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Randolph Tabernacle

The Randolph Tabernacle, constructed between 1898 and 1914 by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is architecturally significant as the best example of Victorian Eclectic religious architecture both in the town of Randolph and in Rich County. Though its design, materials and construction were provided primarily through local efforts, the building reflects the LDS church-wide trend at that time toward more eclectic and expressive styles than those used in either previous or subsequent periods. Though not yet fully understood, that architectural trend has been described as symbolizing the concurrent shift of the LDS church from an attitude of isolationism’ to an embracing of national ideas.

The tabernacle is located at 25 South Main Street in Randolph, Utah and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (#86000724) on April 10, 1986.

The Randolph Tabernacle is easily the most substantial and elaborate historic building in Rich County. Located in an isolated agricultural region in northeastern Utah, Rich County consists of some half dozen small towns and a population of approximately 2000. Though small in size and population, the county is a distinct region of the state. It is bordered by Idaho on the north, Wyoming on the east, and by uninhabited mountainous regions on the south and west. Ranching and farming have persisted as the principal industries in the county since its founding in the late nineteenth century. Besides the Randolph Tabernacle, there are other well preserved nineteenth and early twentieth century buildings in the county, including a number of residences, several commercial buildings, and one other church, the Laketown Ward House. Though some of those buildings were constructed in the Victorian Eclectic Style, none of them match the Randolph Tabernacle in terms of scale or architectural expression.

The Victorian Eclectic Style was one of several architectural styles used on buildings constructed for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon or LDS church) during the 1890s and early 1900s. Architectural historian Alien Roberts describes those decades as the Eclectic or High-style Period of LDS church architecture, noting that “Probably no period…saw greater profusion and reaching out for new styles than the score of years from 1890 to 1910.” The use of “modern” architecture during that period has been viewed as a symbol of the Mormon church’s transition from isolationism to accommodation and unity with the rest of the country. Tangible, as opposed to symbolic, evidence of that change in attitude include the abolition of polygamy by the church in 1890, the achievement of statehood for Utah in 1896, and the replacement of Utah’s commonwealth economy with an open market capitalist system. Though there is definitely evidence that church architecture might reflect that transition, more research is necessary to fully understand and interpret that phenomenon.

The decision to begin construction of a new meetinghouse in Randolph was made on 5 July 1898, shortly after the creation of the Woodruff Stake of the LDS Church (a stake comprises several wards or congregations). The consensus of the local leadership at that time was that a “good, large meetinghouse” be built for the Randolph Ward, “a house that should be modern and large enough to accommodate people from far and near.” The idea that the building might be used as a central gathering place for conferences with the other wards and branches in the stake may have led to its being referred to as a “tabernacle,” though in reality it was simply a meetinghouse to serve the needs of the local ward. Tabernacles were constructed to serve as stake centers and were therefore usually larger and more elaborate than typical meetinghouses. This building was used for stake conferences only when it was Randolph’s turn to host the meeting, which rotated from town to town within the stake. The building’s elaborate styling may also have contributed to its tabernacle image.

The Randolph Tabernacle was constructed primarily with resources provided by members of the Randolph Ward. Local members provided approximately 82% of the $23,884.76 total cost of the building. Contributions included donated labor and materials as well as cash donations. LDS Church headquarters contributed $2000 toward the building project. The collection of money and materials for the building began as early as March 1895, but it was not until 1898 that construction actually began. The lengthy 16-year construction period can be attributed in part to the elaborate design of the building and the relatively small size of the congregation providing the funds, some 100 families.

The architect of the Randolph Tabernacle was John C. Gray, a local contractor/builder who participated in virtually every phase of the building’s construction. Gray probably designed other buildings in the area, but this is the only known example of his work to date. He later served as bishop of the Randolph Ward for 20 years (1901-1921). Gustave Nelson of Logan was the general contractor and was responsible for laying the brick and stone for the building. The brick walls were laid in 1900 and 1901, and the roof was put on in 1902. Fred Datwiler, also from Logan, was hired to plaster the interior of the building. Nearly everyone in the ward was involved in some form or another in the construction of the building. Men graded the site, cut and hauled timber from the nearby mountains, and assisted in various other construction activities, while the women helped collect donations and gathered rags to make carpeting for the new building. Samuel Brough was contracted to provide the 180,000 fired brick used in the building, and most of the lumber was taken from Green Fork and sawed at Con Andrew’s Mill. The rock and sandstone used on the building were hauled from Big Creek and Otter Creek, south of the W.T. Rex Ranch.

Though still ten years from its final completion, the building was finished to a usable degree by November 1904 when the first meeting was held in the main assembly hall. At that time Apostle George A. Smith from church headquarters “gave orders to discontinue work on the tabernacle until all debts were paid.” Work proceeded slowly but steadily over the next several years as the basement was finished for use by the auxiliaries and other interior improvements were made. The tower was completed in 1909 with Gus Nelson laying the brick and Bishop Gray adding the frame sections. The building was finally dedicated on July 26, 1914, by Apostle George Albert Smith.

