Rexburg tabernacle (Scroll, Archive)

2016 marks 105th anniversary of Rexburg Tabernacle

The Rexburg Tabernacle, a local building listed on the National Register for Historic Places, will celebrate 105 years this July since its groundbreaking in 1911.

Authorization to build the tabernacle came in 1911 after it was decided that a larger meeting place was needed to sustain the growing membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the area, according to Snake River Echoes, an informational booklet put out by the Upper Snake River Valley Historical Society.

Settlers first came to what is now modern Rexburg in 1883, according to the booklet. The Spring of 1883 saw large groups of Saints move into the Rexburg area. By the time Idaho was ready for statehood in 1890, 3,681 Church members lived in the Rexburg area.

After a year and a half of construction, the tabernacle was dedicated on Jan. 7, 1912, by President Joseph F. Smith.

“I think calling it a gem would be an appropriate term,” said Claude Tuckett, a native of St. Anthony and a resident of Rexburg for 50 years. “They’ve kept it a beautiful rock building. You don’t see many of them anymore.”

The original cost of the tabernacle was $29,000. The funds were raised completely by community members who contributed their own time to help with labor, according to the booklet.

“President Smith said he was surprised when he heard it was to be built, surprised when he heard it was built without church aid, surprised when he heard it was paid for, and again surprised when much of the $3,000 appropriated by the church seating had been returned,” said Warren Widdison, a long-time resident of Rexburg currently residing in Nampa, Idaho.

The tabernacle was the only building in the area that had a baptismal font, which was added in 1930, according to the booklet.

“It was indeed an improvement over cutting a hole in the ice on the river,” Widdison said.
As Church membership increased into the 1970s, new stake centers were built nearby, lessening the need for the tabernacle.

In 1974, the tabernacle was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, according to the Idaho Heritage website.

It was later sold to the City of Rexburg in 1978 following the Teton Dam flood, which had ruined the basement of the building, according to the booklet.

When a dedicated Church building is sold to a government body, the building is no longer deemed a dedicated building, allowing it to be used as a civic center for the community, said Louis Clements, president of the Rexburg Historical Society.

Local high schools used the Tabernacle as a graduation venue, the first being in 1930 with a graduating class of ‘81. After 1975, graduation commencements were moved to the Ricks campus, according to the Rexburg Historical Society.

The tabernacle has been a central gathering place for numerous entertainment events throughout the years. It was home base for the popular Gold and Green Balls and has hosted musical guests, such as the U.S. Air Force Band and famous Mexican trumpeter Rafael Mendez, according to the Rexburg Historical Society.
Before construction of the Oscar A. Kirkham Building Auditorium, musical performances by students on the Ricks campus were all held at the Tabernacle, which was and is continually known for its excellent acoustics, according to Snake River Echoes.

“It’s just been (a) grand ol’ building,” Tuckett said.

Clements said there are no current festivities planned for the anniversary of the historic building.

Copyright 2015 BYU-I Scroll