Ephraim Relief Society Granary

2-story tall vernacular classical-style stone granary building, 50 feet long x 30 feet wide
Ephraim Relief Society Granary

Photograph by Jamyn Maddox, courtesy of Utah State Historic Preservation Office

Quick Facts
86 North Main Street, Ephraim, Utah
Architecture, Religion, Women’s History
Listed in the National Register – Reference number 100004481
The Ephraim Relief Society Granary, constructed c.1872-1875 (and rehabilitated in 1991) is a vernacular classical-style stone granary building located along the east side of Main Street in the rural town of Ephraim, Sanpete County, Utah. The building is approximately 50 feet long x 30 feet wide, and is two-stories tall with a gabled roof. 

It is one of only nine granaries remaining that were used by the Relief Society associated with the Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). It is also significant because of its ownership and use by the women of the Ephraim chapters (wards) of the LDS Relief Society, particularly related to the historic grain storage program. In 1872 when the Co-op was built, the Ephraim Relief Society began using the second floor as its hall. The Relief Society offered its hall for other community and cultural activities, and hence was a gathering place. The building was used to store grain and other resources from 1872 to 1914 for the Relief Society, the LDS Church and the Ephtraim Co-op.

The Female Relief Society was originally formed in Nauvoo, Illinois in 1842. (The word “female” was later dropped from the name). There was a hiatus after the first LDS Church President, Joseph Smith, was killed in Nauvoo, Illinois in 1844. In 1845 the new Church President, Brigham Young, disbanded the Female Relief Society. Following that, Church members faced hardscrabble years after being forced from Illinois and finally settling in what would become Utah in 1847. In 1854, Brigham Young called for the re-establishment of Relief Societies. Ephraim was among the first communities to resume Relief Society operations in the mid-1850s. In the early years following arrival in the Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young asked LDS congregations to store up grain, partly in response to years where “Mormon Crickets” and grasshoppers had nearly decimated the harvest. A strategy of self-reliance was core to Mormon philosophy and the grain storage program was in keeping with a belief among LDS Church members that they must prepare for the second coming of Jesus Christ and tumultuous days of famine that were prophesied.  

In addition to the idea of grain as a safety net, wheat was a resource used to feed the poor, including waves of new emigrants who entered the Salt Lake Valley each year. By the time each pioneer company made it to the Utah Territory they were exhausted and bereft. Yet, all these reasons for storing grain did not mean the program flourished at first. Brigham Young’s original directive had not yielded much success. In 1876-1877 Brigham Young became frustrated and he asked Relief Society General Secretary Emmeline B. Wells to head up a grain storage program. Wells was also the editor of the Women’s Exponent, a newspaper reporting on Relief Society news, and she used this platform to promote the grain program. Wells embraced the leadership role, as did women throughout the Relief Society. Grain collection and storage would be administered by local Relief Society chapters throughout Mormon settlements. It is noteworthy that the grain program was headed up by women because it was rare for women to be publicly in charge of anything in those years, or to have control of resources. Tithing granaries collected in-kind donations, since there was very little cash economy. These buildings served not only as facilities for collecting resources for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but also as centers of trade, social welfare and economic activity in their communities. Tithing offices and granaries collected donations that were distributed locally to feed the poor and support local church needs. In addition, donations were made to more national causes, including to San Francisco after the earthquake of 1906 and relief during World War I. The Relief Society grain program continued for a hundred years.

The Relief Society’s focus was on charitable activities and the betterment of women. Local Relief Societies were legal entities that held title to their buildings and made their own decisions for managing the resources, including their grain. Larger projects were voted upon by chapter representatives at annual meetings in Salt Lake City. The Relief Society did not formally report to or take direction from the Church, although any organization with church ties were intertwined during that era.

Today there are only a handful of Relief Society granaries remaining. All the rest are small and obscure buildings, some vacant and others have been converted to other uses. This is the only Relief Society granary remaining that is open as a public building. Today, the Ephraim Granary stands as a cherished relic from this early period. It represents female autonomy, success, and charitable endeavors. This fine building is a reminder of the successful wheat storage program, which is still a source of pride among LDS women today.  

In 1915, the Relief Society sold the Granary to Ephraim Milling and Elevator Company. During the next decades, it was used as a roller mill. After World War II, the granary and the Co-op next door sat vacant for decades and became an eyesore. This was a time of economic hardship in Sanpete County. Oral histories indicate that if not for the cost of demolition, they would likely have been demolished earlier. In 1969 it was reported that a car wash was being planned for the site, but Richard and Nadine Nibley scrambled to buy time after the bulldozers already arrived to begin demolition. For many years, restoration efforts gathered steam and then fizzled. Finally, in 1990, champions of “Ephraim Square” secured the support and financing to begin renovating these historic structures. Many have said that the turning point was when artist Kathleen Peterson did a painting of the Ephraim Granary not as it was, but how it should be. After restoration in 1990, the building became home to a gallery artist studio space, and the Central Utah Art Project was formed. Kathleen Peterson volunteered her time for many years to run it. Sandra Lanier continued to work with the Co-op next door, which became an artist’s cooperative space for local artisans to market their wares. In 2012, a new local arts agency, Granary Arts, took over operation of the Granary. Granary Arts is a community art center and gallery with a basement space for artists to gather and create. The Ephraim Granary, the Co-op next door, and the C.C.A. Christensen cabin are owned by Ephraim City today—collectively known as “Ephraim Square.” It operates with support of multiple donors and organizations, including the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, and Ephraim City.

Last updated: March 21, 2022