Ely L.D.S. Stake Tabernacle
The Ely L.D.S. Stake Tabernacle is significant under criterion A because of its association with the history and development of the Church of the Latter-day Saints in Nevada and under criterion C for its noted use of Colonial Revival architectural design. The Tabernacle was built in 1927 and serves as an excellent
expression of the regional character of White Pine County for Ely, which was the seat of government. Situated in a mining community in a region once beyond the boundary of Nevada and within the sphere of influence of the Mormon Church, the Tabernacle is a symbol of diverse cultural elements meeting on a
common ground. In addition, the use of Colonial Revival motifs for the building, highlighted by a striking contrast of light and dark building materials, creates an excellent example of twentieth-century monumental architecture in eastern Nevada.
The Mormon State of Deseret, founded in the mid-1840s as a refuge for members of the faith fleeing persecution in the eastern states, originally encompassed the entire Great Basin including what is now Nevada. The Great Basin is a unique portion of world geography, draining into itself rather than an ocean. It occupies an enormous amount of western North America and a majority of Nevada and Utah are within its boundaries.
When Congress created the Nevada Territory in 1861, it included only the part of the Great Basin to the west of the 116th longitude. This created a territory about half as wide as the present-day state. When mineral deposits were discovered in the Austin area (in what is now central Nevada), Congress added to
Nevada in 1862 so that it included those parts of the Great Basin to the west of the 115th longitude. Further discoveries of minerals in the Pahranagat Valley inspired an 1866 modification of the boundary so that Nevada – a state after 1864 – extended still further east to its present border at the 114th longitude.
The growth of Nevada at the expense of Utah was inspired by a general dislike of Mormons over polygamy and the perception that they were insular and autonomous. In addition, the Church of the
Latter-day Saints attempted to discourage mining because mineral strikes often caused rushes importing non-Mormons and thereby threatening the Utopian, faithful society the Mormons hoped to establish. The federal government regarded Nevada, founded as a mining state, to be the best manager of mineral rich lands, and so its boundaries expanded eastward as prospectors explored the previously little-known hinterland and identified ore bodies.
Although Nevada acquired and oversaw the exploitation of mineral resources in its new found lands, the eastern fringe of the state was close to Salt Lake City and remained in that capital’s sphere of influence in many ways. . This created a fundamental dichotomy in the resulting settlements. For example, Panaca in Lincoln County to the south was a Mormon agricultural settlement while nearby Pioche was a non-Mormon mining town. The two coexisted for economic and geographic reasons, but they remained insulated from one another. Similarly, White Pine County, founded in territory once entirely in Utah beyond the original Nevada border, had long been the object of Mormon settlement and expansion. Its mining potential contributed to irregular population trends. Hamilton, to the west of Ely and the first:
White Pine County seat, was founded and largely abandoned within two decades. A few other mining areas suffered similar fate. At the turn of the century, however, a major copper strike occurred in central White Pine County creating a basis for long-term settlement and economic prosperity. Ely, founded at the
center of the strike, became the seat of government for White Pine County, and an infrastructure for a stable community soon took root.
Mining towns based on gold and silver mining almost by definition can prove difficult for Mormon expansion. A diversity of faiths and ethnic backgrounds provide the community with little cohesion. The booming nature of their economies can lead to a free-wheeling life style. In addition, the tendency of boom towns to disappear as quickly as they were founded creates an atmosphere which is not conducive to the growth of an institution such as the Church of the Latter-day Saints which thrives or. stability and continuity. Copper mining, on the other hand, typically involves the development of a large diffuse ore body, the mining of which can take decades, providing a long term economic basis for a community. Ely – based on copper mining and situated on land previously part of Utah – provided, therefore, an ideal soil for Mormon roots. The Ely L.D.S. Stake Tabernacle can been seen as a symbol of the synthesis between the Nevada mining economy and the Mormon sphere of influence.
The Church of the Latter-day Saints assumed an early role in Ely, but for two decades met in temporary, borrowed or rented facilities. An Ely Branch of the Church was organized in 1915. In 1920, the nearby McGill Ward acquired jurisdiction over the Ely Branch, but in 1926, Ely was formally organized as a Ward
with George A. Wilson as Bishop. At the same time, the Ward was placed under a newly-organized Nevada Stake (a still larger component in the Church organizational chart). Under Bishop Wilson, the Church erected its stake tabernacle in Ely (granting that community pivotal importance for the region) at a cost of about $60,000. The building included an auditorium with seating for 600, an amusement hall in the basement, a baptismal font, Relief Society room, and several classrooms. In all the building became an important center of Church activity in the area. Although the building was opened in 1928, a formal dedication ceremony by Church President Heber J. Grant did not occur until April 26, 1935. The building was replaced by a newer facility in 1957, but the first building remains as a symbol of the earlier, dynamic community and its relationship to its Mormon roots, reestablishing itself in land formally under the preview of Utah, now in the midst the Nevada’s twentieth-century mining boom.
The Ely L.D.S. Stake Tabernacle is also significant under criterion C because of its local interpretation of Colonial Revival architecture in a part of the Great Basin with few such monumental buildings. The two-story, brick building occupies a prominent corner of the main street in Ely. The design of the building was part of a ten year effort (1922-1932) by the Church of Latter Day Saints to consciously upgrade the architecture of its churches. In this building, the bold architectural features, including a Palladian motif for the front door, cornice returns, quoins of alternating colors, and arched windows with keystones, create a commanding presence. The contractor for the construction was Joseph Van Carolos Young, grandson of Brigham Young. There are very few buildings in rural Nevada of this style, and, fortunately, the building is in the process of being restored for the use of many future generations.
The Ely L.D.S. Stake Tabernacle, constructed in 1927-1928, is a prominent reminder of the presence of the Mormon church in Ely, Nevada. While the name of the building’s architect is not known, the design incorporates many characteristics of the Colonial Revival, indicating that the designer had formal training. The Tabernacle, originally used as a church and community meeting place, is now owned by the White Pine Community Choir for an auditorium. Future plans include use as a community center. The building retains its historic integrity.
The former church is located on Aultman Street, the main east-west thoroughfare through Ely; the courthouse and public park are one block to the west. Various commercial establishments occupy
these blocks of downtown Ely. A motel is located directly east of the Tabernacle and the high school is across eighth street to the west. To the north, a residential neighborhood occupies the hill above the downtown district.
The Ely Tabernacle is a T-shaped, two-story brick building on a concrete foundation, with a gable roof across the base of the “T” and a hip roof across the top of the “T.” The main entrance to the church is located in the gable end of the building, and is emphasized by a large, Palladian motif doorway and a multi-lite, hexagonal window in the wall above. Of note is the brick coursing: the walls have only stretchers and no headers; they may be only a façade. The main elevation is further emphasized by alternating quoins of concrete and brick, and cornice returns. The cornice around the reminder of the building is dentiled and the roof has asphalt shingles.
The side and rear elevations have multi-lite, double hung wooden rectangular and arched windows, many of which are boarded over. A second entrance is located on the west wing, and has a pedimented doorway with a transom and an arched window above. A second row of windows is located just above ground level and lights the lower floor. A third row of windows, illuminating the gallery, is found in the rear wing.
The first floor and second-floor gallery retains its historic integrity, and has fine wood floors and architectural detailing. The foyer leads into a central auditorium with side aisles which can be closed off with french doors. The basement level, not distinguished architecturally, includes meeting rooms and a
kitchen. The building is being restored by the White Pine Community Choir Association.