Steve

  • A gleaming new temple stands in the center of Provo which has risen Phoenix-like from the flames of December 17, 2010. For nearly 130 years the Provo Tabernacle stood in downtown Provo accommodating myriad church meetings, concerts, and commencement exercises. Here are a few interesting items from the Tabernacle’s history:

    1. The Tabernacle was Provo’s second tabernacle. The original tabernacle was considerably smaller, stood to the North of the second, and faced Center Street. This first tabernacle was built 1852-1867, was constructed from stone, adobe brick, and wood. The original tabernacle—also known as the Provo Meeting House—was used as late as 1902 by the Provo 6th Ward while their building was under construction. This first tabernacle stood until it was razed in 1919. (1)

    Center Street   Two Tabernacles

    2. The Tabernacle was patterned after the Assembly Hall in Salt Lake. The plan for the Tabernacle was done by William H. Folsom and was initially modeled after the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. (2)

    3. It was first used for a presidential memorial service. The first use of the building was a memorial service held for U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant on August 8, 1885—before there was a permanent floor laid down or doors and windows installed.(3)

    4. The Tabernacle hosted a U.S. President. In 1909 U.S. President William H. Taft visited Provo on the campaign trail and spoke in the Tabernacle to a crowd of 3,000. (4)

    5. The Tabernacle was long infested with bats. For many years thousands of bats inhabited the attic of the Tabernacle. They would occasionally fly about during meetings providing quite a distraction. The worst part was the smell of the bat guano in the summertime. (5)

    6. Sergei Rachmaninoff performed at the Tabernacle. His performance filled the tabernacle with 3,000 attendees on December 5, 1938. The evening was memorable not just for the virtuoso’s performance but for an unwelcome interruption when the Orem Inter-Urban came clanging by. During the interruption Rachmaninoff reportedly held his hands suspended above the keys during the interruption and then drove down again upon the keys once the disturbance had passed. (6)

    7. Its signature stained glass windows were installed in 1917. The stained glass windows adorning the Tabernacle were not original—they were added to the building in 1917, replacing the original frosted glass windows. (7)

    8. General Conference was held in the tabernacle. The April sessions of the 56th (1886) and 57th (1887) Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were held in Provo’s Utah Stake Tabernacle. The building was far from complete (no benches, windows, or doors) and there was much that had to be done in order to accommodate the congregation for a General Conference. (8)

    9. It was wired for electricity in 1891. The Tabernacle was wired for electricity in 1891—for the first few years this power was supplied from the turbines at the Provo Woolen Mills on 2nd West. Employees of the Provo Woolen Mills provided the tabernacle with three chandeliers each outfitted with 24 incandescent bulbs. (9)

    10. The building held an original Minerva Teichert painting. Teichert’s painting of Joseph Smith receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood was sold to the Provo Stakes in 1953 and placed in the Tabernacle. It was among the many losses when the building caught fire. (10)


    1. Richard W. Jackson, Places of Worship: 150 Years of Latter-day Saint Architecture (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2003), 74-75.
    2. C. Mark Hamilton, Nineteenth-Century Mormon Architecture & City Planning (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 72-73.
    3. N. LaVerl Christensen, Provo’s Two Tabernacles and the People Who Built Them ([Provo]: Provo Utah East Stake, 1983), 120.
    4. Susan Easton Black, Glenn Rawson, and Dennis Lyman; The Story of the Provo City Center Temple: Commemorative Edition (American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications, 2015), 8.
    5. D. Robert Carter, Tales from Utah Valley ([Provo]: Daily Herald, 2005), vol. 1, 91.
    6. D. Robert Carter, Tales from Utah Valley ([Provo]: Daily Herald, 2005), vol. 1, 87-91.
    7. N. LaVerl Christensen, Provo’s Two Tabernacles and the People Who Built Them ([Provo]: Provo Utah East Stake, 1983) 160.
    8. N. LaVerl Christensen, Provo’s Two Tabernacles and the People Who Built Them ([Provo]: Provo Utah East Stake, 1983) 124.
    9. “The First Large Factory in Utah,” Utah History to Go (http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/statehood_and_the_progressive_era/thefirstlargefactoryinutah.html), accessed 17 Dec 2015; Tabernacle to Temple: The Past, Present & Future of Provo’s City Center, Daily Herald Supplement, 21 Jul 2013, 16.
    10. Anna Jean Backus, Provo Pioneers and Their Tabernacles (Hurricane, Utah: AJB Distributing, 2004), 54-56.

