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A few of the oldest, longest continuous things in the LDS Church

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 1 2015 4:46 a.m. MDT

University of Utah student Rob Stefanussen plays the organ in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Of its 11,623 pipes, 132 are originals. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News photo archive) University of Utah student Rob Stefanussen plays the organ in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Of its 11,623 pipes, 132 are originals. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News photo archive)

The LDS Church was officially organized April 6, 1830. From humble beginnings in the state of New York, it has spread across the world to include almost 14.5 million members. This is a list of some of the oldest or longest continuously existing buildings and site, organizations, people, music and publications connected with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Data were collected from a range of sources.

Buildings

  1. LDS chapel (oldest still in use): Construction began on the Bountiful, Utah, Tabernacle in 1857, when it was decided the growing community needed a larger meetinghouse. The five-spire, 86-foot by 44-foot structure was designed by Augustus Farnham. LDS apostle Lorenzo Snow dedicated the site at a groundbreaking Feb. 11-12 after which work on the tabernacle commenced, only to be delayed by the arrival of Johnston's Army later that year. (Bountiful's citizens were evacuated to central Utah during the Utah War of 1857-58, according to the Utah History Encyclopedia.) The Bountiful Tabernacle was dedicated six years later, on March 14-15, 1863, by Elder Heber C. Kimball with church President Brigham Young presiding. Parts of the building, including the spire, have been renovated since 1863, but efforts have been made to preserve its original appearance. Given a state historical marker by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers in 1936, it is still in use as a meetinghouse today. (Sources: "Bountiful Tabernacle marks 150 years" February 12, 2007, The Davis Clipper, Utah History Encyclopedia, "Bountiful Tabernacle to get 're-spired'" March 2, 2005, The Davis Clipper, Utah State History Markers and Monuments Database)
  2. Chapel (oldest still existing and owned by the LDS Church): The Gadfield Elm Chapel was built in Herefordshire, England, by the United Brethren in 1836. In 1840, LDS converts John Benbow and Thomas Kington gave the chapel to the church. On May 17, 1840, Brigham Young and Willard Richards spoke to Latter-day Saints in the chapel. At the time, it was the only LDS chapel in the world. The chapel was sold two years later to help the poorer Saints immigrate to America and was used for "a variety of purposes (including) as a cowshed," according to LDS Church News. In 1994, a group of members headed by local bishop Wayne Gardner formed the Gadfield Elm Trust, which bought and restored the chapel, a process that took six years. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland rededicated the chapel in 2000. Four years later when Gadfield Elm Trust gave the chapel to the LDS Church, it was rededicated again, this time by then-President Gordon B. Hinckley. (Sources: "Oldest chapel in England refurbished and rededicated" May 6, 2000, LDS Church News, "Historic chapel given to LDS" May 27, 2004, Deseret News, "From around the world" January 28, 1995, LDS Church News)
  3. Temple (oldest still operating): President Brigham Young dedicated the site for the St. George Utah Temple on Nov. 9, 1871. Latter-day Saints in southern Utah contributed their time, money, goods and labor to build the temple. While it was still under construction, on Jan. 1, 1877, Elder Wilford Woodruff, President Young and Elder Erastus Snow dedicated the completed portions. The final dedication of the temple took place later that year on April 6. President Young died four months later on Aug. 29 after dedicating temple sites in Manti and Logan. The temple's tower was damaged by lightning about a year after the dedication and replaced several years later. Following an extensive remodeling, the temple was rededicated Nov. 11-12, 1975, by President Spencer W. Kimball. (Sources: March 1977 Ensign magazine, "St George Utah Temple" LDS Church News, ldschurchtemples.com/stgeorge)
  4. Standing fort (owned by LDS): LDS settlers and missionaries in Idaho and Nevada built forts in Limhi (later spelled Lemhi), Idaho, and Las Vegas in 1855. After the settlers in Idaho had worked with the Native Americans and farmed for two years, a group of Indians attacked the colony and Brigham Young called them back to Utah, abandoning Fort Lemhi in 1858. The group in Las Vegas broke up in 1857 due to "internal dissension and the inability of the group to grow sufficient food," but a few stayed in the area. Only a few original walls from each fort remain today. (Sources: Idaho State Historical Society, Friends of the Fort)
Organizations
The Bountiful LDS Tabernacle, completed in 1863, is the church's oldest meetinghouse still in use. (Deseret News photo archive) The Bountiful LDS Tabernacle, completed in 1863, is the church's oldest meetinghouse still in use. (Deseret News photo archive)
  1. Stake: The Salt Lake Stake was organized Oct. 3, 1847, about a month after the Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. Within a year and a half of the Saints' arrival, 23 wards were organized. As the population in Utah continued to grow, more stakes were added to manage the added wards. Early church leaders did establish stakes in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois and Iowa, but those were discontinued. (Sources: "The Story of Salt Lake Stake, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: 150 Years of History 1847-1997," pp. 22 and 54; 2012 LDS Church Almanac)
  2. Ward: The Preston Ward dates back to 1837, when the first members of the church were baptized in the River Ribble as a result of the British Mission and formed the Preston Branch (smaller than a ward unit). At the same time church President Spencer W. Kimball organized the Preston Stake in 1979,e reorganized the branch into a ward. In December 1979, it was reported by the Ensign magazine to be the oldest continuing unit in the church. In the United States, 23 wards were organized in 1849 in Salt Lake City and surrounding communities. Eighteen were called after a number, First through Nineteenth (skipping Fifth for reasons undetermined). The other five include Big Cottonwood Ward, Bountiful Ward, Farmington Ward, Millcreek First Ward and South Cottonwood Ward. All continue to serve members today, including the Salt Lake Fourteenth Ward, which was discontinued in 1957 but reorganized in 1985. (Sources: December 1979 Ensign magazine, September 1971 Ensign magazine, "The Story of Salt Lake Stake, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: 150 Years of History 1847-1997," appendix H)
