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Picturing history: Retired church buildings

Shortly after the arrival of Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, a bowery was constructed as a place where members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could hold meetings.

Since that time, many thousands of meetinghouses have been built by the church. As those structures age, many of them are caught between the desire to preserve an attractive and historic building and the economic realities associated with maintaining a building that no longer serves its purpose. It usually costs much less to demolish and rebuild than to retrofit and restore.

This 1892 chapel in Chesterfield, Idaho, is a stunning example of concerned people acquiring and preserving historical treasures. The entire community is on the National Register of Historic Places. | Kenneth Mays

Older buildings can be fraught with problems. For example, they may have had asbestos included in their original construction. In other cases, the LDS population base has shifted to other locations, making an older building no longer economically viable to expend great sums on maintenance. Over the years, a number of such structures have succumbed to the wrecking ball. Some, however, have been sold to other religious organizations, businesses or individuals.

Buildings such as the Chesterfield, Idaho, chapel and Gadfield Elm in England have have been successfully acquired and restored. They are wonderful success stories. In almost all cases, successful or not, saving these structures always seemed to be easier said than done. Presently, a group of concerned persons has been formed to preserve a former LDS ward house in Murray, Utah. The building was once sold and utilized for a private educational enterprise, but it is now empty and scheduled for demolition. Some old buildings simply stand empty with no announced plans for the future.

Kenneth Mays is a board member of the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation and a retired instructor in the LDS Church’s Department of Seminaries and Institutes.