Pine Valley: More than a Chapel

Sara Zimmerman
5 June 2019

About 30 miles north of St. George, Utah, sits Pine Valley, a community nestled in the mountains and forests of southern Utah. At the center of Pine Valley is a remarkable chapel built by settlers in the 1870s. Today, some people associate the valley exclusively with the construction of this chapel. But the labor of the Pine Valley Saints blessed the lives of people hundreds of miles away from their little community.

Lumber Missions

Not long after the settlement of the Salt Lake Valley, President Brigham Young sent Saints to explore other regions and develop resources to sustain the Church and help it grow. He organized missions in the 1850s and 1860s in southern Utah to cultivate the land and utilize the natural resources found there. One of these missions was the Cotton Mission, where Elder Erastus Snow of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other Church leaders recognized an abundance of lumber in the surrounding area. Because of this, leaders sent several members of the Cotton Mission to establish lumber mills in a place called Pine Valley. Over time, these members moved their families to the valley and established a community.

Robert Gardner

Robert Gardner and some of his family were among these members.1 “In 1863,” he recalled, “President Snow wished me to go to Pine Valley and try to increase the output of lumber.”2 He had worked in the lumber business for many years, but he was initially reluctant to go and support the milling efforts in Pine Valley. Because of his experience, he believed that no man could become wealthy by working lumber. But he heeded the call.3

Life in Pine Valley

Despite his initial doubts about his assignment, Robert was impressed with his new home.4 “The trees and shrubs were so plentiful that a horse could not make it, so we always walked,” he said. “This canyon floor was covered with berry bushes. The air was pure and clean, and it was rugged country; ledges of granite rock covered one side of the canyon and a few tall trees, together with shrubbery of oak, maple, etc., covered the other side. Cold springs of water oozed out of the side of the canyon floor and disappeared into the ground.”5 Pine Valley became a permanent home for him.6 Like many early Pine Valley settlers, the Gardners likely lived in a dugout when they first arrived, but eventually Robert built a cabin near his mill.7

The family also supported Robert with his lumber production. They helped in the mills, at home, and in the town. Although establishing a home in the remote and rugged valley and experiencing tough winters there must have been difficult, members of the family remembered it as an idyllic place to live. Children played among the foothills and trees when they were not in the schoolroom. In the school, they learned basic subjects and gospel truths. Jeter Snow, who grew up in Pine Valley along with the Gardner children, remembered, “A Book of Mormon was used one winter for a reader.”8

Success of the Lumber Mills

The hard work of the settlers and of the operators of the lumber mills played a role in the construction of the organ in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. In the 1860s, English organ builder Joseph Harris Ridges recognized the need for high-quality lumber with which to build the organ. Robert Gardner was asked to find this wood in Pine Valley. Gardner and his son William searched the forest for timber with the required qualities.9 Joseph Ridges’s great-great-granddaughter Elaine Kerivan recalled that Robert managed to locate the perfect wood. It was “free from knots, straight, fine-grained and as nearly free from gum as possible.”10 Joseph Ridges then visited the valley to inspect the lumber. In the October 1867 general conference, members of the Church heard the organ for the first time. They witnessed with their eyes and ears the hard work of these men and others serving in Pine Valley.11

While Pine Valley was providing lumber for the Salt Lake Tabernacle, St. George residents were undertaking an ambitious building project of their own at the same time. Robert Gardner’s lumber mills and the other mills in the settlement provided most of the timber needed for the St. George Tabernacle. Pine Valley’s lumber was also used to build homes all over southern Utah and numerous mining camps in the region. Pine Valley lumber was in such high demand that the Church expanded its lumber operations to Mount Trumbull in Arizona in order to secure lumber for the St. George Utah Temple. Robert’s initial fears about the failure of lumber operations in Pine Valley proved to be unfounded.

Families in Pine Valley worshipped God in all aspects of their lives—at work, at school, and in their free time. Early on, the settlers desired to have a place of their own dedicated to worship. Members worked together and used the valley’s natural resources to build the remarkable two-story chapel found in Pine Valley today. Local mill owners and others supplied lumber, building knowledge, and manpower to build it.12 These Saints labored to build their own chapel that would center the town on the Lord.

Remembering Pine Valley

Saints like Robert Gardner played lesser-known but integral roles in building up the kingdom of God in the 19th century. Pine Valley became home to Gardner’s family and many other Saints who worked diligently to bless members of the Church. Today, their descendants and any who visit the Pine Valley chapel or the St. George Tabernacle continue to appreciate their sacrifices and labor. And while people around the world may not know it, they also benefit from the Pine Valley Saints’ work every time they hear the organ playing in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.