Sketch of the Life of Francis Charles Woods

[This information was taken from a sketch written by Phyllis A. Woods Parker; information given me by my mother, Mollis Woods; letters written by F.C. Woods; and publications on the Tabernacle Organ.  –Mary Lambert Taggart.]

Francis Charles Woods was born at #1, Alberta Place, Kingston, Glasgow, County Lanark, Scotland, January 12th, 1844.  His father, Edmond Woods, and his mother, Mary Ann Grimsdell, 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.

Another incident in Frank’s childhood, that changed the course of his life, must be included.  His father was away from home on a business assignment, and having displeased his stepmother, she had locked him in the attic, giving him some bread and water for his food during his punishment.  His father returned unexpectedly, and on inquiring as to the boy’s whereabouts was directed to him.  When opened the door, there spread before him, was a whole village in miniature.  Frank had scraped the dirt out of the cracks of the floor and mixed it with his water and with the mixture created his “town”.

His father was so pleased that he promised him he could become an architect so that he could employ his creative mind to earn his livelihood, as his father and grandfather had done.

At the age of 25, he made preparations to come to Utah with a company of Saints under the leadership of President Louis W. Shurtliff.  Before leaving England, he had his picture taken, as did the members of his family that were living at the time.  It is fortunate that these photos have been preserved that we may share them.  (John L. Parker brought them to me.  Some are yet unidentified.)

Above are pictured two trains, similar to the engines that pulled the first passenger train into the Ogden region, May 10, 1869, bringing Frank Woods to Utah.

The train Francis Charles Woods arrived on, stopped at Taylor’s Mill, south of Ogden, Utah.  Frank 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 a precaution, as he had heard numerous reports of robbers in the vicinity.  Having walked about to Birch Creek, he was accosted by two armed men and commanded to put up his hands.  As he did this, he knocked his hat off, and it rolled some distance across the ground.  The men searched him but finding no cash, on his person, they emptied the food on the ground and left him unharmed to resume his journey homeward, unaware that he had saved his hard earned pay.

When his work was finished in Uintah he went to Salt Lake City to work for Joseph Ridges in the construction of the Tabernacle organ.  Mr. Ridges was to become his brother-in-law.  About 100 men were employed constantly in the construction of the organ  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 glues.

The organ building was supervised by Joseph Ridges who had some experience in Australia.  It became evident that something had gone amiss 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 notes began falteringly and with a wheezy tone which the builders could not understand or remedy, until they called on Mr. Woods to inspect the organ and try to discover the difficulties.  It was not long until he was able to find the answer.

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.  The organ soon attained the reputation of being not only the largest in the world, except one, but the sweetest toned.  Its range of pitch and volume has made it celebrated the world over.

Mr. Woods also built the organ at Stratford on Avon – Shakespear’s home – where it is still played for tourists and worshipers alike.  Acquaintances who have had the opportunity to play this instrument  say that it is an exceptionally beautiful instrument that its tone quality is seldom equaled.

While living in Salt Lake, Frank Woods met the lovely daughter of Apostle Parley P. Pratt.  Evelyn was his last child, the daughter of Ann Agatha Walker Pratt who was the first milliner of this Valley, a convert from England.

After a short courtship, he married “Eva” the 5th of November 1873 in the Salt Lake Endowment House, as the Salt Lake Temple was still under construction.

The following is one of the letters written to Evelyn by Frank Woods, during their courting days, while he was away working at Soda Springs, Idaho Territory.  This is copied just as it was written, dated the 4th of July, 1873;

“My Own Darling and Loving Eva:

As this is the above date, and I am over 100 miles from you, I thought a letter would suite you, instead of myself as it is impossible to be with you, my darling, this 4th, so I went to work and consoled myself that I would have my 4th with you when I return which I think will be about six weeks or so, so make yourself comfortable and we will have July times when I come back.

I will try to tell you what sort of a place Soda Springs is; it is on the bank of the Bear River and the whole country is a mass of different springs and different sorts.  There is Soda Spring, muddy springs, steamboat springs (this gets its name from the way it acts.  It blows out about 2 feet high and makes a noise like that of a steamboat.)  There is formation springs that runs over a vast extent of country and forms rock of anything that comes in its way and when anything retards its progress, it will pile up and form a rock wall and keeps running over and forming rock all the time.  Close to this spring there is a cave which I suppose was made by the running of this spring.  It will turn a living plant into rock.  I found one, the bottom of it rock, and the top green and alive.

Just about 200 yards on a hill from the tent there is two small springs 4 ½ inches apart and about the size of a wash dish.  One is hot the other cold.  We amuse ourselves by shooting, fighting and exploring.  It has been rather warm today but as a general thing, it is cool and cold at night.  I was never in such a place as this is, that makes me so sleepy.  Oh, how I wish you was here with me.  My sweet, pretty pet.  I pray for you, I dream of you, I fancy I can see you when I am at work and I do not doubt you are thinking of me.  How many kisses have you got for me when I come back, or is it out of sight, out of mind?  I do not think so for the way my absence from you makes me feel, you, I so dearly love, darling.  How is the weather there in the City?  It is middling warm in the day, but cold of a night.  Do you have any fruit?  We do not, only dried peaches now and then.

