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Beautiful little chapel

Elder Holland dedicates pioneer meetinghouse

PINE VALLEY, Utah — Some 60 years after pulling the cord that rang the steeple bell as a fun-loving, active, sometimes mischievous boy, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve returned to Pine Valley on May 15 to rededicate this "beautiful little chapel."

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, speaking familiarly with the congregation, addresses members of the Pine Valley Branch and others during dedicatory services following the fifth major renovation of the 1868 structure.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, speaking familiarly with the congregation, addresses members of the Pine Valley Branch and others during dedicatory services following the fifth major renovation of the 1868 structure. Photo: Photo by Shaun Stahle

Nestled in a pristine, alpine-like setting high in the Pine Valley mountains some 32 miles above St. George, Utah, the Pine Valley Chapel is a radiant white New England-style structure cast against deep green fields and azure blue skies.

Built in 1867-68 by Scottish convert and shipbuilder Ebenezer Bryce, the building has been used continuously for 137 years, making it one of the several oldest pioneer-built meetinghouses still in use.

The structure of the building is basically the hull of a ship turned upside-down. The curvature of the ship is noticeable in the ceiling line in the chapel. The walls were built on the ground, then hoisted into position with men pulling ropes through pulleys while Ebenezer Bryce sang a sea chanty to provide a rhythm for the men to pull together.

This was the fifth major renovation of the chapel. It began in the spring of 2003 and continued until completion in October 2004. During the past summer, members and visitors met in a makeshift white tent situated behind the chapel.

The renovation project strengthened a deteriorating foundation and returned the chapel to its original beauty and pioneer authenticity.

Construction of the Pine Valley Chapel was overseen by Ebenezer Bryce, a Scottish convert and shipbuilder. Evidence that the chapel was basically the hull of a ship turned upside-down can be seen in the curvature of the ceiling.
Construction of the Pine Valley Chapel was overseen by Ebenezer Bryce, a Scottish convert and shipbuilder. Evidence that the chapel was basically the hull of a ship turned upside-down can be seen in the curvature of the ceiling. Photo: Photo Illustration by John Clark

Electric chandeliers and wall sconces designed to match the lighting of the period were added to replicate the coal oil lamps used originally.

Few timbers or beams required strengthening, but a new podium and expanded sacrament table were built by the same craftsmen who built the podium for the Conference Center. New siding, shingles and insulation were added. While maintaining historical authenticity, heating and air conditioning were installed to make the building functional year round.

Elder Holland's association with the Pine Valley area stems back many years to two great-great-grandfathers, William Snow and Robert Gardner, who served as the first two bishops of Pine Valley. Their son/son-in-law, Jeter Snow (Elder Holland's great-grandfather) went on to serve as bishop there for 39 years.

Speaking familiarly with the congregation, often referring to members by first name, Elder Holland drew on the history and experiences of Pine Valley to highlight several lessons.

He told how Isaac Riddle in 1855 went looking for a lost cow. In the process of following a rugged, hazardous gulch, he discovered Pine Valley, which he described as the most beautiful site he'd ever seen with its "stream-watered meadow and grass up to the belly of the horse."

"Often we are looking for something and in our struggle find something else much more valuable," Elder Holland said. Quoting Doctrine and Covenants 78:17-19 he noted that we "are little children" who have not understood the great blessings God has in store for us. "We must be of good cheer and trust God," he said, "and He will lead us along."

Elder Holland then commended the "power of community" enjoyed in the valley. "In the 21st century," he said, "it is hard to maintain a sense of community.

The hull of a ship turned upside-down can be seen in the curvature of the ceiling.
The hull of a ship turned upside-down can be seen in the curvature of the ceiling. Photo: Photo by Shaun Stahle

"We live in bigger and bigger cities, with more technology, distant travel and frequent moves. But this little valley continues to perpetuate a sense of community and the idea that brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins and kinsmen stand together to help each other and bless each others' lives."

In his dedicatory prayer, Elder Holland expressed gratitude for pioneer devotion and the blessings they bequeathed to future generations. He dedicated to the Lord "this beautiful little chapel" as "a house of worship, a sanctuary from the world, a mountain home for songs and prayers, for gospel instruction and the ordinances of the gospel."

Preceding Elder Holland in the program was Wendell C. Gray, president of the Pine Valley Branch, who extolled the work of the restoration, quoting the modern-day construction workers who "almost daily called me to come examine the craftsmanship of the early builders."

He then drew an analogy between restoring the building and the restoring power of the gospel and said, "the real miracle is not what happened to the building, but the restoration that must happen to the heart."

Members gather prior to dedicatory services May 15. The brilliantly white New England-style meetinghouse is nestled in picturesque setting.
Members gather prior to dedicatory services May 15. The brilliantly white New England-style meetinghouse is nestled in picturesque setting. Photo: Photo by Shaun Stahle
Improvements made during the renovation maintain historical accuracy, including the new electric wall lamps made to look like the original oil lamps.
Improvements made during the renovation maintain historical accuracy, including the new electric wall lamps made to look like the original oil lamps. Photo: Photo by Shaun Stahle
New podium was made by same craftsmen who built Conference Center podium.
New podium was made by same craftsmen who built Conference Center podium. Photo: Photo by Shaun Stahle

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