Though the building will no longer grace the corner of Highway 80 and Church Street in St. David, Arizona, rich memories will continue. The St. David Chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been a landmark and gathering place for the entire community for 72 years. In April 2014, it was slated for demolition because it was no longer feasible to refurbish the structure to keep up with building codes and safety requirements.
But this was no ordinary building. Commissioned in 1939 during the Great Depression, the chapel could only become a reality if the St. David community made it happen. Fundraising was slow and workers were mostly volunteers. Glen Goodman, who was the bishop (minister) for the local congregation at that time, said, “Skill was scarce, but it was developed.”
The benefit of having a large central gathering place in the small town seems to have been a motivating force. Though World War II had now added to the constraints on available men, goods, and money, community volunteers joined Church members made tremendous sacrifices to make the building a reality.
First the old building, a small frame structure built about 1912, had to come down. Dismantling of the old chapel and excavation of the foundation for the new, larger structure was all done by hand; picks and shovels were the only tools available. The reinforced concrete walls were poured after dark when the local workmen, teachers, and high school boys were available.
One of the design challenges was a proposed large panel between the chapel and the cultural hall (a multipurpose room) which could be raised and lowered as needed. James Lee, who was not a member of the Church, studied the plan and came up with a unique system of weights and pulleys. However, wheels were needed to assist in a smooth, even movement, and such things were in short supply. He turned to the most available pair of wheels—those on his daughter Carolyn’s much-loved roller skates. Carolyn’s offering exemplifies the sacrifices of so many others.
The divider is somewhat akin to a legend in St. David, but there is more to this part of the story. The fellowship and character of the men and women he worked with led to James’ conversion. He was one of the first to be baptized in the font he had helped to build. And when the demolition was announced, his granddaughter Beth Curtis Haynie came to ask that if her mother’s skates could be found, that they be returned to the family as a memento of this important part of their family’s history.
Also during the construction of the chapel, women held dinners, bake sales, and bazaars, doing all they could to raise money for the building. As the project neared completion, it was reported that about $25,000 had been contributed locally in cash and labor. Church headquarters also contributed toward the total cost of nearly $62,000. When it was dedicated in 1948, the building was completely paid for.
On February 29, 1948 the St. David Chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was dedicated by Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith. He blessed the building that all its parts would “stand secure…free from the ravages of the elements” and that it would be “a place of constant gathering.…” Those blessings were indeed fulfilled as the chapel served virtually all of Cochise County for so many years.
The Church has continued to grow in St. David. A new building was dedicated in 2011 located just down the road from the old one, on Patton Road. There are three congregations that meet there: the Patton Ward, the St. David Ward and the San Pedro Ward.