Friday, July 9, 2010

The Mormon Chapel that never was

In Duff, Tennessee, less than a mile from the site of the historic marker for the actual Mormon chapel, there is a beautiful chapel built with the donation of Mormon money that was never used by Mormons.

George Washington Riggs and other early members of the Church in Duff, Tennessee, joined with other community leaders to build a church which would be shared by all of the denominations. Brother Riggs personally donated $5,000, which was no mean sum in that day. And he was not the only Mormon benefactor.

We did not get to go inside the day we visited. But most of the interior is "sanctuary" itself, two stories high, with small classrooms built in each of the four corners. There are two classrooms in each corner, one above the other, making in total eight small rooms plus the sanctuary. The basement is used now only for mechanical space.

I love the detail of the brick used. Special attention was used to make the brick colorful. Closer inspection showed the color is not paint. The pigment is clearly part of the brick, though whether it was baked in or added as a stain afterwards is beyond my expertise to determine. The color does not bleed into the surrounding mortar, which leads me to believe it was not applied after construction.

But ultimately the project ran out of money. A corporate benefactor eventually stepped in and completed the chapel. A board of directors was established and they started to work out a schedule for sharing the building. But in the process, the Mormons were left out. Efforts to resolve to issue were fruitless. And in a moment of frustration feet were dusted and a curse placed on chapel.

From then on, nearly every attempt to use the chapel by the other denominations ended in bitter arguments and acrimony. The spirit of contention took over the place. Fights that broke out at the meetinghouse became infamous and are remembered even today. The Mormons have never used the meetinghouse for services. Eventually the building was sold and it is now used by a single denomination.

The missionary who dusted his feet made annual trips back to Duff for many years after that. Recently he took pity on the denomination currently using the church. He made a special trip to lift the curse.


Ardis E. Parshall said...


Approximately what time period are we talking? (Must not be all that long ago if the foot-dusting missionary has returned, but I don't know enough about architecture to date the building.)

I love the brickwork, too.

BruceCrow said...

I'm not sure. I want to say the early to mid 40's. But that is for the completion. Construction may have begun much earlier. I looked around for a cornerstone with a date when I was there, but didn't see one. I'll ask around some more.