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American Fork Second Ward Meetinghouse

On 13 July 1901, the American Fork 2nd ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints was created along with the 1st, 3rd, and 4th wards of the new American Fork Stake on 9 October 1902, Joseph H. Storrs, who served as bishop from 1901 to 1942 announced that brick had been contracted for a new meetinghouse. James H. Pulley designed the architecture in the Victorian Gothic style. The cornerstone was laid in April 1903, and the first meeting was held in the unfinished chapel on 31 January 1904. Robert L. Ashby, teacher of woodworking at the high school, took charge of the interior woodwork, and upon completion reported that he wanted no fee. Pres Anthon H. Lund dedicated the building on 17 February 1907. Total cost was $10,000.

On 15 June 1929 major alterations and additions totaling $48,555 were commenced under the direction of Don Carlos Young, church architect. The original brick architecture was carefully preserved and matched by the new construction. On account of a $15,000 donation by John (Jack) Firmage, the new recreation hall became known as Firmage Hall. Dedication was by Pres. Heber J. Grant on 4 September 1932.

Vacated by the church in October 1979, the building was purchased in May 1984 by M. L. Bigelow & Co., Inc., Organ Builders. It has housed the pipe organ shop and Michael Bigelow’s residence since that time.
(text from plaque on site)

Located at 130 West 100 South in American Fork, Utah and added to the National Historic Register (#92000101) on March 10, 1992.

From the NRHP Nomination Form:
The American Fork Second Ward Meetinghouse is significant as the only intact example of the eclectic Gothic Revival architecture once employed widely throughout the community by the LDS church during a period of ecclesiastical expansion after the turn of the century. It was one of four ward (congregation) meetinghouses constructed in the city around 1903-04. Each was a tall, brick, late Gothic Revival edifice with a corner steeple tower. Each had a combination of Gothic and Romanarched windows, corbeled brick ornamental motifs, art glass transoms and accent windows, stone foundations, steeply pitched gable roofs, and other shared features. The Second Ward Meetinghouse is the only one of those four churches to retain its architectural integrity. The large, well-matched 1929-30 addition to the meetinghouse is also significant. It documents two important changes in LDS church architecture after about 1920. First, it reflects the influence of the church’s newly created centralized architectural department and its emphasis on standard plans. Second, it illustrates the church’s new policy of including all church auxiliaries and their functions in a single building rather than in separate structures. The addition is a successful blending of functional and aesthetic considerations. It provided the necessary space for the ward’s varied activities and did so in a manner that conformed with both the new standard plan and the original eclectic Gothic Revival design.

Historical Background:

The town of American Fork was founded in 1850 by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon or LDS church). This was just three years after the Mormons immigrated from the Mid-west and began establishing their new home in the Utah territory. American Fork was one of several towns established in Utah Valley by the Mormons during the 1850s. Agriculture was the principal local industry throughout the 19th century, though the coming of the railroad in 1873 and mining in the nearby mountains also influenced the local economy. The town, always predominantly Mormon, grew slowly but steadily and by 1900 the population was estimated to be over 2300.

Growth in the community was sufficient by 1901 to prompt the division of the single Mormon ward (congregation) into four separate wards. The process of dividing wards was common in many Mormon communities at this time, brought on by population growth, the death of many long-time local leaders, and changing church policies.

The Second Ward, along with the other three wards, soon felt the need for its own building. In a ward council meeting of 29 September 1901, Second Ward Bishop Joseph H. Storrs proposed that the ward begin efforts to provide a new building. He named a committee of five to recommend a building site. This was accomplished by November 1901, but planning for the construction continued for nearly a year. At a special meeting on 9 October 1902, the Bishop reported that they had taken upon themselves the responsibility of contracting for the brick and obtained the members’ approval. The bishop appointed a finance committee, and James H. Pulley, a local carpenter/ builder, presented a plan for the building. Pulley had recently been given the assignment to “get the plans” for the city hall, which was also being built at the same time. It also seems likely that Pulley designed the other three ward meetinghouses, given the similarity of their appearances.

Each of the four wards in American Fork were building new meetinghouses during this period and found “they could get brick cheaper in large quantities, so they all ordered their brick together, thus all the four ward chapels were constructed of the same color red brick.” According to the ward minutes, all the required brick was on hand by 5 July 1903 and “the masons would finish their work in a few days and the material was on the ground for the roof. Ward members all working together were doing a fine job, but it was slowed down for lack of finances.”

The ward began using the meetinghouse on January 31, 1904, even though all of the work on the building was not completed. By June of 1904, the ward still owed $700.00 and needed an additional $1,050.00 to finish the building and the tower. The tower, easily the most distinctive feature of the building, included a special room for Mormon prayer circles. That same month, Robert L. Ashby, a high school woodworking teacher, moved into the ward building to work on the interior woodwork. When he finished, Ashby rejected attempts to pay him for his work. Other members of the ward similarly donated labor and money to the project, which cost a total of $10,000.20. After the final debts were paid, the Second Ward Meetinghouse was dedicated on 17 February 1909.