The question has been seriously considered, during several different decades, as to whether the Blanding South Chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should be torn down and a more functional modern meetinghouse built in its place.
Each time, the prevailing consensus was to preserve the building — despite its imperfections — as a standing testament to the ingenuity, faith, and sacrifice of Blanding’s early pioneers.
That question will never again be an issue. The imposing native rock and brick church house has been designated by the Church Historical Department as a historical site and, as such, will forever remain a viable part of the community. This is cause for quiet celebration, for even as it was constructed on the first town square, the South Chapel is literally still at the heart of Blanding, as well as in the hearts of many who have lived in Blanding.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the initial groundbreaking for the South Chapel, which was done without ceremony. Twelve members of the Grayson Ward Building Committee met on-site, early one April morning in 1914, to mark the corners of the basement.
Then, 18-year-old George Arthur Hurst, Jr., was put to work with a horse and plow. After furrowing the dirt, he used an old slush scraper to pull the loosened soil to the side and then he repeated the tiresome process, establishing the boundaries of where men and boys would soon congregate with picks and shovels.
That humble but faith-filled beginning was followed by 14 years of manual labor, mostly local and mainly volunteer, before the beautiful chapel was finally ready to be dedicated on June 3, 1928.
However, by that time the community had already outgrown what was initially thought by some to be an extravagant building: a chapel above a basement recreation hall with a two story wing on either side of the front of the chapel containing two classrooms each. The original building had no restrooms.
In 1940, Bishop John D. Rogers sought permission from Church Headquarters to construct an addition which consisted of ten classrooms, a stake office, a bishop’s office, two restrooms, a Relief Society Room with a small kitchen located directly west of it through double doors, and a tiled baptismal font that replaced the original cement font in the basement boiler room. This portion was also built of native materials by local labor.
In order to keep up with the town’s growing population, as well as church member needs, a state-of-the-art cultural hall was begun in 1951. Due to the influence of the Blanding and Grayson Ward’s Relief Society presidents, a new larger kitchen and serving area joined the church house with the new cultural hall.
A major remodel of the original building was completed in 1984. Among other changes, the barrel vaulted ceiling of the chapel was lowered and given a trey design; the arrangement of the sacrament table was changed; and richly stained woodwork adorned the front of the chapel. Also, the apricot and turquoise colored plaster walls received a textured finish and every surface was painted white.
Now, 100 years from the initial groundbreaking, the Blanding South Chapel is undergoing another major renovation.
Initially, it was going to include a complete restoration of the chapel, taking it back to its original state when it was known as the Grayson Tabernacle. This would have entailed, among other things, bringing back the domed ceiling. However, as so often happens, the practical aspect of life stepped in and questioned the wisdom, as well as the cost, of a total restoration. After all, church building funds are a sacred trust, and the changes that have been made over the years have been considered improvements.
And so, after much deliberation, a compromise was finally reached and construction begun. At the end of May, the three wards occupying the old church were rerouted to the Blanding North Chapel and Stake Center, creating challenging but feasible meeting schedules.
Though the official word is that the remodel may take up to a year, the hope is that the building will be ready for occupancy much sooner than that.
Structurally, the building will not experience any major changes. Inside, most of the work will be installing new electrical wiring and an efficient heating/cooling system.
The rooms, most notably the restrooms, will become handicap accessible. Outside, the greatest improvement will be a new roof. Workers have removed three layers of shingles, including the original cedar shake shingles.
According to Carol Richmond, Facilities Manager, there are a few nice surprises planned; however, they won’t be surprises if this article details them, so readers will simply have to wait for the rest of the story.
Joe Hurst, one of the sub-contractors currently working on the remodel, as well as a member of the Blanding Stake Presidency, succinctly summed up his feelings this way, “I derive a certain amount of satisfaction knowing that five generations of the George A. Hurst, Sr. family have played a part in constructing, maintaining, and remodeling the South Chapel. The building has become an icon to our family, not only physically but spiritually. It is a reminder of who we are, what we believe, and what we stand for.”
Though a comparative few share the remarkable Hurst family legacy, anyone who has ever attended the South Chapel can understand the sentiment of President Hurst’s last sentence.