UTAH'S DIXIE HISTORICAL SITES
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Where is it?
RELIEF SOCIETY BUILDING
When Washington City was founded on the 7"* of May 1857, Robert D. Covington was selected as the branch president with Harrison Pierce (Pearce) as first counselor and Johnathan R. Regeon (James B. Reagan) second counselor. The branch was organized under the Harmony Ward. Elizabeth Mathews was president of the Relief Society and Sarah A. Ford as counselor. On August 1, 1858 The Washington Branch was dissolved and a Ward was formed. Robert D. Covington was set apart as bishop and soon after the creation of the ward Albert W. Collins and Robert L. Lloyd were chosen as First and Second Counselors. There is no mention of the Relief Society at this time. From "Relief Society Memories of St. George Stake 1867-1958" compiled by Verna L. Dewsnup- Katharine M. Larson it states (page 71) that the Relief Society was first organized in Washington October 1, 1867. Betsy Gould president; Caroline Neilson and Permella Sandberg, counselors and Hannah M. Johnson secretary. In "The Red Hills of November" by Andrew Karl Larson (page 243) it states that the first Relief Society of the Washington Ward was on October 14, 1868, with Betsy Ann Goold as President, Elizabeth Matthews and Rebecca Mace as Counselors, Emily D. Duncan as Secretary, and Amanda Tyler as Treasurer. Quoting from Larson*s book page 243, "There seems to have been no fully organized Society until the date noted above---." The date referred to is October 14, 1868. Larson also recognizes that there was a Relief Society in the Harmony ward with the same officers as previously stated.
It appears these early pioneers were fully occupied just trying to supply food on their tables, building dams on the Virgin River to obtain water to irrigate the Washington Fields, and trying to care for the sick and dying. There were many times when they recorded that there were more sick people than well ones that made it very difficult to live and raise a family. The heat was unbearable and Malaria known as Ague or Chills and Fever made their lives very difficult.
Even with the very difficult times these early pioneer women were experiencing, they wanted to have their* own place in which to hold their meetings. When this building was being built, these settlers were still holding meetings in an outdoor bowery that was located where the old rock school presently stands. They started to build a building, known as the Relief Society Hall. It was completed in 1875. A Co-op Store was founded in Washington after November 1868. The exact date is not known. It was known as the Washington Co-op with William H. Crawford as manager. It must have operated out of the Cotton Factory. "At the Conference which convened on November 20"* of that year (1868), the elders of the Southern Mission were called into a convention at its conclusion to organize "one or more Mercantile Associations for Southern Utah." St. George organized first and Washington must have organized shortly after. According to a letter dated December 17, 1872 sent by A. R. Whitehead to ZCMI in Salt Lake City, it was called "a Cooperative Mercantile Institution." It assumed all of the stock and debt of the old organization. In this letter the name of the old organization was "the old Washington Coop." It is this new Co-op that rented the Relief Society Building shortly after it was built to house the Co-op store. The ladies met in their own homes and used the rent money to care for the poor and sick. The Co-op store occupied this building until 1921 when Calvin Hall and his son-in-law, Israel Neilson, Jr., moved the store to the southwest corner of Main and Telegraph streets where the Nission Hardware store is presently located (1999). During Mary A. McReavy presidency the west wing of the building was built circa 1903. A sewing machine, chairs, benches and a heater were also purchased. The activities of the Society were carried on each year and in 1921 when Matilda S. Andrus was president some changes occurred in the building. Quoting from Relief Society Memories page 77-78 it reads, "The older part of the building was repaired for meetings and the west wing was fixed for renting, shingled and painted. Electric lights were installed, other purchases were made, including an electric iron, organ, sixteen chairs, a rocker, six hymnbooks, and a white stand for use in laying out the dead. The trees were topped, the yard cleaned and bedding was made for the needy. Ten yards of carpet was donated to the temple, clothing some of silk, some of cotton." Between 1925-34 when Minnie Paxman was president it is recorded page 78, "During these years the hall was renovated, including a partition, new ceiling, painting, papering, new curtains, blinds, and linoleum. New steps were built at all three doors and the outside was stuccoed. Eighteen hymnbooks and a sewing machine were purchased and a water system and frontage were paid for." Apparently this is when the building was first stuccoed. Until then it looked like an adobe brick building. You can see pictures in the building showing it before and after being stuccoed. During Caddie Neilson presidencyl938-42 the building was further modified page 79, "Considerable time and money was spent in plastering, painting, papering, and decorating the building. The west wing was used for a nursery and a girl hired to care for the babies. An organ was purchased and a cement walk was laid from the front door to the sidewalk." Again during Ivie G. Hafen presidency 1944-45 page 81, "The building was stuccoed during these years and shrubbery was planted." This second stuccoing must have been a second coat to cover the adobe bricks better as it now appears. In Sylvia S. Jolley*s term as president page 81 this group sponsored a dance and raised money for twelve rods of cement sidewalk in front of the hall. They bought an oil heater also." It was at this time that the Mulberry trees originally planted to produce the leaves needed to feed the silk worms were removed so that gardens could be planted to augment the food needed during the World War II era. After 1953 when Myrtle T. Adams was president page 84, "The latest project was the cleaning, decorating and furnishing the two rooms in the west wing of the hall for a nursery. This project has increased the attendance very noticeably because the young mothers are now able to attend the weekly meetings and have their babies cared for."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints sold this property to James E. Turner in 1959. It was used as a supplemental storage to their farm. A milk separator was in use by the fireplace and the area was used as a work shop and storage area. Two huge mulberry trees were removed from the lot in 1970.
During the history of this building many functions occurred. Washington City*s first Volunteer Fire Department was organized here. A small building was moved to the back of the property and is still on the property south of the Relief Society Hall. A large utility pole was installed where a fire siren was mounted to let people know of a fire in the city. The Civil Defense also held meetings in the building. The city offices were housed in a mobile unit on the property and later were housed in the building. In 1917 the ladies knitted sweater, socks, mufflers, etc. that were given to the soldiers or Belgian refugees. They also started to store grain. Like Ruth in the Bible they went to the fields and gleaned the wheat. The Lion*s Club met there on a regular basis. Mass political meetings, city council, city offices and fire department are just some of the things the hall was used for. Since there were no mortuaries in town it was used as a funeral parlor. The ladies would sit up all night keeping the cadaver as cool as possible. The west wing was rented a good portion of the time. Babies were even born there.
In 1983 Britt and Yvonne Kendall purchased the building and did some remolding. A new roof of wood shingles was installed and a new sub floor in the west wing. Some partitions were added to make it more usable as a ceramic shop. It was used as a ceramic and gift shop until the Washington City Historical Society purchased the building in November 1994. In September 1995 the building was vacated and was started to be restored as you see it today (1999).
This building is very unique. It was built under hard times when the people in Washington did not have very much. It has been reported to have cost 400 dollars. It has a black lava rock foundation laid in a clay, sand mortar. The adobes are pretty much standard and were made from the Chinle formation that out cropped at what was known as the Brick Yard, south of 200 South between 2nd and 3nd East.
In 1980 the State of Utah officially listed the Relief Society Hall on the National Historical Register. The office of Archeology and Historic Preservation Department of the Interior recognized it.
It has the unique recognition as being the oldest still standing Relief Society Hall in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and is located in Washington City. This is a grand building that has made its mark on the citizens and community of the area. It is still in demand as a social gathering place such as receptions, family reunions, weddings, Daughters of the Utah Pioneers meetings, etc. It stands as a monument to the heritage of the area known as "Dixie
Submitted by: Harold & Priscilla Cahoon