Archive for September, 2012


By Emily Sanderson

MT. PLEASANT — It was the Fourth of July, a day full of celebration and fireworks. But some of the fireworks that day weren’t planned. An historic building at 65 Main Street experienced fire damage in the attic and belfry.

That was in 1918 in a Wild West town dominated by the LDS faith. The building known as Liberal Hall was originally built in 1875, but more than 40 years later, the wood-framed, wood-sided building was stucco-ed and lost its bell tower. No funds were available to repair the building any further.

Charred remnants of the fire could still be found in the attic for almost a century. The small, one-room structure with a small foyer has been used for all kinds of purposes, most recently as a second-hand store.

However, earlier this year, Wasatch Academy, a local private, nondenominational junior high and high school with students from all over the globe, began taking steps to renovate the structure. The project is presently in the demolition stage, and the school has set aside an undisclosed amount of money to restore the belfry and the rest of the building. It has plans to use it as a museum, says Donna Glidewell, the school’s historian.

First Home
Why is Wasatch Academy interested in the structure? Liberal Hall was the first home of the formerly Presbyterian-based school. Presbyterian minister Duncan McMillan, the school’s first headmaster, purchased the structure below-cost the year it was built by members of the Liberal Party who used it as a social hall — hence the building’s name.

The Liberal Party was a statewide group that opposed the Mormon church’s political control. McMillan found that he and the Liberal Party had much in common. He would become a prominent anti-Mormon activist on a national level for the rest of his career. In particular, McMillan was a critic of polygamy and played an active role in getting the practice outlawed in the United States, according to R. Douglas Brackenridge, who wrote “Duncan James McMillan: Missionary to the Mormons.” The text can be found on the website of Monmouth College, a Presbyterian school in Illinois.

Duncan McMillan
Duncan J. McMillan is characterized as one of the most colorful, charismatic, and controversial recruits of Sheldon Jackson, a prominent leader of the Presbyterian church in the late 1800s in the Western United States. McMillan was born in Giles County, Tenn., in 1846. As a 15-year-old boy, he accompanied his father, a Presbyterian clergyman himself, while he served as the chaplain of the 32nd Illinois Infantry during the Civil War.

After his father’s death, McMillan enlisted in the war, serving until its end. He was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry in 1872 after paying his way through college.

McMillan suffered from a chronic throat and bronchial condition after he had rescued some young women from a building fire, and he chose to move to Utah became of its milder climate, according to Brackenridge.

Sheldon Jackson introduced him at the inaugural session of the First Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City in the fall of 1871 with the following words:

“We read in St. John’s Gospel, ‘there was a man sent from God and his name was John.’ There came to Salt Lake City a man whose name is Duncan J. McMillan, a genuine Scotchman and full of the spirit.”

McMillan was gracious to Sanpete Mormons — to their faces — but he wrote inflammatory remarks about them in the “Rocky Mountain Presbyterian” early in his ministry there, which Salt Lake City ministers confiscated and burned in order to prevent it from reaching readers. He described the Mormon people as:

“… poor, ignorant, deluded, degraded, priest-ridden serfs. The men stand about their customary loafing places with their hands up to their elbows in their pants pockets, their old hats on the backs of their heads and their mouths open, utterly incapable of comprehending intelligent thought; the women are literally servants of servants, and the children are legion.”

McMillan left Utah in 1883 when his position as district superintendent wasn’t renewed. The Presbytery “did not see their way clear to recommend his reappointment to the position” because “there (was) such a lack of harmony between his views and feelings and the views and feelings of the Presbytery in regard to the proper method of carrying the work within its bounds,” states the minutes of the Presbytery of Utah.

McMillan moved on to other posts within the church, but more than 15 years later, he would play an important role in helping to secure a benefactor to underwrite Westminster College in Salt Lake City. Although he helped found other schools in Utah, Westminster College and Wasatch Academy are the only ones that remain today.

McMillan’s early confrontation with Canute Peterson, an LDS bishop from Ephraim, was memorialized in McMillan’s eulogy in 1939. Peterson warned him upon his arrival into Ephraim that if he tried to preach there, he wouldn’t come out alive.

McMillan is said to have responded:

“I have half a pound of lead here (exhibits his revolver), and I can pull a trigger as quickly and put a bullet as near ti the mark as any man in Ephraim. I’ll be ready for you.”

The New York Times said that McMillan had traveled “to the heart of Mormon Utah, where no missionary had ever ventured, and where he often preached with his pistol on the pulpit.”

Presbyterian Mission
While McMillan was appointed by Sheldon Jackson to evangelize members of the LDS faith in Utah, he quickly discovered that traditional evangelistic strategies, such as building churches, holding revivals and organizing Sunday Schools, were ineffective in Mormon country. Providing a religious-based educational program was the way into the homes and hearts of local residents, he decided.

“Influenced by successful local day-schools already established by Episcopalians and Methodists in Salt Lake City, McMillan envisaged a network of Presbyterian day and boarding schools in Utah that would provide high-quality education at a minimal cost,” states Brackenridge.

“With no free public school system in Utah Territory, McMillan reasoned that denominational schools would bridge cultural gaps and attract Mormon children who in turn would draw their siblings and parents.”

The school, which opened on April 19,1875, was received well by the community. It was even endorsed by local LDS Bishop W.S. Seely, who had befriended McMillan on his arrival to Mt. Pleasant.

“Some day-school students also attended a Sunday School where the curriculum focused primarily on Biblical studies and doctrine, but many Mormon parents, wary of Protestant indoctrination, refused to let their children attend,” Brackenridge writes.

Brigham Young, president of the LDS Church, disapproved of the school and forbade local members to attend it. However, by early summer, enrollment had reached 109 with more on a waiting list.

Liberal Hall
The Presbyterian Church used Liberal Hall as its primary meetinghouse and school for 15 to 20 years. In the 1890s, the First Presbyterian Church, also with a bell tower, was built on the corner of 1st South and 1st West to fulfill the growing religion’s need for a larger center of worship. A new school building was also built to provide additional classroom space.

Some time after the fire in 1918, Liberal Hall began getting leased out for other uses.

This year, the restoration team has located the original bell used in Liberal Hall and plan to reinstall it in its rightful place. The bell was a welcomed sound upon its first ringing in 1875, even bringing some Scandinavian immigrants to tears because it had been so long since they had heard a church bell. LDS Church meetinghouses do not typically include belfries.

In 1972, Wasatch Academy became a nondenominational school when the Presbyterian Church stopped promoting its secular educational programs. Joseph Loftin, the head of school today, began pursuing the school’s international approach in the 1990s. Unlike its early years, the academy has reached out to local causes to better integrate the school into the community.

“It is a community within a community,” says Glidewell, mostly because its populace is so unique. Its international students speak many different languages and come from a number of countries, but they all contribute to a supportive and friendly culture.


Read Full Post »