. William S. Godbe (1833–1902) joined the Church as a youth in England and went on to become a prominent merchant in Utah, one of the Territory’s richest men, and a city councilman. He was also a president of a local seventies quorum and a counselor in the Thirteenth Ward bishopric.

Godbe Exchange Building
William Godbe was a wealthy businessman in Utah who became involved in spiritualism, apostatized, and actively opposed the Church and its economic policies.
Photo by Daughters of Utah Pioneers

As the Church began to expand in membership and influence, it became necessary to become more involved in economic endeavors to ensure the survival of the Saints in the West. Although most of the Saints were pleased with the Church’s promotion of economic self-sufficiency, a small group objected to its economic philosophy. A group known as the Godbeites (known also as the “New Movement”) displayed significant antagonism toward Church leaders. This organization was established primarily through the combined efforts of William S. Godbe and E. L. T. Harrison, who convinced a small group of businessmen and others to protest Church policies. They argued for open commerce with “Gentile” merchants nationwide and pushed for the Utah economy to focus on mining rather than on agriculture and cattle.

“In October 1868 Godbe and Harrison traveled to New York City, ostensibly for business and recreation. They apparently used the occasion to seek direction from a spiritualist medium, Charles Foster. Fifty séances followed, confirming their religious doubts and mandating a radical restructuring of Mormonism. ‘The whole superstructure of a grand system of theology was unfolded to our minds,’ Harrison later wrote. The system included a devaluation of the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, and the rejection of a personal deity, the literal resurrection, and the doctrine of the atonement.” Anxious to share their opinions with individuals throughout the community, the Godbeites expressed their economic and spiritualist views in the Utah Magazine, which they began to publish in 1868.

The Godbe Exchange Building as it looked in the late 1800s.
Photo by Utah State Historical Society

Diligent efforts were made to reclaim William Godbe and his companions, but they simply increased their public outcries. They were invited to discuss their concerns in the Salt Lake School of the Prophets, which resulted in an unpleasant war of words. In 1869 charges against the group were heard by the Salt Lake Stake High Council, and the men were excommunicated. In 1870 they organized the Church of Zion, and the earlier Utah Magazine was succeeded by the Mormon Tribune, an anti-Mormon newspaper later renamed the Salt Lake Tribune. “Together with leading non-Mormons in Salt Lake City, they formed the Liberal Party to oppose the Church’s political activities. . . . By 1873, the Church of Zion had collapsed from lack of support, while the Liberal Party lived on and was a disruptive force in Utah politics until 1893.”

Interesting Facts

Heber C. Kimball’s son David H. related the following experience that occurred at the Godbe Exchange Building:

“One day President [Brigham] Young made a call upon father for $1,000, for some public purpose, and not having the ready cash, he was at a loss to know where to get it. At his suggestion, we went down to the garden and bowed ourselves in prayer, father calling upon the Lord to direct him in the matter. We then arose and started down the street, and he remarked that the Lord would answer our prayer and direct him aright. When even with Godbe’s corner, William Godbe came out of his store and told him that, in looking through his safe, he had come across $1,000 in gold-dust, belonging to him [Heber C. Kimball], which his son Heber P. had left there for him sometime before, though father until then knew nothing about it.”