Monday, August 25, 2014

Preservation Update: Church sells Kane Memorial Chapel in Pennsylvania

Note: Preservation Updates are a regularly occurring series of posts where I round up recent information on historic LDS buildings and their futures. Depending on the age of the post, there may be newer information available. Click here to see all Preservation Updates.

The reason the history of the chapel in Kane, Pennsylvania is so interesting is that it wasn't built by the Church, yet the Church was invested heavily in its preservation. Since the Church is usually reluctant to engage in preservation anyway, I find it fascinating that they were willing to do so for this chapel.

Built as a Presbyterian Church in 1878, the Church was dedicated to General Kane, who was friendly to the Mormon Church and advised Brigham Young on how to deal with the U.S. Government. 

After a while the Church was abandoned, and was in poor condition (and considered for demolition) when purchased by the Church in 1970. The Church restored the building and stationed missionaries there to give tours. As recently as 1992, the building was carefully preserved.

The interior contained beautiful stained glass and a pipe organ, and the congregation faces Jerusalem.

Unfortunately, in February 2013, a water pipe burst and caused $50,000 in water damage. The Kane Preservation Society offered to look after the chapel, and after an agreement was reached, the Church gave the building to the society at the beginning of this month.


Recently, I took a trip to Southeastern Utah. I decided to see if there were any historical LDS structures to visit along the way. As I researched, I found pictures of the original chapels that dotted that corridor:

Helper, Utah Ward Meetinghouse (Source: Church History Library)

Wellington, Utah Ward Meetinghouse (Source: Church History Library)

Price, Utah LDS Tabernacle (Source: Church History Library)

None of those buildings--and others I looked up--are standing anymore. As I passed through, I could see the steeples of standard-plan LDS meetinghouses. 

I'm pretty sympathetic to the position of the Church--if they have mission objectives to meet for a worldwide Church, should thousands of dollars be spent to renovate buildings in Helper, Utah? Many chapels become to small (as those in Helper and Wellington did); is the Church under an obligation to keep those? What about those that become structurally deficient?

The Church can't possibly keep all of the meetinghouses and chapels that its members built in its early years. But which ones should it keep? Those are the issues that still cause struggles between modernists and preservationists.

For now, I would like the Church to be more communicative and involve local communities more in its decisions. If it could be honest about its reasons and invite community members to share their ideas on what to do with old buildings, we can have honest communication. And the Church does this much better than it did in the past.

Still, I think its the responsibility of the members of the Church--and not the Church leaders alone--to work to preserve and care for the historic architecture that surrounds them.

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