Biography of Francis Charles Woods

Written by daughter Phyllis Afton Woods Parker
January 15, 1933 – Ogden, Utah

Francis Charles Woods was born at #1 Alberta place, Kingston, Glasgow, Scotland, January 12th, 1844.  His father, Edmond Woods and his mother, Mary Ann Grimdell, were visiting in Glasgow at the time of his birth.

Edmond Woods was an Englishman, and an organ-builder by trade, being very skilled in this craft.  His Grandfather, John Woods, was an architect.  Francis Charles, under the instruction of his father and grandfather received much of his early training in architecture and organ building, living and working at this trade in London, England.

His childhood and youth were spent in this large city where there were many things to be observed and much was learned in this way by Francis.  His first venture in making a livelihood was selling penny newspapers which he did at the age of 6 years.  Papers at this time were sold over and over again, a customer renting them for a penny an hour, and at the end of the hour the paper was taken to the next customer and so on until the news it contained was no longer news.  One day while going to a store for supplies, he was teased by the bully of the neighborhood.  This was not the first time, however, as this lad had delighted for many a day in teasing Frank, but always when he had his arms full of papers or packages.  This day was more than Frank could stand, so laying his bundles down on the sidewalk, he took the bully on for a fist-fight and succeeded in giving him a good thrashing, much to the delight of the spectators that had gathered.  From that time on, you may be sure, Frank was not bothered by that fellow.  This little incident won him the respect of all the other youths in the neighborhood as well as his victim.

While serving apprenticeship in a large pipe organ factory he became acquainted with the Mormon missionaries and attended their street meetings on the streets of London.  He heard the Elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints preaching on the Redemption of the dead.  This appealed to Frank and he investigated this religion and found it highly satisfactory in his ideas and ideals, so he accepted the gospel, and was baptized into the L.D.S. Church, February 5th, 1867, by Chas. W. Penrose.

At the age of twenty-five years, he made the journey to Utah, with a company of converts under the leadership of President Louis W. Shurtliff, arriving on the first through passenger train which stopped at Taylors Hill, south of Ogden, Utah.

He found lodging at the home of Alf Lowe and worked in Uintah for some time.  What a different country this was, so unlike his old home in London.  This new country was so wild and unsettled.

One evening Francis was returning to the Lowe home from Uintah, after receiving his pay, which was part in cash and part in foodstuffs.  He put his money in the band of his hat, as this country was filled with robbers at the time.  Having walked about to Birch Creek, he was commanded by two masked men to put up his hands.  As he did so, he knocked his hat off and kicked it aside.  The men searched him but finding no cash, on his person, they emptied the food on the ground and left him unharmed, to return home which he did saving his hard earned pay in this way.

When his work was finished in Uintah he went to Salt Lake City, and was employed by Joseph Ridges who was the builder of the Great Tabernacle Organ, which was begun in January 1886.  About one hundred men were employed constantly in its construction.  Meetings were held by Mr. Ridges and his associates who were: Shure Olsen, Neils Johnson, Henry Taylor, Frank Woods and others, almost every day and the reports of each man’s work were listened to.  While one was collecting various specimens of wood from the canyons of Utah, another was devising good tools to work the wood with, while still a third man was experimenting in making glue.  So the preliminary work went on.  Specimens of wood were sent by the colonists from all over Utah, and it was finally decided that the best wood was found in the hills around Parowan and in Pine Valley, more than 300 miles south of Salt Lake City, Utah.  It was a fine grain of the white pine variety, free from knots and without much pitch of gum.  For the large part, it was especially well adapted.

The larger pipes, some of which measure thirty-two feet, required thousands of feet of timber, all of which was sawed on the ground where the trees were cut down.  Over the long, lonely roads trudged the oxen day by day, hauling the heavy logs to Salt Lake City.  At times there are as many as twenty large wagons, each with three yoke of oxen drawing its load.  The roads were rough and dusty, and many streams had to be bridged, that the wagons could pass over without difficulty.  In crossing one stream in Southern Utah, the logs were let down over the bank with ropes and the oxen driven some miles to find a ford, where they crossed and followed on down the bank to pick up the wagons and loads again.  The timber was finally landed in Salt Lake City.  Another important necessity for making the pipes was glue.  This was made of hundreds of cattle hides as well as buffalo skins, by boiling the strips in large pots over fires.

