BOUNTIFUL -- The white tabernacle on Bountiful's Main Street is not only a meetinghouse for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but it is a landmark -- a monument of the past. This year the historic building celebrates 150 years in existence.
Tours of the centrally located building are offered during the city's Handcart Days celebration. This year's tours will be held Saturday, every hour on the half hour beginning at 9:30 a.m. and continuing until 2:30 p.m.
Construction on the tabernacle began in 1857 and ended in 1863, when it was dedicated by Heber C. Kimball. According to its brochure, the Bountiful Tabernacle is the oldest meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the state. And it is the oldest building in continuous use since its dedication.
In 1847, Perrigrine Sessions was asked by LDS Church leader Brigham Young to find a winter grazing place for the cattle. As Sessions traveled north, he found a large willow patch with grass that would feed the cattle during the winter. So Sessions moved his family. They lived in a wagon and dugout near what is now 300 North and 200 West.
Soon more families began moving into the area. They had no church building, so the members met in homes. A small log building was constructed at 200 W. 400 North, to be used as a church, school and social hall. According to the brochure, this building was replaced by an adobe structure just a year later.
The community grew until the small building would no longer accommodate their needs, so Brigham Young encouraged them to build a larger facility. Church leaders decided the center of town was a good location to build the new meeting place.
It was a cold February morning in 1857 when they gathered for the groundbreaking. Lorenzo Snow dedicated the site. And in 1863 the Bountiful Tabernacle was dedicated by Kimball.
The original building was designed to be 44 feet by 86 feet. The foundation is 6 feet thick. Lumber for construction came from Holbrook Canyon.
"My great-great-grandpa was in charge of the lumber," said Tom Tolman, who serves on the Bountiful Historic Commission. "My roots go back to the very beginning."
Lloyd Carr, who helps with the tours of the tabernacle, tells about troubles that came shortly after construction began. Notification came from Young that Johnston's Army was coming, so the Saints were asked to leave and move south.
"The foundation of the building was filled with grain and food and covered over so no one would know anything was here," Carr explains. "They did not want the army to take their supplies."
After three months the people returned, but the construction of the tabernacle was not resumed until later.
"It was really slow getting started. It was hard to get people to work, because they were trying to survive," Carr said.
Huge timbers, held together with wooden pegs, were used to support the roof. Two-hundred-thousand adobe bricks were used in the building. One of the early residents wrote in his journal that the best brick in the valley was used in the building.
The Saints eventually used their talents to complete the building. Some used their carving skills to create beautiful wood casings and railings for the trim and winding staircases. Red pine was hand-grained to make the benches look like oak. And craftsmen painted the columns to resemble marble. The original crystal chandeliers had candles in them. And there was no organ in the original building, just a piano.
When the building was first constructed, a painting of the bust of Joseph Smith was at the front of the chapel where the organ pipes are today. The painting was removed and is now in the Museum of Church History and Art of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City.
During a big windstorm in 1906, the five spires of the steeple were blown off. They were replaced in 1955.
The ceiling of the building collapsed in 1983, and the chandeliers came down onto the organ console. The legs came off the piano.
"It was really a big mess," Carr said.
A decision was made to restore the tabernacle and the organ. A church member made moulds so the ceiling could be recreated.
"Some of the pipes played all of the time, so the organ had to be turned off for meetings," he said.
The decision was made to expose the pipes, which looks nice, and the organ produces more sounds.
The sound now billows throughout the building.
"In the early days they didn't drape the windows, because that is where most of the light came from," Carr said.
A cultural hall used to be to the north, and the Relief Society room was to the east, but as the area grew, more classrooms were needed. Classrooms took the place of those rooms, and additions were made to accommodate the Relief Society and create a new cultural hall.
"This building has a lot of history behind it," Carr said.
The building houses three wards and the Bountiful Stake.