A preservation project on the tabernacle in Manti, Utah, is offering a rare look at pioneer craftsmanship in one of the oldest LDS chapels still in use.
“You know you can’t drive on Main Street and see this beautiful building without thinking of the pioneers,” said Scott Hintze, president of the Manti Utah Stake.
Since 1879, the Manti Tabernacle has been a landmark in the community. Now an effort to preserve this edifice is revealing how the pioneers built it. “It’s fun to see how they built it and how well they built it,” President Hintze said.
The Manti Tabernacle is one of just three 19th century Mormon buildings in the world still used for weekly Sunday services, along with the Pine Valley chapel in Washington County, Utah, and the tabernacle in Bountiful, Utah.
The Manti 1st and 2nd wards are temporarily meeting in another chapel in Manti, as the 135-year-old building gets a seismic upgrade, including tying the exterior and interior rock walls together and strengthening the original rock foundation.
The restoration of the tabernacle is scheduled to be a 15-month project. Work began in April, and it should be finished next summer.
Crews are digging down by hand inside of the structure — exposing the floor that was built using logs taken from the canyons.
“So they took these trees, and on the bottom, they are full, except right here — they trimmed them a little to get them level,” President Hintze explained as he pointed out some features of the building.
Doug Barton has attended church in Manti since he was 12 years old and is now a bishop of one of the wards.
“We always thought we were really special to be able to attend church in the tabernacle,” he said. “Our ward — they love this building. There is so much heritage here — so much sacrifice by the pioneers.”
Bishop Barton said appreciation for the tabernacle has grown as people watch the renovation and consider how the pioneers had no power tools to build it, but with materials they made themselves.
Emily Utt, historic sites curator for the Church, is overseeing the historical aspects of the project, including restoring the exterior as it was in 1879 and the chapel as it looked after it was remodeled in 1927. She sees the tabernacle as a reminder of the faith of the early pioneers.
“We don’t have all of [the pioneers’] journals, we might not even have photographs of them, but we have the place where they went to church every week and so these few, very few buildings that are still standing — it’s important to keep them so we don’t forget those memories and that story,” she said, adding that “this is their permanent record of their faith and love of the gospel of Jesus Christ as they worked to build a beautiful place to live.”
It’s a glimpse into the past that is giving hope to future generations, according to President Hintze.
“I think restoring these old buildings helps to connect the generations together,” he said. “We remember the hard work and sacrifice they put forth — it helps us to take courage and be strong when times get difficult.”