The Tabernacle Organ soon attained the reputation of being not only the largest in the world except one, but the sweetest toned.  The range of its pitch and volume made it celebrated among the artists of America and England and the world’s celebration sang to its accompaniment.  Said Adeline Patti on one occasion: “Never have I encountered such perfect resonance as here in the Tabernacle.  Why, my voice is twice as large here.  It carries further and with ever so much more tone than in any hall that I have ever sung in.”  And one evening just before singing to a Tabernacle audience, Madam Schumann-Heinck remarked that she “counted the music of that organ one of the greatest pleasures of her life.  But Patti and Shumann-Heinck are not the only artists who have fallen in love with it, and statesmen, actors, railroad magnates, engineers, and scholars have wept as they have sat and listened to it.

Such in brief is the story of the Great Tabernacle with its Organ.  Thousands of tourists visit it yearly, and the building leaves a lasting impression of what a great creative, constructive agency man may become in the midst of toil and need.  Of the music (and only the productions of the world’s masters are heard) it may be truly said: “It is a sermon, and teaches that life is for the finer qualities of the human soul and the development of the higher powers of our natures.”

The organ had been built by Joseph Ridges previous to 1872, the latter having been sent to study organ construction.  It became evident that something was radically wrong as it was completed, four or five men being required to pump the bellows where it should not have taken more than one or two.  The noise began falteringly and with a wheezy tone which the builders could not understand nor remedy.

It was in 1869, that Mr. Woods came to Utah but he was not called upon to inspect the organ at Salt Lake until 1872.  He was an expert organ builder, having learned the art in London and it was not long before he discovered the cause of the trouble.

The connections between the bellows and the pipes were too long and required too much air pressure to fill them.  He proceeded to remove thousands of dollars worth of pipes from the instrument and shortened the connections so that the “wind attack” was direct and adequate thus perfecting the organ which has since commanded the admiration of the musical world.

While living in Salt Lake City, Francis Woods met Evelyn Pratt, youngest daughter of Parley Parker Pratt and Ann Agatha Walker.  After a short courtship, he was married November 5th, 1873, to Evelyn, in the Endowment House as the Temple was still under construction.

Their first child, Francis Lowell Woods, was born in Salt Lake City, and when at the age of two years, the little family moved to Malad City, Idaho, where their early married life was spent.  While here, he built a hotel, homes, stores, and a beautiful courthouse, which stands as a monument to him today.  He also worked as a coffin builder while in that city.

While in Malad, seven children were born to them, namely, Evelyn Leona, Mary Ann Agusta, Parley Edmond, Moroni Charles, Agatha Georgina, Claribel Louise, and Edna Violet.

He also built the Auditorium in Pocatello, a Mental Hospital in Blackfoot and on structures as far north as Rexburg, in Idaho.

In 1889, Francis Charles Woods took his family to Odgen, Utah.  His reason being to bring his children where they could be better educated, and live in a better environment.  To do this he sold his ranch, home, and household effects for a very small sum of money.

In Ogden, he and his family lived at 466 17th Street, while at this address, Athleen, Harold Cecil, and Kenneth Blaine, were born.  At 512 31st Street, Phyllis Afton was born Mar. 7, 1899.  While at 331 32nd Street, Dorothy Berenice made the eighth daughter to a family of five sons, making a total of thirteen children, all of whom grew to manhood and womanhood and twelve of them being happily married in the Salt Lake LDS Temple.

In 1899, Francis Charles Woods built the Roman Catholic Church in Ogden which is a magnificent structure of stone and a monument to his name and his skill as an architect.  The altar, which is acclaimed by many visitor clergymen, and members of the congregation as being the most beautiful in any church in the state, was planned in every detail by Francis Charles Woods.  Reverend Monsignor Patrick Michael Aushnahan, pastor of the church, was a very dear friend of Brother Woods, for many years.

Mr. Woods also built the Presbyterian Church, Healy hotel, City Police Station, South Washington, Quincy, and Madison schools besides thirteen county schools and numerous stores and residences.

Ogden can well be proud of one of its prominent pioneer Architects.  In conclusion, we can say of Francis Charles Woods that he was a true and loving father full of faith, courage, devotion, and sacrifice for his wife and children.  Everyone who knew him, loved him.  He had a pleasant manner and disposition, and was immaculate in appearance, and keen of intellect, and charitable to all.  Doing many acts of charity, unmentioned by him, to needy souls who blessed his name.  He died at the age of 68 years at his home at 331 33rd Street, after an illness of one year and was buried from the First Ward, Weber Stake, Ogden Utah.  His body resting in the Ogden City Cemetery, April 11th, 1912.

[transcribed and proofread by David Grow, Jan. 2007]

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