The Brigham City Tabernacle: A Gleaming Tower

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This article originally appeared in Vol.53, No.1 (2006) of Pioneer Magazine.

By Paul L. Anderson, Curator, Museum of Art, BYU

Approaching Brigham City from almost any direction, a traveler can see the gleaming white tower of the tabernacle above the treetops long before he can distinguish other details of the town. It dominates the skyline like the Church has dominated the city’s history Its rough stone walls together with its dramatic pinnacles and tower symbolize both the earthly achievements and heavenly aspirations of Brigham City’s builders.

The Victorian exuberance and complexity of this magnificent monument came from a complicated history. In the early 1860s, as the settlement began to grow, Brigham City’s leaders set aside one corner of the main intersection of town as the site for a large, permanent meetinghouse. Workmen had already begun digging the foundations when President arrived in town on an inspection visit in early 1865. Despite their work in progress, Brother Brigham decided that this was not the place for so important a structure in the town named for him. He led the local leaders out of the central business district several blocks south to Sagebrush Hill where Main Street reached its highest point. This site offered a more prominent setting for a structure that could rise above its surroundings with plenty of room for gardens all around. Aided by surveyor Jesse Fox, President Young laid the cornerstones on this site on May 9, 1865, thus insuring the future preeminence of this landmark church. 

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, photo by John Tedford

Although work soon commenced on the tabernacles foundations, construction went slowly for more than a decade. Workmen were needed more urgently for completing the transcontinental railroad and a variety of community commercial enterprises. It was not until 1876 that leaders pushed the tabernacle project ahead and the walls began to rise. By 1879 the roof was finished and meetings could be held inside. The structure was large but simple in design, without the buttresses or elaborate tower of today. The plain stone walls were broken only by the large pointed windows, and foe low tower was crowned with simple comer pinnacles. The pulpit was located opposite the main entrance in the east end with benches filling the main floor. Improvements continued over the next decade, however, and before its 1890 dedication, the tabernacle had added brick buttresses to strengthen foe sidewalls and a more impressive tower with a bell-shaped roof A gallery increased the seating capacity of foe building to about 1200. President Wilford Woodruff dedicated foe structure on October 26, 1890. The following year saw the addition of a new furnace to improve the comfort of the hall.

Five years later, disaster struck. The furnace, always unreliable, caught fire on a cold February day in 1896, just before a meeting was to begin. The blaze quickly spread from the timbers under foe rostrum to the rest of foe structure, and in less than an hour, all that remained of the magnificent building was its blackened stone walls and brick buttresses. The shocked community rallied, however, and resolved to rebuild with improvements. In just 13 months, a greatly enhanced tabernacle was ready for rededication. An elaborate Victorian Gothic tower and pinnacles similar to those on the Assembly Hall in Salt Lake City gave the structure a more grand and stylish appearance. Inside, the pulpit now sat in foe west end, backed by a large choir loft. Handsome new woodwork on the rostrum and balcony carried raised moldings of four-leafed Gothic medallions called trefoils. Despite its history of additions and changes, the completed building possessed a unity and monumentality that made it one of the most memorable structures in the state. President George Q. Cannon dedicated the restored building in 1897.

The tabernacle today appears grander than ever, still standing tall above the treetops of a beautiful town.

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