This article originally appeared in Vol.58 No.2 of Pioneer Magazine, 2011
A visit to fort utah in Sept. 1849 by the first Presidency of the Church—consisting then of brigham young, Heber C. Kimball and willard richards—undoubtedly had a bearing on ultimate selection of the site occupied by the Provo tabernacle block.
Thomas Bullock’s notes, now part of the Journal History of the Church for Sept. 19, l849, record that on Monday, Sept. l7, the third day of the visit, Elders Young, Kimball and Richards and others “rode out from Fort Utah in three carriages, accompanied by five men on horseback, to look out a location for a town.”
“They found a very eligible place, about two miles southeast of the Fort, where it was decided to build a city a mile square, to be laid off in blocks of four acres each, divided into eight lots of half an acre each, reserving the center block of four acres for a chapel and schoolhouses, the streets to be five rods wide .”
Since the Tabernacle Block is approximately two miles southeast of the site generally associated with Fort Utah, it appears that the First Presidency of l849 may have had this general area in mind, even then, for the “center block.” [The location of the block is at the present-day University Ave., and 100 South.]
However, it was at a more westerly location—on the Public Square at Fifth West and Center Street—that ground was first dedicated and broken for erection of a Provo Meeting House, Aug. l6, 1852, under Apostle George A. Smith, who was serving at that time as president or presiding officer of Provo Stake, later to be named utah stake.1 Work was discontinued after the foundation was begun, and upon advice of President Young himself, the location was later switched to the present Tabernacle Block.2
Fruit Trees on the Block
What was the block like in early times? Reports handed down through the years indicate the southwest part of the block was once a natural slough area, with ducks attracted to the pond. Minutes of early-day meetings spoke of a well on the property. The Provo Meeting House (Old Tabernacle) occupied a fair-sized parcel of the ground, of course. An entry in the minutes of a meeting of bishops and the teachers quorum with the stake presidency, Apr. 27, 1875, mentioned fruit trees on the block. It said:
“On motion of J. P. R. Johnson (bishop of the First Ward), J. T. Arrowsmith (the custodian) was instructed to water the Meeting House block and take out the apple trees and report to the Bishops so arrangements can be made to level the grounds and sow grass seed.”3
Three Small Buildings
Besides the two Tabernacles, Utah Stake erected three small buildings on the block in the late 1800’s. The first was a 17 by 22 foot frame building to house a baptismal font, long since torn down. [It was constructed to] provide “privacy and seclusion from the ungodly.” (Prior to this the open millrace on Second West seems to have been the favorite location for baptisms.)
The second small building was a brick cottage to house the Tabernacle Block custodian and his family. It was used until 1966, when it was razed.
As an adjunct to the Tabernacle was a brick boiler house to the west. It housed the furnace and boiler for the hot steam system.
Excerpts from N. La Verl Christensen, Provo’s Two Tabernacles and the People Who Built Them (Provo: Provo Utah East Stake, 1983), 36–46.
- Early History of Provo, l849–72 on microfilm at Harold B. Lee Library, BYU.
- Memories That Live: Centennial History of Utah County, comp. by Emma N. Huff (Provo: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1947), 7l.
- Minutes, Bishops’ Meeting, Utah Stake, 1866–75, on microfilm at Harold B. Lee Library, BYU.