  3. Mission: "Member missionaries," also known as Latter-day Saints who are not called as full-time missionaries but who make efforts to fellowship their friends and neighbors, could be considered the oldest continuing mission. Missionary work for the church was first accomplished through word of mouth; curious people would come by and ask questions and converts would take it upon themselves to go out and preach, but mostly people were just sharing the news with their friends and family, and the word spread. After the organization of the church, members began to be called to preach, but in terms of an official mission like exists today, the oldest continuing mission is generally accepted to be the British Mission, established 1837. The British Mission was renamed the England London Mission in 1974. (Sources: "A history of Mormon missions in the U.S. and Canada, 1830-1860" by Ellsworth, p. 67-68, Utah History Encyclopedia, LDS Mission Network)
Sites
Margarete S. Hicken, 105, looks through the centenarian yearbook with Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert at the 25th Annual Centenarian Celebration in Salt Lake City on Aug. 26, 2011. Hicken is the oldest living former member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News photo archive) Margarete S. Hicken, 105, looks through the centenarian yearbook with Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert at the 25th Annual Centenarian Celebration in Salt Lake City on Aug. 26, 2011. Hicken is the oldest living former member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News photo archive)
  1. Historic site: The Smith Family Homestead in Topsfield, Mass., was home to five generations of Smiths, including Joseph Smith Sr., the father of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The elder Smith was born there in 1771. Smith's father, Asael, fought in the Revolutionary War. The original home was built in 1690 by Thomas Dorman and stood for about 180 years before it was razed sometime between 1870 and 1875, then rebuilt in 1876. On Oct. 15, 2005, the Topsfield Historical Society, Mormon Historic Sites Foundation and a local LDS stake partnered to place markers at the homestead and local Congregational Church, which the Smiths attended. Elder M. Russell Ballard dedicated the homestead marker. (Source: Mormon Historic Sites Foundation, "Smith homestead: Plaques mark early home of Prophet's ancestors" Oct. 22, 2005, LDS Church News)
  2. Mormon-settled Utah town: Mormon pioneers seeking a refuge from religious persecution founded Salt Lake City July 24, 1847. Salt Lake City is now the state capital of Utah. Other settlements of note such as Kirtland, Ohio, and Jackson and Clay Counties, Mo., where large groups of Latter-day Saints lived from 1831 to 1838, were settled by Continental Army soldiers, fur trappers and settlers from other states. Likewise, the city of Nauvoo, Ill., was not originally established by Mormons but instead by a retired U.S. Army captain in 1824. (Sources: Utah.com, "Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," ch. 3, kirtlandohio.com, Jackson County Historical Society, "History of Clay County," p. 75, "Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," ch. 5, beautifulnauvoo.com)
  3. Witness tree (in Vermont): There are two trees, known as the "witness trees," said to have been living in the area around the farmhouse in Sharon, Vermont where Joseph Smith Jr. was born, December 23, 1805. The older of the two, the "Joseph Tree," dates back to 1776, according to an article in the Deseret News. (Sources: History of the Church, "10 spots in church history to see, experience" May 9, 2011, Deseret News)
Music
The first edition of the Deseret News was published June 15, 1850. (Deseret News microfilm, Church History Library) The first edition of the Deseret News was published June 15, 1850. (Deseret News microfilm, Church History Library)
  1. Hymn/song (in current hymnbook): Although it becomes difficult to know for sure the exact dates a song was written the farther back in history you go, it seems probable that the oldest hymn in the current LDS hymnal is "The First Noel." Originally spelled Nowell, the song was likely written in the mid-1500s or earlier in the Cornwall region of England, according to former Northern Illinois University professor William Studwell. (Source: Northern Illinois University)
  2. Hymn/song (in original hymnbook): Emma Smith, the wife of Joseph Smith Jr., compiled the church's first hymnbook in 1835 after the Lord asked her to "make a collection of sacred hymns," as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants. In that early hymnal, "Guide Us, O Thou Great Jehovah" was probably the oldest. Written in 1745 by William Williams for the Welsh Calvinist Methodists, the song was translated into English by Williams and Peter Williams (no relation) in 1771. "CWM Rhondda," the tune most know it by today, wasn't added until 1905. The Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University has a digital copy of the 1835 hymnal. (Sources: "Latter-day Saint Hymnbooks, Then and Now," Ensign magazine, Center for Church Music Songs & Hymns, "The story behind the hymn" September 22, 2007, The Telegraph, Brigham Young University)
  3. Children's song (in the current children's songbook): "If with All Your Hearts" on Page 15 in the current Primary Children's Songbook was taken from the oratorio Elijah, written by Felix Mendelssohn in 1845 through 1846 and considered to be his greatest work. Mendelssohn took the lyrics from the Old Testament with assistance from Julius Schubring and Karl Klingemann. The Church History Library has digitized an 1880 edition of the children's songbook. (Source: suite101.com, Church History Library Internet Archive)
  4. Working organ: Joseph Ridges, who built the first organ that sat in the old Salt Lake Tabernacle, built a second, 2,000-pipe organ to go in the current tabernacle when it was constructed in 1867. Since then, the organ has been expanded and renovated to its current size of 11,623 pipes, 132 of which are original. (Source: Mormon Tabernacle Choir)
People
  1. Living LDS Medal of Honor recipient: Maj. Bernard Francis Fisher was born Jan. 11, 1927, in San Bernardino, Calif., and grew up in Clearfield, Utah. He first entered the U.S. Air Force as a pilot during the Korean War and later fought in Vietnam. During the war in 1966, he was defending a Special Forces camp against an attack by the North Vietnamese Army when a fellow pilot was shot down. At great personal risk, Fisher landed his plane and rescued Maj. D.W. Myers and was later awarded the Medal of Honor for the act. (Sources: Congressional Medal of Honor Society, "10 Mormons among Medal of Honor recipients" May 24, 2012, Deseret News)
  2. Living member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Margarete Stahl Wilken Hicken, born Oct. 15, 1906, immigrated to the United States from Pforzheim, Germany. She joined the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in 1929 after accompanying a friend to practice. On July 17, 2004, Hicken, who no longer sings with the choir, was honored at a concert celebrating the 75th anniversary of Music and the Spoken Word. (Sources: "The woman who crawled to the phone" October 26, 2008, Deseret News, "Choir nears apex of year-long salute" July 17, 2004, Deseret News, Mormon Tabernacle Choir)
Publications

