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Sam Penrod, Deseret News
The restoration of the Manti Tabernacle began in April and should be finished sometime next summer. During the 15-month project, the 135-year-old building is also getting a seismic upgrade.

MANTI — Since 1879, the Manti Tabernacle has been a landmark in this small Sanpete County town.

"You know you can't drive on Main Street and see this beautiful building without thinking of the pioneers," said Scott Hintze, an stake president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Manti.

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,” Hintze said.

The restoration of the tabernacle began in April and should be finished sometime next summer.

The tabernacle is one of just three 19th-century Mormon buildings in the world still used for weekly Sunday services.

The congregations are meeting elsewhere now, 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.

Crews are digging down by hand, exposing the floor that was built using logs taken from the canyons.

Doug Barton has attended church in Manti since he was 12 years old and is now a bishop of one of the wards. He says appreciation for the tabernacle has grown as people watch the renovation and consider how the pioneers had no power tools to build it, with materials they made themselves.

"We always thought we were really special to be able to attend church in the tabernacle," Barton said. “Our ward (members), they love this building. There is so much heritage here, so much sacrifice by the pioneers.”

Emily Utt, a historic sites curator, is overseeing the historical aspects of the project for the LDS Church, including restoring the exterior as it was in 1879 and the chapel as it looked after it was remodeled in 1927. Utt said she sees the tabernacle as a reminder of the faith of the early pioneers.

“We don't have the (pioneers') journals. We might not even have photographs of them," she said, "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.”

It’s a glimpse into the past that is giving hope to future generations, Hintze said.

“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."