Brigham Young High School History

The Beehive Fountain
~ 1913 to the Present ~

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The Significance of Beehives

The beehive symbol in Latter-day Saint culture was originally inspired by several verses in the Book of Mormon. Part of the Book tells of an Old Testament people called the Jaredites. These people lived at the time of the Tower of Babel, and they eventually came to the New World.

On their journey to what is now the Americas, they carried with them "deseret", which the book interprets as "honey bee". The account says they carried to the promised land "swarms of bees". Consequently, the word deseret is associated with a beehive symbol.

When Latter-day Saint pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in July of 1847, they found few resources and were forced to rely on their own industry, and to cooperate extensively with each other to survive the harsh, primitive living conditions. The region settled by these first pioneers was originally named the Deseret Territory, and the beehive was chosen as its emblem.

When he visited Utah during his Roughing It travels through the American West in the 1860s, author Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) commented on the symbol: "The Mormon crest was easy. And it was simple, unostentatious and it fitted like a glove. It was a representation of a Golden Beehive, with all the bees at work."

During the mid- to late-1800s, Church leaders and members incorporated the beehive image extensively in the exterior and interior design of buildings such as the historic Salt Lake Temple and Brigham Young’s home -- the Beehive House. The beehive is also the symbol of the State of Utah, and is included on both the state seal and the state flag. The state nickname is -- of course -- the "Beehive State."

Original BYA Deed of Trust Seal - Beehive

And the beehive appeared on the original Brigham Young Academy Deed of Trust in 1875, shown above.

An interpretation of this symbol appeared in an October 11, 1881 article in the Deseret News, stating: "The hive and honey bees form our communal coat of arms. ... It is a significant representation of the industry, harmony, order and frugality of the people, and of the sweet results of their toil, union and intelligent cooperation."

Even down to the present day, the beehive symbol is widely used and understood in LDS culture.

The First Brigham Young Campus Fountain

The idea of building a fountain in front of the Education Building came soon after the building was dedicated in 1892.

The fountain before the 1913 beehive - 1896
Fountain before the beehive fountain - 1896

By 1896, a fountain had actually been constructed. In the accompanying photograph taken in that year, The Art Club posed on the original fountain in front of the Academy Building.

Teacher of the group was John B. Fairbanks, sitting in the front row with a beard. He later served as the official photographer and artist on the Cluff expedition to South America.

But apparently the fountain construction was not permanent, and it was removed. For more than a decade there was talk of rebuilding a fountain in the same spot as the first, but nothing much was done about it.

The Second Brigham Young Campus Fountain: Beehive Fountain

The following suggestion appeared in The White and Blue student newspaper on April 22, 1913: “A fountain placed west of the High School Building would add materially to the appearance of the grounds. Who or what class would volunteer to build the fountain?”

The White and Blue student newspaper masthead

Five days later The White and Blue announced that the Class of 1913 had collectively decided to build the proposed fountain.

A drafting class conducted a contest seeking a design for the new fountain, and the winner chosen was Andrew N. Brimhall, a member of the BYU Class of 1913 from Arizona. His design took a Book of Mormon theme by using Central American Aztec symbols. For the central symbol, he chose the beehive.

The beehive and its support were hand-carved of granite -- artist unknown -- while the balance of the fountain was constructed of concrete.

Brigham Young Lower Campus Beehive Monument
Granite sculpture of skep-type beehive.

The beehive emblem is in the form of an old-style beehive known as a "skep". These dome-shaped skeps were made using twisted coils of straw. Mormon pioneers brought five of them to Utah in 1848.

Actual bee skep
Actual bee skep in use.

The skep was a popular design throughout Western Europe and pioneer America. It derived its name from the Anglo-Saxon word skeppa which simply means basket; the typical skep was a conical basket made of long wheat straw coiled and stitched with blackberry briar.

Skeps have small loops at the top to allow them to be easily lifted. This lifting or "hefting" was an acquired skill for judging the weight of honey inside.

The following photograph was taken at the dedication ceremony in 1913. Early on it was sometimes called the Aztec Fountain because of the various symbols in the design. However, eventually it became known almost universally as the Beehive Fountain, even after it was no longer used as a fountain.

Beehive Fountain Dedication in 1913
Dedication of Beehive Fountain in 1913.

Those who had the responsibility of maintaining it quickly began to rediscover why the earlier fountain in the same spot had experienced problems. Fountains in cold-weather climates face severe problems associated with freezing and thawing.

In addition, water in fountains near schools can constitute an attractive nuisance. The age-old pranks include: adding soap to the water to create frothy bubbles; adding food coloring to the water; throwing waterproof firecrackers into the pool; and later, adding colored Jell-o on a cool day.

Athletic competitions created additional problems -- how many mornings did the faculty and students arrive on campus to discover that the beehive had been painted in the repulsive colors of their archrivals?

Because the fountain was not without problems, its water was seldom turned on, and it was always drained before the first freeze in the autumn.

Brigham Young Lower Campus Beehive with water
Rare view of Beehive Fountain in action.

In the 1950s, a pivotal decision was made and campus grounds crews trucked in planting soil, which they shoveled into the fountain's catch basins. The beehive fountain became a very large flower planter, with beautiful results.

What BYH or BYU yearbook was ever published without one or more photographs of the beehive fountain? It was a popular place to photograph homecoming queens. It was probably the most photographed feature of the campus for candid shots: "Just stand over here by the beehive and let me take your picture."

Brigham Young High School 1963 - Beehive Fountain
Beehive fountain -- center of BYH campus life.

The beehive fountain became one of Provo's most popular "meet me" locations right from the start. It was the center of student activities at Brigham Young High School. Even decades later, when most BYU students took all of their classes on the Upper Campus, students of all ages cultivated friendships around the beehive on the Lower Campus.

When Brigham Young High School was closed in 1968, the 1913 beehive fountain was left to deteriorate along with all of the other historic campus facilities.

When the "Miracle at Academy Square" decision was finally made to renovate and renew the historic Education Building for use by the Provo City Library, the Brigham Young Academy Foundation quickly made plans to temporarily remove the beehive fountain, store it, and then restore it. They allocated $50,000 to the beehive fountain project.

Farewell to the old Beehive Fountain
Farewell to the old Beehive Fountain

Restoration of the fountain by the landmark year of 2000 was faithful to the original design, based on detailed historical photographs.

However, the original design included an Aztec symbol that was the mirror image of the Nazi swastika, on the south face of the supporting column. Of course, the infamous symbolism of the swastika was not known in 1913. Shortly after re-installation of the fountain, public objection to the swastika-like symbol increased, and it was removed.

But the paradox of its name, as was the case for more than 50 years before its remarkable restoration, continues. The restored monument still looks like a fountain -- but will continue to be a beautiful flower garden instead.

And in case you are wondering, it was first said to be located in exactly the same spot where it was originally built. However, it is actually much closer to the front steps than before. It is now surrounded by concrete walkways rather than lawn, and the half-circle driveway that separated the beehive fountain from the Academy Building was not retained as part of the redesigned library campus.

Restored Beehive Fountain at Academy Square
Welcome to the restored Beehive Fountain.

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