The past and the present were blended together July 13 "in this Mormon way station to the West." President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the reconstructed Kanesville Tabernacle, a replica of the old log tabernacle where Brigham Young was sustained as the second president of the Church in 1847.
About 400 invited guests attended the dedicatory services in the newly built tabernacle, located in downtown Council Bluffs, once known as Kanesville, near the site of the original tabernacle. Thousands of others viewed the services at the Grand Encampment site on the grounds of the Iowa School for the Deaf, some five miles away, where the proceedings were later telecast onto a stadium-size TV screen."It is fitting, wonderfully fitting, that we gather here today, with deep appreciation in our hearts for all who made this re-creation possible," said President Hinckley in his address prior to giving the dedicatory prayer.
Elder Hugh W. Pinnock, a member of the Seventy and of the North America Central Area presidency, conducted the services, and said, "This is a day of great historical significance."
Other speakers were Steve Young, star quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers and a great-great-great grandson of Brigham Young, who represented the Young family; and Council Bluffs Mayor Thomas P. Hanafan. The 70-voice Kanesville Tabernacle Choir, composed of members primarly from Council Bluffs and Kanesville wards, sang three numbers, ending with On This Day of Joy and Gladness, which summed up the feelings of many who attended the services.
President Hinckley arrived in Council Bluffs on the morning of July 13 after attending the opening performance of the Hill Cumorah Pageant the night before in Palmyra, N.Y. (See related article on page 4.)
In his address, President Hinckley spoke of the Mormon migration from Nauvoo, Ill., and the establishment of communities along the way and in the Great Basin. "They longed for the freedom to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience and wished to extend that same privilege to all others," President Hinckley said of the pioneers. "They did what they did because of what they believed."
Referring to the old log tabernacle, President Hinckley said it was "comprised of walls and a roof of cottonwood logs, which is a soft wood and rather easy to tool. But it still represented a Herculean task in the circumstances in which they found themselves.
"Tremendous was their vision," he declared, and that vision came largely from the leadership of Brigham Young.
In his dedicatory prayer, President Hinckley petitioned that the structure "may stand as a landmark in this community. May it be a place to remember and ponder the lives and deeds of men and women who were endowed with a great overpowering sense of mission, and who out of love for a great cause were willing to give their all, even life itself.
"May the realistic re-creation of the past become a sobering part of the present that there will be a grateful remembrance of those who have gone before."
Steve Young in his remarks said, "This tabernacle had special meaning to Brigham Young, as I've studied the journals."
After the dedicatory services, a perpetual flame was lit in a lantern on the tabernacle grounds, which also includes a visitors center.
The area's media gave the dedication and other events of the Grand Encampment wide publicity. Council Bluffs' newspaper, The Daily Nonpareil, carried a banner headline across the top of its front page the next day announcing, "Mormons dedicate tabernacle." Included on the front page of the newspaper were four pictures and three articles on the dedication and events at the Grand Encampment, with another picture on an inside page. The paper also published a picture page on an inside section with six more pictures.
The Omaha World Herald published two articles and three pictures on the day's events on the front page of its local section.
The reconstructed tabernacle, built with donated funds from both members and non-members, was a joint project of the Pottawattamie County Mormon Trail Association and Kanesville Restoration Inc.
Kanesville was originally called Miller's Hollow because of pioneer Henry Miller's encampment on Indian Creek in a hollow below the eastern bluffs of the Missouri River. Later, the name of the settlement was changed to Kanesville, in honor of Col. Kane, an influential friend of the Mormons. One of Col. Kane's great-grandsons, Jean du Val Kane of Richmond, Va., attended the celebration events. He said he was the only descendant of Col. Kane to have joined the Church, which he did in 1962.
He and his wife, Judith, are members of the Ginter Park Branch, Richmond Virginia Stake, where he is second counselor in the branch presidency and she is Relief Society president.
Kanesville townsite was laid out in December 1847, and at its height the frontier town on the banks of the Missouri River that separates Iowa from Nebraska consisted of 350 log cabins, two newspapers, numerous shops, stores and other business establishments. The Kanesville Tabernacle was the first LDS tabernacle, but not the only one built in the Middle Missouri Valley. At least three other tabernacles were built in the area during the time the Saints were here from 1846 to 1853.
The Kanesville Tabernacle came about because there was no facility large enough to hold all the people who wanted to attend a Church conference on Dec. 3-4, 1847, where the just-reorganized First Presidency would be sustained by the general membership. The meeting place was so crowded that Brigham Young adjourned the conference until a larger hall could be constructed.
He appointed Miller, a convert to the LDS Church, to build the structure. With the help of 200 men, Miller constructed a 60-foot by 40-foot building, said to be the largest log cabin in the world, in three weeks. When the conference reconvened, a thousand people crowded into the Kanesville Log Tabernacle, as the building became known, to sustain the new church president.
That solemn assembly took place on Dec. 27, 1847.
The tabernacle only lasted about two years. The building was damaged in the spring runoffs of 1848 and 1849. Efforts to repair the structure were not successful, and the building was dismantled in the fall of 1849.
To build the replica of the tabernacle, long cottonwood beams, obtained in Plattsmouth, Neb., were sawed into square logs and then chipped by hand to make them appear hand-hewn.
By the summer of 1852, most of the pioneers had moved on to the west, ending the period of concentrated LDS presence in the area. In December 1853, non-Mormon residents incorporated Kanesville and renamed it Council Bluffs in honor of Lewis and Clark's council with the Indians in 1804 near the city site.
But Kanesville today remains a name that has a lasting place in LDS Church history, and is second only to Winter Quarters in historical prominence and name recognition from the Iowa-Nebraska period.
At a media briefing July 13, President Gordon B. Hinckley, in response to a question, mentioned why he feels Church members everywhere should be interested in what occurred with the Mormon pioneers in Iowa 150 years ago.
"[Members] are proud of their Church," President Hinckley said. "They're proud of the roots of that Church. They want to know about it. It gives them a strength. What they have is a tremendous background of courage, fortitude, faith, and that is a tremendous benefit to our people all over the world."