The Great Depression hit the Randolph area very hard, but by 1936 the farmers had recovered enough to afford needed work on the building. The interior was remodeled and redecorated, and an amusement hall, adjacent but not attached, was built at a cost of $40,000. The basement was remodeled in 1936 and completed in 1938. The floor was raised to prevent flooding, which had plagued the building from the outset, and the original five classrooms and small assembly room were divided into several classrooms. A baptismal font and furnace were installed and the interior of the chapel was also redecorated.

Other changes were made on the building in later years. In 1977 the tabernacle received new interior furnishings, new carpet, and interior painting. The exterior trim was painted, and the roof of the tower was painted a bright blue. Due to deterioration, the original foundation was repaired in 1980 and faced with concrete.

In 1984-85 the tabernacle was thoroughly renovated. A large rear addition was built, housing classrooms, a cultural hall and offices, and the original building was sensitively refurbished. The renovation architect was Tom Jensen of Logan, Utah.

Built between 1898 and 1914, the Randolph Tabernacle is a one story brick Victorian Eclectic style building with a two story tower. The original features of the building are well preserved, though a few minor alterations have been made on both the interior and exterior, and a large one story addition was built on the rear in the early 1980s. The rear addition is a major change, but its location, scale, and massing are such that it does not significantly detract from the original building. The prominent stylistic features of the original building are virtually unaltered, therefore it retains its original integrity.

The original building is set on a rock and sandstone foundation faced with concrete, is three bays wide and four bays deep, and measures approximately 50′ x 120′. The bays are separated by false buttresses and there is a round arch opening in each of the bays. A polygonal bay is attached to the rear or west end of the building and is topped by a tent roof. The building has an irregular roof configuration. There is a gable roof oriented broadside to the street over the first side bay. The last three side bays are covered by a gablet roof that is higher than the broadside gable and extends over the broadside gable. There are fishscale shingles in each of the gable ends of the gablet roof, and there is stickwork in each of the roof gables.

The tower is attached to the front of the southernmost bay on the front of the building, and the main entrance is set into it. It is approximately one bay wide and one bay deep, two stories high, and is topped by an elaborate roof. The roof consists of a bell cast roof section that rises to a square panel that contains air vents and is accented by decorative stickwork. Above the square section projects a domed roof section that is covered with slate fishscale shingles. All other roof sections have recently been re-roofed with asphalt shingles. A small gable projects into the front of the bellcast roof, and is set over an occuli. There is decorative stickwork in that gable as in the other .gables. Round arch openings are set into three sides of the tower on both stories.

Decorative brickwork in conjunction with the almost exclusive use of round arch openings creates a decorative scheme that is particularly distinctive. Decorative brickwork includes corbelling at the roof edge, projecting false buttresses, and projecting bands of brick over the door and window openings and between the stories of the tower. Two colors of brick have been used. A warm red brick is accented by yellow brick in the pilasters, the brick corbelling at the roof edge, the bands that separate the stories of the tower, and the arches over the windows. Each of the windows is divided into three vertical panes and topped by a semicircular transom. There is leaded glass in the central vertical pane and in the transom of each window. The main entrance consists of double doors topped by a large arched transom which also has leaded glass. The original doors have been replaced by glass doors, but the change is minor.

The walls measure 19 inches thick and contain a two inch air space. There are five rooms on the interior. The chapel measures 47′ x 34* and is made distinctive by coved ceilings. The interior was restored in 1984-85. Minor replastering was done and new light fixtures were installed that are compatible with the interior decoration. The chapel still retains its original character.

Typical of Victorian Eclectic buildings, the Randolph Tabernacle features stylistic elements from the Queen Anne, Eastlake, and other Victorian era architectural styles. Prominent features of the building include the irregular massing, variety of roof types, contrasting colors of brick, decorative brickwork, patterned shingles, round arches over the windows, stickwork in the gables, and the large tower. These distinctive features are all well preserved.

An addition was made to the building in the mid-1950s, but was replaced by a new one story addition in the early 1980s. It wraps around the polygonal bay at the rear, extends around the southwest corner of the building, and projects beyond the north wall. It was built to complement the original building. The addition is constructed of a compatible red brick, and the roof line is set lower than the original building. The round arch motif was used on the section attached to the southwest corner, and other windows are clearly new windows, pairs of double hung sash windows topped by arches, but are sympathetic with the style of the original building. In 1984 restoration was begun on the original tabernacle building. The roof sections were re-shingled, and as previously mentioned, minor replastering was done on the interior. The changes do not affect the original character of the building.