For years after Latter-day Saint pioneers arrived in Utah, they struggled to grow food and obtain resources to sustain themselves in their new homes. Brigham Young, hoping to encourage self-sufficiency among the member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes called Mormons), called many of them to settle in southern Utah to grow cotton. Because of the desolate desert conditions in the area, failed harvests, and other challenges, some of the Saints became disillusioned with the idea of continued life in the area. Despite the doubts of the settlers, Young hoped they would establish a thriving community in the village that would become known as St. George. To encourage this, he called for the Latter-day Saints in St. George to build a tabernacle where they could gather and worship. Although they faced many challenges, the St. Georgians followed Young’s counsel and began construction on the building in June 1863.
Using sandstone from the surrounding area, they built up the tabernacle according to the design of Miles Romney, a local architect. Skilled carpenters and masons from the area contributed to constructing the tabernacle. Despite their efforts, the city’s people struggled to complete the edifice. Although they finished the basement, where they held meetings by 1869, the tower and other parts of the tabernacle were not completed until years later. The windows in particular were an obstacle to completing the building. One worker, David Cannon, labored tirelessly trying to raise the $800 needed for the windows. As the deadline to pay for the windows approached, he had only received $200 because of the locals’ destitute circumstances. Cannon had no perceivable way to raise the necessary funds.
The night before the payment was due, a local Latter-day Saint named Peter Neilson Sr. felt a spiritually impressed to donate his life’s savings, $600, toward the construction of the tabernacle. Although he struggled with the idea, Neilson decided to make the sacrifice. The next morning, the day the funds were due, he visited Cannon and presented him with the exact amount of money he needed to purchase the windows. Because of the sacrifices of Neilson and many others like him, the tabernacle was completed on May 7, 1876.
Visitors to the St. George Tabernacle today cannot understand the true significance of the edifice without understanding the many sacrifices of those who built it. Although these settlers struggled to survive in the harsh desert environment, they still sacrificed labor, time, money, and many other resources for years to build the tabernacle. In the words of Reid Neilson, a descendant of Peter Neilson, the Saints built the tabernacle because “it was more than just an ordinary building—[it was] a monument to their faith and devotion.” The St. George Tabernacle is truly a monument to the faith and sacrifices of the early pioneers in southern Utah.