History of the St. George Temple

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For the Love of Temples

CEDAR CITY – The Sons of Utah Pioneers hosted historian and former Dixie State University President Douglas Alder at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints chapel located at 85 N. 600 West on Saturday.

Alder gave a presentation on the history of the St. George Temple and spoke of the Utah pioneers who worked to build the massive building in the 1870s.

"Once the decision was made, the people in Washington County were very receptive to building the temple," Alder said. "They knew darn well it was going to be a massive undertaking and it was going to take well over four years. They were very excited, but they knew it was going to be very tough."

Alder said at that time, Washington County had about 125 able bodied people who could work on the construction of the temple. The building needed about 400 full-time workers with the technology of the day to complete it as it was designed.

"People came from all over, here (Cedar City) and Beaver, and Sanpete and even 35 people came from Logan," Alder said.

During the winters in the 1870s, farmers from northern areas in Utah such as Iron County and Beaver County could not work on their crops due to cold temperatures, Alder said, so they traveled to St. George to work on the Temple in the warmer climates.

"There is a change in the weather in Cedar City; during the winter you don't farm," Alder said. "Hundreds of people came down and worked on the Temple at that time. They did quarry work and built the walls from sandstone; the basement floor is made of lava rock. It goes all the way above the first row of windows. They built the basement foundation walls 4 1/2 feet wide."

Alder said the bigger struggle was not stone, but providing timber to brace the heavy stone walls and prevent them from collapsing.

"They knew that there was available timber in the snow mountains, but there was tremendous challenges getting it down from such elevations," Alder said. "These logs were up to 26 feet long, more than twice the length of a wagon, and the roads were steep and winding. Simply getting the lumber down to the site was a tremendous challenge."

Alder said the temple took six years from inception to completion, and was built during the construction of the Salt Lake City temple. That building was announced many years earlier, but construction took nearly forty years and was not completed at the time of the St. George site.

LDS Church officials built the temple in St. George to have a place in Utah where temple rituals could be completed before the Salt Lake building was complete. The St. George site was the first LDS temple to be completed in the state of Utah.

Alder said the temple was redesigned in 1935 and again in the 1970s. It has remained relatively untouched in the years since, with the exception of an earthquake in 1992, which caused the walls to lean out.

Alder said at the time, some church officials considered building a new temple, or demolishing the St. George site due to the damage sustained in the earthquake, but Gordon B. Hinckley would not allow it, telling his workers to "check again."

Upon further inspection, it was determined that the building was fit and would stand. The temple has been reinforced in the years since then, and Alder said the church expects to do the same with the Tabernacle building next door.

He said with the anticipated temple construction in Cedar City, the St. George district expects to see it's usage rate slow down some.

Tim Beery of the USA Today Network 5:33 p.m. MT April 11, 2015