  • Electricity came to Provo in 1890. It started with generators at A. O. Smoot’s Provo Woolen Mills and supplied power for 16 street lights in Provo. The Woolen Mills had contracted with the city to provide electricity for three years (1). The Provo Tabernacle was wired for electricity and supplied with three chandeliers by employees of the woolen mills(2).  During 1890 the Brigham Young Academy was wired for electricity and supplied with 10 electric lamps(3).  

    Sometimes the lights failed and the city wanted to re-negotiate the contract. So the streets of Provo went dark again in the spring of 1892 and for 6 months a period of re-negotiation ensued. In October the lights returned under a new contract containing a stipulation that the city was to be reimbursed for any lights that failed to burn(4).

    Serious power arrived in Provo with the advent of Lucien L. and Paul N. Nunn, brothers who had established that hydroelectric power could be generated, transmitted, and used to power mining equipment in Telluride, Colorado. Arriving in Provo they proposed a power plant on the Provo River. Initially supportive, Provo objected when they heard the plans to construct an 80-foot dam in Provo Canyon. The Johnstown flood of 1889 had killed 2,200 and was all too present in recent memory. The fight went to the Utah Supreme Court and the dam was reduced to 16 feet. Nunn’s plant was completed in 1897. It generated 40,000 volts that were transmitted 32 miles to the mines in Mercur. This was the longest power transmission in the world at this time(5).

    Nunns Power Plant Provo Canyon

    Nunn's Power Plant on the Provo River

    The Nunn brothers expanded with lines to Eureka (1900) and Provo, interconnecting the Provo plant with another plant in Logan, and constructing the larger Olmsted Plant at the mouth of Provo Canyon (1903), the beginnings of a grid system in connecting with another power plant in Logan. Paul Nunn published a nice overview of the Nunn brother’s accomplishments in a 1905 article in Cassier’s Magazine(6). 

    Interior of the Provo Power Plant

    Interior of the Provo Power Plant

    Lucien Nunn was an ambitious, shrewd, and tenacious businessman. Although he never finished high school or college, he operated schools of electrical engineering at his power plants pairing education with work experience. Nunn developed a progressive educational model and went on to found the Deep Springs College in California in 1917.7 Nunn’s Telluride Power Company generated the power, but there were separate companies which retailed the power to the populace. Provo’s power by this time was supplied by A.O. Smoot’s Electric Company. They were located at 95 North Academy Avenue (now University Avenue) and carried a “complete line of all kinds of electric appliances such as lamps, shades, chandeliers, wire, bells, cord, flat irons, batteries, etc.”(8)

    1. John S. McCormick, The Power to Make Good Things Happen: Past, Present, Future: The History of Utah Power & Light Company (Salt Lake City: Utah Power & Light, 1990) 14.
    2. “The New Provo Tabernacle Dedicated,” Salt Lake Tribune, 18 Apr 1898, 7.
    3. BYA Faculty Minutes, 20 Aug 1890, p. 193; 1 Oct 1890, p. 199 as cited in Ephraim Hatch, Brigham Young University: A Pictorial History of Physical Facilities, 1875-2005 (Provo, Utah: Physical Facilities Division, Brigham Young University, 2005) 18.
    4. McCormick, 20.
    5. L. Jackson Newell, The Electric Edge of Academe: The Saga of Lucien L. Nunn and Deep Springs College (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2015) 27.
    6. P.N. Nunn, “Pioneer Work in High-Tension Electric Power Transmission,” Cassier’s Magazine, vol. 27, no. 3 (January 1905) 171-200; digital version available on the Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/cassiersmagazi2719041newy).
    7. For the complete story see L. Jackson Newell’s, The Electric Edge of Academe: The Saga of Lucien L. Nunn and Deep Springs College (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2015).
    8. William M. Wilson, Pictorial Provo: An Illustrated Industrial Review of Provo, the Garden City of Utah ([S.l.: s.n.], 1910).