The following publications are ones that still exist today.

  1. The Friend: Started in 1902 as the Children's Friend, this magazine became the Friend in 1971. (Source: "Church Magazines Celebrate 40 Years of Informing and Inspiring Church Members" May 6, 2011, LDS Church News)
  2. The New Era: Started in 1971 as the Improvement Era, today's New Era magazine is a combination of the Young Woman's Journal (first published in 1890) and the Young Men's Improvement Era (first published in 1898). (Source: "Church Magazines Celebrate 40 Years of Informing and Inspiring Church Members" May 6, 2011, LDS Church News)
  3. Ensign: Began 1971, the Ensign is a combination of the Young Men's Improvement Era, the Juvenile Instructor (first published in 1867 and renamed the Instructor in 1929) and Relief Society Magazine (first published in 1915). (Source: "Church Magazines Celebrate 40 Years of Informing and Inspiring Church Members," May 6, 2011, LDS Church News)
  4. Liahona: The first church publications published in a language other than English were individual mission newsletters, started as early as 1840 (the Millenial Star, England mission). The Liahona was begun in 2000 as a compilation of Tambuli (English international magazine, first published 1977), Relief Society Magazine (started 1966, the first church headquarters publication to publish in a non-English language — Spanish) and "International Magazine" (the unified category name for all non-English mission periodicals, first published in 1967). (Source: "Church Magazines Celebrate 40 Years of Informing and Inspiring Church Members" May 6, 2011, LDS Church News)
  5. Edition of the Deseret News: The first edition of the Deseret News was published June 15, 1850. It remains a major news publication in Utah today. (Source: LDS Church History Library)
  6. Edition of LDS Church News: The first edition of the LDS Church News was published in April, 1931. It continues to cover the worldwide events and growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today. (Source: Church History Library, "Church News has filled 'unique role' for 60 years" April 6, 1991, LDS Church News)
Compiling a list of "first" or "oldest" things is always a challenge. In the end, it comes down to available resources for research and how you define "oldest." The Deseret News spent the better part of a month making calls, doing Internet research and hitting the books — or the microfilm, in some cases, at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City.

EMAIL: jhenrie@desnews.com

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