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After 124 years, Lake Point Ward divided

LAKE POINT, Utah — "It is like losing half your family," said Bishop James A. Willes as he spoke to members of his Lake Point Ward after its division Sunday, March 24.

Before Sunday, the ward existed 124 years without a division, among the oldest in the Church to do so. Since the community was founded in 1854, generations have come and gone, all within the same boundaries of the same ward.

The ward was created in the Tooele Stake in 1877, then the Church's 15th stake. At that time, the city was known as E.T. City, named in honor of Apostle Ezra T. Benson who was the presiding officer of the Tooele area settlements. The name was changed in 1923 from E.T. City to Lake Point.

Lake Point is a community 20 miles west of Salt Lake City, in the shadow of the Oquirrh Mountains that has eluded growth like a back eddy on a surging river. Here, meadowlarks play the melody line against the distant bass of tractor trailers humming from nearby I-80. Dogs run free and horses are plentiful in large pastures.

Roads where Brigham Young once traveled aren't so very different now, save a narrow blacktop coating. Captain Howard Stansbury built a cabin about 1850 near a land feature called Adobe Rock, which has changed little in the passing of a century and a half. Nearby are the remains of an 1869 woolen mill built under the advice of Brigham Young. An unpaved stretch of the 1913 transcontinental Lincoln Highway runs through the community; even the truck stops on I-80 have a 1941 predecessor with community connections. Yet, so rural was Lake Point that telephones didn't arrive here until 1952.

Historically, most of the residents were farmers who battled the elements and grasshoppers. The land never turned a real profit until recent years when, instead of corn and barley, the fields began to grow houses. In fact, a building boom is just around the corner as developers plan to erect 2,500 homes in the original ward's boundaries.

At the Sunday ward division, both chapel and cultural hall were filled to capacity for the occasion. Presiding was President D. Brent Rose of the Stansbury Park Utah Stake, who said, "We feel bad when we have to divide the oldest ward [that has never been divided] in the Church." Yet, he said, " 'Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged. . . .' (Doctrine and Covenants 82:14). Today we embark on the fulfillment of enlarging the borders of Zion by one more ward."

In the meeting, more than a few handkerchiefs were employed beneath glasses as testimonies were shared. In a few minutes the long-standing Lake Point Ward became another amoeba ward like 18,000 others.

Among those sad to see the change is Gilbert W. Davies, a former bishop and stake president whose grandfather, Dewey Brigham Davies, was a constable in the early town. The first Davies floated left-over logs from a rail crossing over the Great Salt Lake to build his home, and put down roots that have stuck for five generations.

Brother Davies remembers as a deacon firing up the old pot belly stove in the 24-foot-by-30-foot rock chapel. The 1884 rock chapel improved on the 1856 log meetinghouse. In the rock chapel, members stood around the old stove till the room heated up and then they met in one of five classes separated by curtains. When members gathered for sacrament meeting, seven benches held the entire congregation. Small silver sacrament cups used then are now displayed in the "new" meetinghouse, which was built in 1986. If there were more people than cups, a large cup was passed to the remainder, going from person to person. It is also on display in the new meetinghouse. Because the old rock meetinghouse never had a steeple, it was never dedicated, although it was used for 101 years.

Lake Point was a close-knit community with little change. Membership stayed about 300. Its only growth came through births, and it lost when young people moved away and the old people died. Ironically, both wards after the division each have about 300 members. Picnics, dances and camping were among the ward's activities. "There was very little crime," Brother Davies observed. "Lake Pointers looked out after Lake Pointers." And he added, "Deaths were tragic for the entire ward."

He remembers as a youth plowing with an iron-cleated tractor, trying to please his father with straight, deep furrows.

"Life was tough in the early days," he said. "It was a challenge just to survive. Nobody ever got prosperous on farms."

The ward didn't have a high rate of activity, and Brother Davies' own family was not active until after his mother died and his father remarried. His father's second wife was a convert and devoted to the Church.

"She set us straight," he said.

Still, when the ward's two welfare farms needed irrigating, less-active members helped with the 2 a.m. watering. During the Great Depression, hay was shared. It was while Brother Davies was president of the Grantsville Utah Stake that the new meetinghouse was completed in 1986.

Perhaps the oldest active member in Lake Point is Owen L. Cluff, 77, a third generation ward member who is one of eight former bishops residing in the ward. He recalled refurbishing and adding to the old rock chapel while he was bishop. Visiting that building a couple of days before the ward was divided, he fondly recalled memories and meetings so much a part of his life, back when Lake Point didn't change. He said that the ward is not only old, but it is also a close ward.

"There is a deep tradition in the ward that everybody accepts everybody," he said.

He and his wife, Ila, have served two missions. They were called on their first while still engaged. Someone tapped him on the shoulder and asked him to walk out to the car for a private conversation. He was informed that the Brethren wanted them to serve on the Ibapah Reservation and so, after their marriage, they did. Later they returned to Lake Point. Sister Cluff said she was treated like a family member from the moment she became a member of the ward.

"It is sad to be divided," she said.

At the Sunday meeting for the division, others echoed her feelings. A few hugs, a few good-byes were exchanged and the members left planning to keep in touch. Perhaps as time goes by, they will remember the words of the new bishop of the new Big Canyon Ward, Roger Powell:

"It's what's inside of us, not where we live, that is important."