Like many Christians living on the frontier in the early 19th century, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often lacked formal meetinghouses. They congregated in homes, stores, and out in the open air. Before permanent accommodations could be built, Latter-day Saints often constructed boweries. A “bowery” was created by covering a timber framework with brush and/or tree branches.
Arriving just days after Brigham Young’s vanguard group, members of the Mormon Battalion entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 29th, 1847. They completed a small bowery in an area that had already been designated by Brigham Young as the “Temple Block”. This was the first structure built by the pioneers in the valley. Although the bowery was used primarily for religious meetings, it was also used for social gatherings.
Salt Lake City’s population quickly swelled as waves of pioneers entered the valley. In 1849, another bowery, twice the size of the original, was erected.
As the city rose out of the desert, the Saints began construction on a tabernacle. According to the Church, the word tabernacle comes from the prophecy in Isaiah that “Zion would be like an Israelite tabernacle established before Christ’s Second Coming.” The Church of Jesus Christ constructed a number of large assembly halls, called tabernacles, to be used for religious and civic gatherings throughout the West. Here Saints would gather for worship services and also to “discuss the day to day challenges of the settlement process.” The first tabernacle built on Temple Square was designed by the architect of the Church, Truman Angell. This adobe building replaced the bowery. An organ for the Adobe Tabernacle was donated by a member of the Church and was painstakingly shipped from Australia to Salt Lake City.
Due to the city’s fast population growth, by the time the Adobe Tabernacle was completed in April 1852, it was already too small. Consequently, in July 1854, the First Presidency of the Church announced intentions to construct a bowery once again on Temple Square. This bowery was built just outside of the Tabernacle to accommodate the large crowds that assembled for General Conferences of the Church. While the Tabernacle provided shelter during inclement weather, some, including James S. Brown and Elder George A. Smith, extolled the pleasures of preaching outdoors under the bowery.
This large bowery was later used as a workshop for workers who were constructing another tabernacle on Temple Square. That tabernacle, which is still in use today, was conceptualized by Brigham Young to be like a “turtle back” and was designed to seat over 12,000. The Old Tabernacle was demolished in 1870 and the Salt Lake Assembly Hall was built in its place.