Joseph William Summerhays was born at Pimlico, Middlesex, England, on January 15, 1849, the first child of Caleb Summerhays, and Margaret Moore. He had two younger sisters, Mary and Hester, and two half sisters, Jane and Eliza, children of his mother by a previous marriage. Jane, the older sister, was an invalid and did not have the use of her legs.
His parents joined the church in March 1850.
In 1859 he had his only schooling in a small private school.
The family was in very limited circumstances, so at age 10 he left school
to work in a print shop. Later he
wrote, “During this period we saw hard and bitter times.
I have seen mother many times buy a half loaf of bread and a cent’s
worth of black molasses, to share among all of us”.
Later he worked with his father and learned to be a stone mason.
By 1866 when he was 17 he and other members
of the family had saved enough money for one person to make a trip to Utah.
It was decided that he should go to Utah and prepare the way for the rest
of the family to follow. On May 5
1866 as part of an immigration company of 389 Saints he left on what proved to
be a five week voyage to New York. From
there they went by boat to New Haven Connecticut, where they were loaded on
boxcars to Chicago. They then
traveled on passenger coaches to Quincy, Illinois, where they took a river
steamer to Wyoming, Nebraska. There
he hired out to drive three yoke of oxen hitched to a wagon to cross the plains.
They left on August 9, and arrived in Salt Lake October 11.
During the trip they had trouble with the Indians and severe snow storms.
During the trip thirty members of the company died.
When he got to Utah the only trade he knew was stone masonry.
He worked at that when he could and filled in with other odd jobs
including construction work on the Union Pacific Railroad.
He was ordained an Elder on June 27, 1870,
and on the same day married Mary Melissa Parker, Mary Catherine Bishop on June
19, 1882, Sarah Berrett on June 5, 1884, and Hilda Johnson on November 16, 1888.
By these four wives he had 39 children.
For several years he was associated with
Hiram B. Clawson in the hide and wool business.
Then in 1883 when he founded J. W. Summerhays & Sons.
This was a hide and wool business and was his principal business interest
for the rest of his life. In
addition at various time he was one of the organizers of the Granite Paper Mill,
one of the organizers of the Big Cottonwood Power Company, and for many years a
member of the Board of Directors of the Deseret News where he served on the
executive committee. He also had
interests in the Utah Tanning Company, West Jordan Woolen Mills, Salt Lake
Mattress Company and the Boston Hide Company.
He traveled extensively, including visits to
David Witmer, and Martin Harris to hear first hand their testimony of the Book
of Mormon. He was at the dedication
of the Salt Lake, Manti and Logan Temples.
During the Indian troubles 1867-69 he served on the Territory Militia.
He was ordained a Seventy on March 11, 1876,
and served as a home missionary for many years, in addition to his full time
mission in the Eastern States 1901-02. In the 16th ward he served as President of the
Y.M.M.I.A., teacher and secretary in the Sunday School and as member of the
building committee when they were building a new chapel.
In the Forest Dale Ward he was head of the High Priests.
He was a member of the Temple and Genealogical Committee of the Granite
Stake. For years he was a member of
the Deseret Sunday School Union Board. For
a time he also served as a member of the Board of Religion Classes.
In addition to his church callings he served
in the community. He was the first
Mayor and Chairman of the Town Board of Forest Dale before it became a part of
Salt Lake City. Among other
positions he served as a School Trustee, and Chairman of the Water and Power
He died 28 June 1929 in Salt Lake City,
Utah. His funeral was held in the
Forest Dale Ward Chapel. Among the
speakers was David O. McKay. During
his remarks he said:
“In January 1887 he was called to serve on the Sunday School Union General Board. When I was a member of the Stake Sunday Union Board of Weber County he would visit us in his capacity as a General Board Member. We enjoyed his visits, and admired him for what he was and what he did. I have been intimately associated with him in other ways, and knew members of his family well. One of his outstanding virtues was sincerity. His whole soul centered on what he thought was right. Next to that virtue I would say loyalty. I always looked on him as a friend that could be depended upon under all circumstances. I would also like to comment on his enthusiasm. He inspired his fellow workers. The work was carried on the more because of his enthusiasm. And finally I will name his implicit faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. From generation to generation his name will be held in honor.”
Deseret News published the following tribute to him:
“In the death of Joseph William Summerhays the News
loses a long-time and highly esteemed associate and friend.
For many years he served faithfully and well on our Board of Directors.
In business affairs he was energetic and capable, independent withal and
courageous in pursuing the policy which appeared to deserve the approval of his
integrity, promptness, and fair dealing. Those
who came in contact with him always had the highest respect for him.
He earned his place as one of our leading citizens.
His activity and influence have been felt for good in many directions and
the circles in which he has been a leading figure will surely miss him.”
Last modified: November 10, 2000