Darling, has your mother sent me answer to the letter I sent her?  If not, write and tell her to, for when I come back, I want to marry you right away, if you have not changed your mind.  So try to fix that up, my Pet, for me, and I will ever bless you for it, My Own Darling One.  Are you happy and comfortable?  If not, tell me, and I will do anything to make you so, for I feel you are the only one in this world I have to love me now.  If you will only fix to get married I will smeer you over the mouth.  How I would like one on the mouth now, you bet!  Accept the most sincere love from me, your own dear self, and I will be back as soon as possible for I long to kiss and see your dear face again.  You said in your last letter I was not to forget my promise when I come back (What did I promise? Was it to marrie you?)  If so, I will do it with all my heart and sole.  If not that, tell me, for I do not wish to break one of them at all with you and I expect the same of you, My Pet.  Well, good night and please excuse this for the boys are cutting up and I cannot write comfortable.

I remain,
Your ever loving and Sincere,


P.S. How I prize your last letter, or rather your first and last letters and I will prize the next one much more!”

Their marriage was solemnized just four months later, as you will note.  They lived for awhile in Salt Lake then he was called to Malad, Idaho where his services as an architect and builder were needed.  While here, he built a hotel, homes, stores, and a beautiful Court House, and also worked as a coffin maker as the necessity arose.

Eight of their thirteen children were born to them in Malad: Francis Lowell, Evelyn Leona, Mary Ann Agusta, Parley Edmon, Moroni Charles, Agatha Georgina, Claribel Louise (whose name Claribel was taken from the name of one of the stops of the Tabernacle organ), and Edna Violet.

Frank Woods also built the Auditorium in Pocatello, a Mental Hospital at Blackfoot, Idaho, and worked on structures as far north as Rexburg in Idaho.  In 1889, he took his family to Ogden, 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.  (Reportedly, $300.00).

In Ogden, they lived at 466 17th Street, and while at this address, Athleen, Harold Cecil, and Kenneth Blaine, were born.  At 512 31st Street Phyllis Afton came to them, and when they had moved into their newly built home at 331 33rd St., their baby and 13th child was born; Dorothy Berenice.  This meant they now had eight daughters and five handsome sons.  All grew to manhood and womanhood, 12 of them married in the Temple, all of them happily married, and all of them became parents giving the happy couple 65 grandchildren, and numerous great grandchildren which we have failed to count to date.

In 1889, Frank built the Roman Catholic Church in Ogden, which is a magnificent structure of stone, still considered one of the outstanding pieces of architecture in the west, and a monument to his name and skill as an architect.  The Reverend Monsignor Patrick Michael Aushnahan, Pastor of the Church, was a very dear friend of his for many years.

He also built the Presbyterian Church, Healy Hotel, City Police station; South Washington, Quincy, and Madison schools, besides 13 County schools and numerous stores and residences in the Ogden area.  Ogden can well be proud of one of it’s leading pioneer architects.

In his position as an architect and organ builder, he was beat out of money and honor and credit due him so many times, that it was hard at times for him to keep his faith in mankind.

The courthouse he built in Malad, recently torn down and replaced, was always the scene of Christmas gaiety provided and conducted by him.  He always arranged for a huge Christmas tree inside the Courthouse, and there would be gifts for everyone in town, as well as candy and nuts for all.  That is where mother (Mollie Woods) got the little glass slipper that is still in existence today.

Grandfather, (Francis Charles Woods), always planned the dresses for his daughters.  He cut out the patterns and fitted them to the girls, then grandmother would cut the material and make the dresses.  People would ask where they obtained the beautiful dresses for their girls, thinking they were imported.  He always tied the girl’s sashes and did a beautiful job.  He also designed the bonnets and hats to match the dresses.

Mollie and Leona wearing dresses and bonnets designed by their father and made by their mother.  This picture was taken from a school pose with their teacher and other classmates.  The girls were about 14 and 16 years old.  They are dressed alike as usual, but it is to be seen that the difference lay in the weight and type as well as colors of the materials used, so that they never dressed identically as to color, etc., but loved to dress alike, this way, and did, until they were married.

In conclusion, we can say of Francis Charles Woods, that he was a true and loving father, full of faith, courage, devotion, and was willing to sacrifice anything for the welfare of his wife and family.  He was truly an artist in every sense of the word, and a skilled workman, as well as a true Latter Day Saint.

He had a pleasant manner and disposition.  Everyone who knew him, loved him.  He was immaculate in his appearance and habits, keen of intellect, and charitable to all, doing many acts of charity unmentioned by him to needy souls who blessed his name.  He would tolerate no discourtesy in the home, and was always very proper in manner and speech, as well as in dress.

He died at the age of 68 years, at his home in 331 33rd Street, Ogden, Weber County, Utah, after an illness of one year, caused by ruptured appendix.  He was buried from the First Ward, Weber Stake.  He died the 11th of April, 1912.  His body rests in the Ogden City Cemetery.

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

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