No. 664 - Glen Huon - 'The Church of the Latter Day Saints' - "Diamond-Shaped Shingles"

Glen Huon is a small settlement on the banks of the Huon River approximately 10 kilometres west of Huonville. The area was once a major apple-growing district. The settlement was referred to as part of the Upper Huon before the 20th century.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or ‘Mormons', first appeared in Tasmania in the 1850’s, when missionaries began to proselytise in Hobart. In the face of opposition, congregations were established in Hobart in 1894 and in the Upper Huon in 1899. The first chapel opened in 1924 at Lefroy Street, North Hobart, followed by a chapel built at Glen Huon in 1927.

In the late 19th century the response of many of Hobart’s citizens to “Mormon” preachers visiting from America was generally one of curiosity, especially about the perceived practice of polygamy. In 1874 a visit by an ‘elder’ from Utah drew crowds but many were disappointed when it became apparent that the visitor was proselytising and would not be drawn into responding to popular perceptions about the ‘sect’. The Hobart Mercury reported:

“The announcement that Mr William Geddes, who styles himself an "elder" from Salt Lake City, the abode of the Mormons, or Latter Day Saints, would deliver an address at the Oddfellows' Hall, drew together a considerable number of persons of both sexes yesterday afternoon. Mr Geddes, who is a middle aged man, has a good voice, but a somewhat monotonous delivery. He is fluent in speech, though his address was at times rambling and rather incoherent, but his intimate acquaintance with Scripture, of which he appears to have been a diligent student, materially assists him whenever he finds himself running away from the point he is trying to impress upon his hearers. It is not too much to say that nearly every one present was disappointed in the subject of the address. Visions of minute descriptions of Brigham Young and his many wives, reasons in support of polygamy, facts about Salt Lake City, and other information of an interesting character floated before the minds of those who went to hear Mr Geddes, but when he announced that he was going to talk about "the great plan of salvation,” evident surprise and disappointment was depicted in the faces of many persons and several of them very soon afterwards left the hall. However, those who remained had the satisfaction of hearing a partial exposition of the views of the Mormons, and also a little about Brigham Young….”.

The first concerted attempt to establish a religious community in the Huon region began at Franklin in 1899 by visiting elders and missionaries, Rex and Robinson, from Utah. The men were “successful in making friends, their meetings were well attended and…they could get food and sleeping accomodation without asking, …. and were often treated to excellent fruit which abounds there…”. However, opposition soon arose, led by some ministers of rival denominations and “a marked change came over the people of Franklin”.

Leaving Franklin, the missionaries, who by then also include the ‘elder’ Bingham, found the people of the Upper Huon more receptive. However, opposition continued to dog new converts to the Latter Day Saints. An example of this can be found in an article penned by the Congregational minister Reverend Albert Rivett, titled “The Mormon Blight in the Huon”. The article appeared in a church magazine, the “Pioneer”, in which Rivett played to popular prejudices about “Mormon” polygamy and also of young girl’s being recruited to Utah become wives of the Elders.

Responding to the attack, Elder Thomas Fuller wrote to the Huon Times, countering Rivett’s allegations:

“Seemingly Mr Rivett is antagonistic to the so-called Mormon Church, and….he participates in what I claim to be false accusations.… I will not endeavour to say, however, whether Mr Rivett has done so intentionally, or because of the paucity of his knowledge concerning the belief and practice of this people. However, his statements are very unreasonable, unjust, and, claim without foundation, and are ruinous to the character of those at whom they were aimed…..Kind reader, our religion does not teach us to find fault, nor do we desire to censure Mr Rivett. All we desire is justice and that the truth may be made known concerning the matter, thus protecting our character. The church which these missionaries represent does not tolerate its members having several wives. One only! Neither are these men searching for wives (much less secondary wives), but are innocently and sincerely striving to promulgate the Gospel of Christ, bearing their own expenses, and receiving no salary. Even were they as the gentleman depicted, there are nearer and less expensive localities from which to import them than far-off Australia,…. It was stated that hundreds of girls have left Australia for Utah during the past few months. This accusation is very misleading to the unthinking class…..The following are the correct statistics according to the Australian Mission’s church records of emigration: — In 1909, 28 persons emigrated, including men, women and children, 13 males and 15 females. This year (1910) up till August 1st, the number who emigrated is 13 — 6 males, 7 females…..This emigration is not to gain servants nor filthy lucre for the master Mormans as stated, but the converts emigrate of their own free will….”.

Despite opposition and bigotry, the Church of the Latter Day Saints thrived in the Upper Huon. At Glen Huon, the conversion and baptism of leading members of the Woolley family included 71 year old John Woolley, the father of 14 children. Another leading family were the Watson’s, who together with the Woolley’s, formed the bulwark of the fledgling community.

Worship initially took place in homes and was later accommodated in the Glen Huon Hall. In 1927 work began on building a church. The Huon Times reported the laying of a foundation stone for a church that took place on Friday 15th July 1927:

“Last Friday afternoon the foundation stone of a new church was laid here. The members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are erecting a building in front of the recreation ground. Elder I. Bruce McQuarrie, president of the Tasmanian district, said the proposition of building a church at Glen Huon had been presented to Elder Charles H. Hyde, president of the Australian Mission, who in turn presented it to the Presidency of the Church in Salt Lake City, Utah. In their reply the First Presidency of the Church commended the saints in Glen Huon for their energy and zeal and stated they were ready to appropriate pound for pound donated by the members of the church in Glen Huon. In consequence of this offer by the church authorities it is expected that the building will be completed before Christmas……The foundation stone was laid by Elder Charles Hyde, …There were nine elders representing the church at Utah present as well as many members of the Hobart and Glen Huon churches…”.

