Box Elder Tabernacle

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Courtesy Ronald Johnson, Brigham City, Utah

For many years the residents of Brigham City worshiped in a log meetinghouse and in the local courthouse, but in 1865, Brigham Young directed Elder Snow and other community leaders to build a tabernacle for conferences of the Box Elder Stake. According to tradition, Brigham Young overrode the selection of a site already chosen by local leaders, situated on the corner of Main and Forest Streets in the center of town. President Young selected "Sagebrush Hill," the highest point on Main Street, and said, "This is the spot for your tabernacle." Building the tabernacle on this site meant that the building would be visible for miles across the valley. President Young and Territorial Surveyor Jesse W. Fox laid the cornerstones on 9 May 1865.

Local manpower was needed to complete the transcontinental railroad, so work on the tabernacle progressed slowly but picked up in 1876. Local craftsmen used quartzite, sandstone and lumber from the nearby mountains. Women donated produce from their gardens and eggs laid on Sundays to sell for the needed cash for glass and other materials that could not be produced locally. The first meeting in the partially completed building took place on 27 May 1879.

In 1889 a tower, a gallery, a rear vestibule, brick buttresses with decorative caps, and other improvements were added to beautify the structure. Church President Wilford Woodruff dedicated the finished building on 28 October 1890.

On Sunday, 9 February 1896, as people began to assemble for afternoon services, a fire started in the furnace room. No one was injured, but despite frantic efforts, only smoke-blackened stone walls remained an hour later. Stake President Rudger Clawson supervised reconstruction over the next thirteen months. The new tabernacle was even finer than the old, with elegant woodwork, a distinctive gothic-revival tower, and sixteen graceful pinnacles. On 21 March 1897, George Q. Cannon, first counselor to President Woodruff, dedicated the rebuilt structure.

In 1971, the tabernacle was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, one of the first buildings in Utah to be so honored. Beginning in 1985, an extensive restoration program replaced the mechanical and electrical systems, reinforced the structure, and carefully renewed both the exterior and interior to guarantee the continued preservation of this magnificent landmark. The 106-year-old tabernacle was rededicated on 12 April 1987 on by Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a native of Brigham City.

The Box Elder Tabernacle was filled to overflowing as members gathered to hear Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Council of the Twelve rededicate that historic building. The special dedicatory program was also shown on closed-circuit television at two local stake centers.

Other speakers included Elder Richard G. Scott, a member of the presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy; Elder James M. Paramore of the First Quorum of the Seventy; Donna Packer, Elder Packer’s wife; and Arnold B. Gilbert, a former regional representative who had been called as president of the Ohio Columbus Mission. President Royal K. Norman of the Brigham City West Stake conducted.

“There is a great and powerful spirit in this tabernacle. It is the Spirit of the Lord,” said Elder Packer before offering the dedicatory prayer.

He recalled occasions when, as a child, he had attended Church meetings in the tabernacle. At one stake conference he heard Elder George Albert Smith, who would later become President of the Church. “In my little boy’s mind came a thought that there stood an Apostle of Jesus Christ,” Elder Packer said.

Drawing on another personal memory, Elder Packer motioned to a room at the rear of the tabernacle and said, “I was ordained a seventy in that room up there by President Benson when he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.”

He spoke of Lorenzo Snow, who lived in Brigham City and was eighty-four years old when he became President of the Church. Elder Packer also noted that President Wilford Woodruff delivered the Manifesto in the Box Elder Tabernacle.

Elder Scott praised missionaries who have gone into the world from the Brigham City area to preach the gospel, and urged listeners to preserve “the heritage this building represents.”

Brother Gilbert noted that as more stake centers were built in the Brigham City area, the tabernacle became less prominent. Some even talked of tearing it down. “We were all overjoyed when the Church historical committee decided to restore it,” he said.

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