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Old Rock Church in Providence turns 140, city celebration Wednesday

Published: Tuesday, April 19 2011 12:49 p.m. MDT

Old Rock Church in Providnce, Utah. Now it's a Bed and Breakfast. Photo taken on September 30, 2004.

Laura Seitz

On April 20, 1859, a small group of settlers finished their trek across the mostly empty Cache Valley and put down their roots near a small stream they called Spring Creek.

Ten years later, the community which would be known as Providence had grown to the point it needed a new meetinghouse to serve both ecclesiastical and community needs. What is now known as the Old Rock Church was built of locally quarried rock, milled lumber, forged iron and intense labor.

To honor both those achievements, the citizens of Providence will celebrate this Founder's Day by installing a plaque on the church building, which is currently serving as a bed-and-breakfast and reception center, noting in part that "The Old Rock Church belongs to the Ages. . . Though no longer a church, (it) remains a living historic landmark where people come together and interact as we grow to embrace diversity. The rocks, mortar, beams and braces bind generations in heritage."

The day of celebration will include a quilt show, beginning at 10 a.m. and an evening program, beginning at 6 p.m. featuring history, memories, music and long-time Providence resident Jake Fuhriman, who will unveil the plaque. All present and former residents of Providence, and others, are invited to share memories, mingle and reminisce.

This plaque, presented by the Providence City Historic Preservation Commission and the nonprofit Providence Pioneer Heritage Inc. foundation, replaces an earlier one that was mounted on the church but was removed to be placed on a Pioneer Monument erected for the city's sesquicentennial in 2009 and dedicated by Pres. Boyd K. Packer, of the Quorum of the Twelve.

Located at the corner of Main and Center Streets, the Old Rock Church was completed in 1871, making it one of the oldest buildings of its kind in Cache Valley and even the state. A wing was added later on to add classroom and other space. The building served as an LDS meetinghouse until 1968, when it was sold to the private sector. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"We had a blank spot there," says Karl Seethaler, current owner of the building and a driving force in preserving and protecting Providence history. "The original plaque talks mostly about the original settlers. We wanted something broader. We wanted something that would reflect what this building means and has meant to the community."

Seethaler, in fact, is exploring ways to donate the building to the foundation for use as a community center. "I consider myself a steward of the building, not an owner. It really belongs to the community."

David Low, another member of the committee, agrees. "This building has a great historic significance, not just to Providence. It's a landmark for the whole valley. It's a living legacy of the pioneers and the settlers who came before."

It's a "neat thing for a community to come together, to celebrate the birth of that community," he adds. "It's an appropriate thing to do on this date, and something we hope to make an annual occurrence."

The gathering, he says, is not just for the old-timers. "We want them to come and to remember. But it's for everyone, old and young. We need to teach those who don't know the heritage they come from; we need to teach the new citizens about the sacrifices and the goodness of the people who lived here. The last thing we want to lose is that insight and perspective."

With a population of more than 6,000, Providence has grown significantly in the last few decades. Farm fields and fruit orchards have been replaced by housing developments. "But it's still the greatest city on earth," boasts Low, "with happy and generous people. It is our hope that the past won't be forgotten, that the heritage and legacy of Providence and her people can not only be remembered, but carried forward by future generations."

Email: carma@desnews.com

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