Fifty Four years as a Social and Religious mainstay
By Ken Braegger
As the years pass, so do buildings. No matter how much these edifices are loved the time comes when they have out lived their usefulness. This was the case of the Providence Second Ward Chapel.
Ward members did everything they could to save, remodel, or add on to the old chapel, but to no avail. The church leaders were very emphatic that the building had outlived its usefulness and needed to be replaced. According to them, the building was neither financially or functionally worth saving. There were mixed feelings, strong feelings and even threats, when the attempt was made to dispose of that majestic old structure.
Construction on the chapel was started in 1910, under the watchful eye of the late Karl C. Schaub, who was the architect, designer and planner of the building. Alma Matthews was the general contractor, with several sub-contractors doing some of the special work. The total cost of the building was $17600. That was a lot of money at the turn of the century. The building was totally financed by members of the new ward. It is unclear how this money was raised, but we can imagine it was from raising calves and pigs, and from contributions of other home grown commodities.
The population of Providence had reached over one thousand people during the first fifty years since its founding. The community had grown to a point where it could accommodate two LDS wards. It was on May 9,1909 that the new Providence Second Ward was created.
Construction on the chapel was started in early 1910 and the basement was made useable by the fall of that year. Construction continued until 1916, when the building was completed and dedicated by Joseph F. Smith, President of the LDS church.
In order for future generations to remember this beautiful chaple and the love people had for it. I, with input from others, have undertaken the task of trying, as best as I can, to describe not only the structure, dut the many activities both socially and spiritually that took place in this facility.
After much searching, I was, with the help of Bob Parson and library staff, able to obtain copies of the actual blue prints that were prepared by the Karl C. Schaub, architectural firm. They were found in the archives at Utah State University Library. Even though my reproduction of the blue prints in not the best, one can get a pretty good idea as to the size and dimension of the structure. I was pleased that I was permitted to photograph all of the blue prints.
It is interesting to note that at the time of the division of the Providence first ward, the new Providence Second ward was deprived of a place to meet. It seems that the general authority who officiated at the division told the new ward members they had to find a different place to meet. Consequently, after meeting in the old pavilion for a little over a year, a new meeting place was prepared to house the people on the south end of Providence.
The blue prints show in detail the dimensions of the building. With the size indicated it became quite easy to describe the useable area. The many activities that took place during the fifty four years the building was in use makes for a very interesting story.
The building was of wood framing and covered with off-white brick. There were concrete steps outside and “squeaky“ wooden stairs to the chapel and to the other areas of the building.
The outside dimensions of the building were 79 feet long and 48 feet wide, with the top of the spire reaching 28 feet in height. The building had four floors, a basement, the chapel area, a second story level, with three classrooms; and the third floor with two classrooms.
The basement consisted of a large area suitable for social activities. Part of the basement was used for all church meeting from 1910 until 1916, when the upstairs chapel area was ready for use.
The basement area also contained a classroom, a kitchen and restrooms. On the south end of the basement, was an exit leading to a coal storage room and a boiler room, which provided steam heat for the whole building.
The original plans, also called for a baptismal font to be in the south west corner of the basement, but as far as cold be determined, the font never came to be.
The main floor area was entered from the North and took one up several steps directly into a large chapel, with a sloping floor from back to front. It was possible to see the rostrum area anywhere in the room.
A beautiful choir dome with semi-circular seating arrangement was at the South end of the chapel area. Many a youngster had a turn pumping air into the organ which was placed back of the rostrum and in front of the choir seats.
In 1939, a beautiful oil painting, By Evert Thorpe, a USU Art Professor and former member of the ward, was hung in back of the choir area.
The large rostrum was enclosed by a beautiful wooden banister. On the west side of the rostrum was a small sacrament preparation room.
To the delight of many there was a balcony in the back of the chapel,. It was seldom used, but youngsters found it a great place to go whenever the door was left open. It was also a place where small primary and Sunday school classes were held.
Many special drama events took place in the chapel. The banister was removed and the rostrum became a stage with a draw curtain. This made the chapel a dual purpose area. Sundays were for worship, and weekdays and evenings it was a place for all sorts of drama, musical, and many other social events. Dances were held in the basement. During it’s fifty four years thee building was a place of worship, and entertainment for not only ward members, but the community as well.
Located back of the chapel were a bishops office, a large Relief Society room and a small small classroom. There were stairs leading both upstairs and downstairs as well as an outside exit to the east. This made for a very congested area at times.
On the second floor there were three nice sized classrooms. A hallway along the north side of the classroom making access to the next level of the building.
The third floor was at the very top of the South end of the building. There were two classrooms with very small windows. It was hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. The boys scouts used these rooms.
Also access to the attic area was here, where almost every young man had to venture to see what it was like. It was always dark and cold and contained sort of a spooky feeling.
