The first sacred edifice constructed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a temple. That was the Kirtland Temple built in 1836. Today, in addition to thousands of meetinghouses, there are currently 134 operating temples worldwide and, with an announcement during the recent general conference, 26 temples announced or under construction.
Latter-day Saints throughout the South expressed their excitement when, in 1980, it was announced that the twenty-first temple of the Church would be built in Atlanta, Georgia. The Atlanta Georgia Temple would become the first Latter-day Saint temple in the southeastern United States and the second temple east of the Mississippi built since 1846. It took forty years to construct the majestic Salt Lake Temple and just over two years to complete the significantly smaller Atlanta temple.
Although Mormons have been in Georgia consistently since the 1870s, for nearly a century those desiring to have their marriages solemnized, or blessed to last for eternity, had only one option -- travel to Utah. In Mormon marriage ceremonies performed in temples, the clause “till death do you part” is absent.
The desire to obtain the promise of a marriage that would last beyond the grave was so strong that it was not uncommon during the first half of the Twentieth Century for Mormons in the South to scrimp and save for years to make a single trip to the Salt Lake Temple. The construction of a temple in Atlanta would reduce travel time for those in the South from days to hours.
On March 7, 1981, a crowd of approximately 10,000 spectators gathered on a 13-acre lot near Abernathy Road and Georgia 400 in Sandy Springs, to hear from Church President Spencer W. Kimball, Georgia Governor George Busbee, and other civil and religious leaders at the temple's groundbreaking ceremony.
“As an outside observer,” said Governor Busbee. “I feel that that the high emphasis you place on early positive training within the family and church has been one of the major contributing factors to your success.
“Frankly, I wish more Georgians placed such importance in the moral aspects of this life, for only through a common responsibility for our neighbor’s well-being can we insure that our state will be a better place for our children to live.
“And we are all taking a big step toward that goal on this beautiful hillside today as we break ground on what will soon be the first Mormon temple in the entire southern United States.”
The original design for the Atlanta temple did not include the characteristic spires or statue of the Angel Moroni prominently displayed on other Mormon temples. Church Architect Emil B. Fetzer, later revised the plans to include a statue of the angel atop a single spire.
By the spring of 1983, construction was complete and the public invited to tour the Atlanta temple prior to the formal dedication. During the month of May, 61,644 visitors toured the Temple. President Gordon B. Hinckley, 15th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, formally dedicated the temple in services held on June 1, 1983. It was the first of 97 temples dedicated by President Hinckley.
Since that time, thousands of couples have been married in the Atlanta Temple and tens of thousands have taken part in the ancient Christian practice of baptism in behalf of deceased ancestors. In addition to those in Georgia, a steady stream of Mormons from across the South and the Caribbean came to the Atlanta temple for marriages and other services for nearly two decades until other temples were built closer to home.
After 26 years of operation, the temple closed on July 1, 2009 and for the next 18 months underwent massive remodeling to the interior and exterior. The raised ceilings, additional windows, new chandeliers, murals, art glass, paintings, and stone and woodwork all contribute to an atmosphere of beauty and serenity.
The remodeling is complete and for the first time in 28 years, the public is invited to go inside the temple during an open house from April 9 through Saturday, April 23, excluding Sundays. The temple will be formally rededicated on Sunday, May 1, 2011. After the dedication, only members of the Church who are in good standing are permitted to enter the temple.