Work on the building was completed well before Christmas and the church was officially opened on Saturday 18 October 1927 and dedicated on the following day. The Huon Times reported:

“Glen Huon was en fete on Saturday afternoon on the occasion of the celebration of the opening of the new church building erected for the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints. This denomination has been holding services at Glen Huon for nearly 30 years past, the meeting place being the public hall. Of recent years the number of adherents so increased that it was considered advisable to erect a special building for the holding of the services,….The building decided upon was one of hardwood measuring 46ft. by 26ft. overall, and comprised a main hall and two small class rooms. The main hall is well lighted with four double coloured glass windows and electric light, is provided with very comfortable seating accommodation and there is a small platform at one end in which is placed a reading desk for the preacher. The building was placed on a stone foundation. The roof is composed of a felt-like material and set in diamond-shaped shingles of a dull green, brown and red, giving a very attractive appearance to the whole building. This roofing, as previously stated, is the first of its kind used in Tasmania and was the gift of an American well wisher. The cost of the building was provided by local members of the church, and the head office of the denomination in Utah City in equal proportions, the total amount being about £900 exclusive of a considerable amount of voluntary labor…”.

The article continued: 

“Shortly before 5 o'clock on Saturday afternoon a large number of adherents and invited guests assembled at the church to witness the opening ceremony. This constituted the putting of a white ribbon which was stretched across the door at the main entrance and the honour of cutting the ribbon was conferred on Sister S. Woolley, of Glen Huon”.

The timber church served the Glen Huon community for a quarter of a century before it was replaced by a new building which became necessary to meet the needs of a growing congregation. The foundation stone for a modern concrete block building was laid on November 27, 1952, by president W.E. Waters, of Brisbane. An article concerning the new church’s official opening in May 1954 was published by the Hobart Mercury:

“The new chapel and recreation hall of the Glen Huon branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints will be opened and dedicated at the weekend. It cost £13,000. Three years ago church members decided to purchase a site in Watsons Rd…. and have since held their services in the Glen Huon Hall. On the first day of the appeal, members, by direct giving, contributed £720 and have since raised £4,000, while the headquarters of the movement in America contributed liberally. The recreation hall is 64ft. by 26ft., and is equipped with a roomy stage. The white building, of double concrete blocks with cavity walls also includes dressing rooms, a women's lounge and an office….”.

Part of the cost of the new building were borne by the sale of the old timber church in 1952. This necessitated the use of the Glen Huon Hall while the new building was under construction. The old church was sold to the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes, who had established a Lodge at New Norfolk. The church was removed to a site on Richmond Street, where it still stands. The old church is however barely recognisable as it now has a brick facade and houses a lawnmower business.

Meanwhile, the community at Glen Huon continued to grow at a great pace, necessitating major extensions to the church in 1983. Then in 1989 a new building was erected which incorporated the 1954 church which was used as a recreation hall with classrooms attached. The new chapel was built alongside and joined to the older building.

The story of the “Latter Day Saints” in Tasmania is a remarkable one which stretches back over a century and a half. Much has changed since the the early days of the church when considerable resistance and prejudice was encountered. The early missionaries who first appeared in the Huon district in the 1890’s would be satisfied that the seeds which they planted have taken root and thrived and continue to grow in the 21st century. 

The second LDS chapel at Glen Huon. Photo taken by Arthur Allen in 1958. Photo kindly supplied by Colin Chick

The first chapel at the time of its opening. Source: Libraries Tasmania

The chapel is now in New Norfolk. Despite the brick facade, the building is clearly recognisable. (image: Google Street view)

The LDS church in 2020. Photograph- Duncan Grant

The LDS church in 2020. Photograph- Duncan Grant

The LDS church in 2020. Photograph- Duncan Grant

The LDS church in 2020. Photograph- Duncan Grant

The LDS church in 2020. Photograph- Duncan Grant
The LDS church in 2020. Photograph- Duncan Grant

The LDS church in 2020. Photograph- Duncan Grant

Sources:

Mercury, Monday 21 December 1874, page 2
Huon Times, Saturday 20 August 1910, page 5
Huon Times, Tuesday 19 July 1927, page 2
Huon Times, Friday 14 October 1927, page 7
Mercury, Monday 17 October 1927, page 3
Huon Times, Tuesday 18 October 1927, page 3
Mercury, Monday 1 December 1930, page 3
Mercury, Tuesday 22 January 1952, page 6
Mercury, Thursday 27 May 1954, page 19
Mercury, Monday 31 May 1954, page 7

https://www.utas.edu.au/library/companion_to_tasmanian_history/C/Church%20of%20Jesus%20Christ..htm

The History of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, Tasmania 1854-1992.  Unpublished history by Preben Villy Scott and Donald Arthur Woolley (c.1993)

A special thank you to Colin Chick for his support and assistance with this article.










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