For more than fifty years this grand building stood on the corner of third South and Main street. It was a land mark and perhaps one of the most used structure in town. I am sure the people who had the privilege of worshiping in this edifice had their lives made richer because they sacrificed to make such a building available to later generations.
Social and Civic events
For most of the fifty years the building was in use, all ward and many civic functions were held there.
There was an old coal heater on the west wall of the basement, about in the middle of the hall. It was fired up whenever the temperature outside would merit it. That old stove smoked upthe place so often that the windows had to be opened to clear the air. Then to the joy of everyone, a ward member donated a new oil burning heaterola. It didn’t smoke as much, but it smelled like an oil factory most of the time. However, it was a great improvement over the coal stove.
One of the annual events was the Gold and Green Ball. A special dance and program was held in the springtime. The basement, recreation hall, was decorated with gold and green crepe paper. The paper was twisted and stretched from wall to wall, completely covering yje ceiling. Many will remember on some special evening, when the crowd warmed the room, the paper would stretch and sag until it touched the heads of the dancers.
This was also a time when young lovers became engaged, there was lots of guessing and wondering who might be the lucky ones that year. It was also a time, when young woman dressed in their new formals and young men borrowed older brothers sport clothes for the occasion.
The hall was also used for stake and ward dinners and banquets. A small stage on the north end of the hall was an ideal place for orators to recite their favorite prose and tall stories. People like Lavon Zollinger, and Clide Winnergren and other noted orators were often called on to entertain socials. The Providence Second Ward was noted for its many musical talents. Quartets, soloists and even a band performed there regularly.
During ward religions services curtains were used to divide the basement into several small classrooms where primary and Sunday school children were taught.
The hall was used by the Relief Society for their annual noodle making event. Eggs, flour and other ingredients were donated from homes in order to make the “home-made” noodles. It was a sight to behold when sheets were placed over benches and round rolled-out noodle dough placed on them to dry. It was more than an all-day event but brought much needed funds into the ward as the cut noodles were placed in brown paper bags and made available for sail at the ward bazaar. A small bag of noodled sold for about ten cents. It seemed that there were never enough noodles to meet the demand of the general public.
Scouting events were planned and brought to fruition in that hall. Boxing, Wrestling, and developing scouting skills were a part of every young mans training.
The basement had a partial kitchen and in later years a refrigerator. When an event was in session there was always a guard over the food items stored in the kitchen to discourage pranksters from invading the premises. Oh yes, many a time ice cream was removed, freezer and all.
The chapel area was also used as a place for dramatics. The banister, railings were removed and with the aid of a wire strung from one side of the chapel to the other and a curtain hung, the rostrum became a stage with a choir in the back. After the old pavilion was demolished the chapel became the center of many outstanding town productions.
Spiritual Experiences and more
The chapel was the location of the spiritual growth of ward members, and visitors. Even though the attendance at most meeting was small great gospel sermons were given.
Things brought to the attention of the writer include some interesting happenings. The chapel was heated by steam heat with rediators all along both sides of the room. In the summertime people sat in the center with the windows open. In the wintertime members hugged the radiators.
Not only the youth, but the adults as well, spent much time watching the wasps flying around the room as the speakers tried their best to hold the attention of the audience. Sacrament meetings were held in the evening after the cows were milked and chores done. Babies slept most of the time as did some of the elderly saints.
Those old enough will remember the elderly gentleman who bore his testimony every Fast Day. He never spoke English and he would occupy lots of time. He would sing, talk, laugh and even cry as he shared his feelings. Finally, the ward leadership limited his time to five minutes, he would set on the front row and stand as soon as the meeting was opened to testimonies. He would take out his pocket watch, hold it in his hand and proceed to share his personal testimony of what he believed. As soon as his allotted time was he would put his watch back in his vest pocket and leave by the side door. At the time, we thought it odd, but today we admire this man for his dedication to what he believed to be right. He has long since left this life, but his example lingers on in our minds. It makes one wonder what life was like before he came to America.
Perhaps one of the most important functions of the chapel were the many funeral services held therein. Many of the original settlers of Providence were eulogized there. The heritage they left has shaped the lives of those of us who were fortunate enough to have been recipients of their pioneering industry.
Lessons were taught that have had a lasting effect on class members. One example of this was in a class taught by one of the best teachers I remember. H was teaching about habits. He took a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, habits up so all could see and then said, “I could throw these cigarettes out the window but I would break my neck getting down there to retrieve them.” This lesion I, along with others attending, will never forget.
There were those faithful teachers who walked the “Primary Trail,” a path leading from the upper bench to the chapel, each week to teach the youth. Teachers who had the faith and patience to instruct a bunch of unruly kids who later became leaders, not only in church, but in the community as well.
The old building saw a major change in the world during its years. It was a time of change from the horse and wagon to automobiles and modern technology. A time of community functions to interchange with town throughout the valley. The chapel in gone now, but for those of us who were fortunate enough to have lived during this period of time, it was a memory we will never forget