by Lee Anderson
The Meeting House was built in 1855 in the center of the Lehi Fort, (located on the southwest corner of 200 Wesr and 100 South) Nearly twenty years later on the cold winter Sunday morning of February 6, 1870, John Bushman put an extra armful of wood in the stove that stood in the southeast corner of the room to warm the building up for the days meetings. Unseen to everyone was a little chunk of plaster that had fallen off the wall near the stove exposing the wood lathe behind it. The intense heat from the stove caused the exposed lathe to ignite and the fire moved unseen through the wall into the roof.
A few hours later, Isaac Fox and some other small boys who were playing in John Zimmerman’s orchard were the first to notice the smoke coming out of the roof. They ran to the Meeting House and told some older boys about the smoke. Members of the congregation in Sacrament meeting were engrossed in a sermon by Charles D. Evans when Charlie Karren stepped inside the meeting and said, “Don’t get excited brethren and sisters, but the meeting house is on fire.” All interest in the speaker suddenly vanished as the entire congregation arose and rushed for the door. The crowd was so dense that mothers had to grab and carry their small children to keep them from being trampled.
Once everyone was outside, many of the men “got very excited and lost their heads completely.” They were using kerosene lamps for lighting and some of the men tore them off the walls and threw them out the windows. Others began ripping up the floor boards and tearing off the cornices in an effort to save them. One man called for an axe so he could chop the pillars to let the roof cave in an effort to save it.
Thankfully, John Stewart stepped forward and gave some order to the chaos. John took the axe and cut a hole in the roof at the head of the stairway. Once the hole was big enough he climbed inside so he could assess the situation. He told the men to form a bucket brigade to get water from John C. Nagel’s well that was east of the meeting house. When they emptied his well they moved the bucket brigade to Israel Evans’ well that was to the north. Through their efforts they were able to bring the fire under control. The fire burnt the middle two thirds of the roof nearly the whole length of the building, but the damage done by others in an effort to save the building was nearly as bad.
The bishops decided to make some major improvements on the inside of the building while doing the repairs. This renovation was just the first of many over the next 100+ years. The Thurman School was eventually combined with the Meeting House and a chapel was added. The building was in constant use until 1972 when it was replaced with a new chapel that stands there today.
The Meeting House after it was modified into the First ward Chapel in 1953.
1890 map showing the Meeting House/ Israel Evans’ home is shown north of the Meeting House, (towards the top of the map)