William Spry was born in England and came to Utah in 1875 when his family joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Spry lived in Tooele County and worked at a variety of jobs until he found his place in politics. He served as the tax collector for Tooele County and later as a representative in the state Legislature. An important member of Senator Reed Smoot’s “Federal Bunch,” Spry secured the nomination for governor in 1908 and was elected.
Spry emphasized to the Legislature the need for a state capitol. At first denied, the project was able to go forward in 1911 when the estate of multimillionaire Edward H. Harriman was settled and the state received $798,546 in inheritance taxes. Spry appointed a Capitol Commission to oversee the project, and the Capitol was officially dedicated on October 9, 1916.
Spry’s second term was marked by controversy. Swedish immigrant and Industrial Workers of the World songwriter Joe Hill, was convicted of murdering two Salt Lake City men despite circumstantial evidence and was sentenced to death. Spry received appeals from all over the world, including a plea from U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, to give Hill a new trial. He refused—a stance that resulted in the Spry family receiving numerous death threats. Spry ran for a third term in 1916 but lost the Republican nomination.
Lee Greene Richards (1878–1950) was a well-known Utah artist who studied with J.T. Harwood and trained in France. In 1904, he received honorable mention at the Paris Salon, making him the first Utah painter to receive this honor. Richards’ artwork can be seen throughout the Capitol—murals in the rotunda and Senate chamber as well as portraits of Utah governors Mabey and Maw.