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Davis Journal

The Bountiful Tabernacle – a fixture in the community

May 23, 2024 08:17AM ● By Braden Nelsen
The center portion of the Bountiful Tabernacle, shown here, has been standing on this spot since 1863. Photo by Braden Nelsen

The center portion of the Bountiful Tabernacle, shown here, has been standing on this spot since 1863. Photo by Braden Nelsen

BOUNTIFUL—Whether they’ve driven past it on their way to work, attended events there, or even relaxed on the front lawn for a parade or event, most Bountiful residents have had some experience with the beautiful big white building called the Bountiful Tabernacle. It’s in the center of downtown Bountiful, and hard to miss, but many don’t know the full story

When the early settlers from the east arrived in the area, there was very little here. The native inhabitants, the Northwest Shoshone, didn’t have permanent settlements in Davis, but there was plenty of potential for many people to call the area home. However, significant challenges lay ahead: leaving an established home and city, and after an arduous trek of nearly 1,000 miles, enduring many hardships, they now had to start all over again, this time in a high desert.

“They had to create an entire community from scratch,” said Emily Utt, a historian with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “what do you need for a community?” As many eastern settlers coming to the area were part of a religious community, the sentiment was that the best way to start a community was with a place of worship: a church. 

That’s exactly how the Bountiful Tabernacle was started: in 1857, just eight short years after Daniel C. Davis himself had put down roots in what would become Farmington, a meetinghouse was started. It was planned that the meetinghouse would be deemed a tabernacle, and one that would serve not just one congregation or ward, but many throughout the region. “It was meant to be the center of the community,” explained Utt.

Not only would the Tabernacle be the center of the community, but the materials used to build it would come from the community itself. Having just walked across the entire midwest, and leaving most of their worldly possessions behind, the residents of what would become Bountiful did not have the resources or money to import materials from other parts of the region, but instead, used what they had: adobe.

The Bountiful Tabernacle, as it stands today, was made from local adobe, lumber from the nearby canyon, and covered in a lime-based stucco, with the only purchased materials being nails, glass, and ingredients for the paint to beautify the building. The design for the building came from a man named Augustus Farnham, a Massachusetts-born carpenter and local of Bountiful.

Farnham “learned on the job” according to Utt, studying, and reading about architecture from any books he could find on the subject. What he eventually decided on was a Greek Revival style, adapted to the available materials. Still, despite the desire and need for a meeting place, the work stalled, and Anson Call, another resident of the Bountiful area was called to finish the building. It would eventually be finished, and dedicated in March of 1863.

Since then, “There’s been a genuine love for this building,” said Utt, and the record shows that she wasn’t exaggerating. In the 1970s, the demolition of the building was put on the table, and, as Utt put it, “Outcry was swift and universal.” The demolition plans received national press and even had pushback from the Utah House of Representatives. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints changed direction and decided instead on renovation.

Old portions of the building were torn away, and new additions were made, and in 1977, Spencer W. Kimball rededicated the building for generations to come. The work of preservation has continued ever since, including regular maintenance, repairs, repainting, and even seismic bracing, as much as can be done given the original building materials. “We want it to still be here in 50 years, in 100 years!” said Utt, and the residents of Bountiful seem to agree.

The story of the Bountiful Tabernacle is so closely intertwined with the story of Bountiful itself, that to learn about the building is to learn about the people who built it, used it, and cherish it to this day. “It tells the story of thousands of ordinary people,” said Utt, “(and) those people’s stories are worth telling and remembering.” 

From people like Augustus Farnham and Anson Call to Dan Weggeland who created the famous three-dimensional painting behind the pulpit, to the thousands of people who have worshipped, gathered, and celebrated in its halls, the Bountiful Tabernacle is a shining example of the city, and her people, both literally and figuratively, and will be for years to come.