PORTERVILLE — Only the walls of the historic Porterville meetinghouse still stand, but those walls symbolize a once divided community that settled its differences.
Now, the site is up for sale.
Thomas Bergman currently owns the property. He paid $2,000 for the meetinghouse in 1975. His family restored it and then lived there until 2001, when one of the daughters left a candle burning in her fourth floor bedroom.
The night the meetinghouse burned, Bergman said, he and his wife had returned from a Salt Lake City trip and could only watch the house burn for the next day or so.
“If I weren’t so old, I’d do it again,” said Bergman, 73, about rebuilding the property.
Bergman, an amateur historian, spoke from his Nevada home during a telephone interview.
The fire left the walls, but they are still beautiful. The Gothic-style church windows there are similar to those seen in England, which is where many of the people in the community came from, Bergman said.
The meetinghouse was listed on the State Historical Register in 1971, but that list is no longer active, said Linda Smith, Morgan County Historical Society county historian, from her office in the Morgan County Public Library.
“There are no protections for a site like this,” she said. “A lot of people have the mistaken idea that if things are put on the national register of historic sites, they’re protected.”
Details differ, but Smith, Bergman, and Grace Kilbourn’s book, History of the Old Porterville Church, mostly agree.
The Porterville community then was divided into East Porterville and West Porterville. Bergman said the east-west conflict was something “between the Hatfields and McCoys.”
Kilbourn describes it in her book as “some contention.”
Perhaps the rift began when the eastern side formed a United Order in 1875, in which everything was given to the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ward, and then redistributed among the community, Smith said. That only lasted until 1877.
But each side of town had its own ward and its own school district. When LDS Church President Wilford Woodruff sent George Teasdale, an LDS apostle, to Porterville in 1898 to settle matters, Teasdale pointed out Joseph Durrant, and said: “This is the man who will be your bishop.”
Local folklore says Durrant was an inactive member who was just walking by. Based on Kilbourn’s records, Smith said people were meeting in a grove, and Durrant walked up. There is no official record showing whether or not he was inactive in his church, Smith said.
Kilbourn’s historical account says the two bishops of East and West Porterville were released from their callings “gladly and with joy” when Durrant was set aside for the task of uniting the wards with
this new Porterville construction project. One prophet later, LDS Church President Joseph F. Smith dedicated the meetinghouse in 1908.
“It took 10 years and it united the people,” Bergman said about the project. “They liked (Durrant) and they all got behind him.”
The rocks for the foundation came from the Devil’s Slide quarry. The foundation was built six feet wide and six feet deep, then tapers up to 10 to 15 bricks at the base, Bergman said. (Smith’s records show six bricks thick, but laid side by side).
The beams and floor boards came from the Hard Scrabble sawmill in Red Hill. Bricks came from Bountiful because the Morgan brickyard produced a softer, adobe brick that would eventually have let the heavy building crumble.
Steel beams still stretch 10 feet up from rock-bottom basement to what used to be the floor. The Porterville meetinghouse closed in winter 1945, possibly because of the heating bills, Smith said.
So far, no one is seriously interested in buying the property, Bergman said. Historical societies call, a few people have looked into it, but so far nothing.