The Box Elder Tabernacle Fire

© 2008 Utah Humanities Council

The Story:

On February 9, 1896, LDS worshippers were just assembling for a morning meeting in the Box Elder Stake Tabernacle when the cry of “fire!” rent the air.  Someone had smelled smoke, causing a few intrepid worshippers to check the basement where they found the tabernacle’s furnace and wooden ducting engulfed in flames.  Soon the inferno spread to the timbers and up into the sanctuary.  Congregants scattered.  According to the local paper, the Box Elder Bugler, it took only a half hour for the tabernacle to turn into “a mass of furious, crackling flames.”  By 2:30 in the afternoon, the building was nothing more than a smoking, blackened hulk.  The fire had even stripped the plaster from the walls, and floating embers from the blaze had touched off other fires around town.

Naturally, Box Elder Mormons grieved for their lost spiritual center.  Only a little over five years had passed since LDS Church President Wilford Woodruff had dedicated the building; now it was gone.  The damage was valued at $12,000, but because the church carried no insurance on the building, it seemed like there would be no way to rebuild.  But area Latter-day Saints weren’t demoralized.  Within a matter of weeks, the membership of the Box Elder Stake had decided to restore the tabernacle despite a less-than-ideal financial situation: not only was the nation still in the throes of the panic of 1893, but the local experiment in cooperative manufactures known as the Brigham City Mercantile and Manufacturing Association had failed years earlier leaving the city in a depressed economic state.  Church general authorities couldn’t help much as they too were still feeling the effects of the 1893 downturn. But they did send a letter to local church officials encouraging members to donate to the Box Elder cause.  By March of the following year, work on the tabernacle had wrapped up and the restored building was dedicated by George Q. Cannon.

Sources:

See the Brigham City Bugler, 15 February 1896, and 27 March 1897; and Frederick M. Huchel, A History Box Elder County (Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society and Box Elder County Commission, 1999), 123-145.

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