"I wish you and the brethren to build, as speedily as possible, a good substantial meeting house, one large enough to comfortably seat at least 2,000 persons . . . that will be useful (and) an ornament to your city. . . ."
So wrote Brigham Young, second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to Erastus Snow in October 1862.So began the St. George Tabernacle, which was 13 years in building and has been in continuous use since its basement was completed in 1869.
Through those years the building has served many uses for the people in Utah's Dixie.
It was begun as a public works project, to give employment in the new settlement. It was a trade school for many young men who labored on it under the supervision of skilled builders from Europe, Canada and the eastern United States. They learned to be stone masons, carpenters, painters and artisans of all kinds.
The workers were converts to the LDS Church. They had come to Utah to join the Saints and had been sent to help colonize southern Utah. The foundation cornerstone of the building was laid June 1, 1863, less than two years after the arrival of the colonizers, under extreme hardship. The people were very poor, the heat was intense (with no shade), and food was scarce.
Everything possible for the building was done locally:
The basement walls of white limestone blocks are six feet thick. The massive blocks of terra corra limestone for the main part of the building were cut and hauled from a quarry just outside the city.
The lumber and shingles came from sawmills on Pine Valley Mountain. Trusses and frames for the building were hewed by hand with broadaxes. No local sawmill could do the job.
Glass windows, door handles and locks could not be produced locally and required cash.
The windows were ordered and were to be picked up and hauled from a California port at a cost of $800.
When it was time to go for them, the St. George church members had been able to raise only $200. A plea for additional contributions was issued and mighty prayers were offered. The trip was scheduled.
The next morning, just as the trip was ready to start, Peter Nielson, a Danish immigrant, arrived. He had heard of the dilemma and after a sleepless night had walked the six miles from his home in Washington. He gave the money he had saved at great sacrifice to add to his two-room adobe house - $600 in gold coins.
Workers were paid in commodities from the local tithing office.
Meetings were first held in the upper part of the building in December of 1872.
That same year the clock and bell were added in the tower. Money for them was raised by public subscription. Everyone rejoiced to have the clock. Those fortunate enough to have timepieces had been setting them by "suntime."
The bell was rung to warn of danger, and to announce President Young's arrival, the deaths of presidents of the Church and of the nation. It rang when Utah became a state in 1896.
It continues to ring in celebration of important events.
The tabernacle was dedicated May 14, 1876.
Every president of the church, with exception of the Prophet Joseph Smith, has spoken in the tabernacle.