ST. GEORGE, UTAH — A historic Mormon church building in southern Utah re-opened its doors after a two-year project to restore the tabernacle built by early settlers even as the new town struggled to survive through floods and heat.
The Tabernacle in St. George, which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints built in the 1860s, needed many renovations and safety upgrades, The Spectrum newspaper reported.
Emily Utt, a historical site co-ordinator for the church, said there were several aspects of the building that needed to be restored. Throughout the entire process, though, Utt said she was there to guide the engineers, architect and construction managers on how to come up with solutions to the building’s problems that respected the history of the building.
“It looks very, very old, but it’s still filled with concrete and steel,” Utt said.
Part of the restoration involved the original hand-hewn timbers inside the building. Instead of removing them and replacing them with steel, Utt said, the choice was made to layer steel and concrete alongside the timber, which was collected by the original builders from Pine Valley.
“I think we’ve gone to great efforts to keep the historical feel to the building, so hopefully when people walk in, they can still feel that pioneer look as they go,” Utt said.
Construction of the Tabernacle began in 1863, after LDS Church President Brigham Young assigned pioneers in Salt Lake City to trek to Southern Utah to serve the “Dixie mission” of growing cotton.
Settlers in the area were still growing gardens and building homes when they received the directive from Young to begin building the Tabernacle, said. J. Ralph Atkin, the church’s public affairs director for Washington County.
“Construction began when the town was brand new, and people weren’t sure if they wanted to stay,” Utt said. “Life was really hard. It was hot, things were flooding, and life was just not that good. Young directed them to build this Tabernacle to give them a reason to stay and a reason to hope.”
For nearly a decade, the town’s settlers worked on the Tabernacle every day, Utt said. It was eventually finished in 1871.
The Tabernacle has now reopened for public use. Guided tours will be given about the history of the building that’s been the centre of St. George since it was founded.
Atkin and Utt said the building will be available for community use and will host events and concerts.