5. Church History Sites in Kirtland, Ohio: A Photo Essay

Craig James Ostler, “Church History Sites in Kirtland, Ohio: A Photo Essay,” in Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint Church History: Ohio and Upper Canada, ed. Guy L. Dorius, Craig K. Manscill, and Craig James Ostler (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2006), 53–85

Church History Sites in Kirtland, Ohio: A Photo Essay

Craig James Ostler

Craig James Ostler was an associate professor of Church history and doctrine when this was published.


Latter-day Saints will find that many gospel blessings they enjoy have their foundation in Kirtland, Ohio. The Lord designated “the Ohio” as the first gathering place of the Saints in this dispensation (D&C 37:3). He promised His people that once they had assembled together in Ohio, “I will give unto you my law; and there you shall be endowed with power from on high; And from thence, whosoever I will shall go forth among all nations” (D&C 38:32–33). Forty-six revelations published in the Doctrine and Covenants were received in Kirtland, more than in any other location. The Prophet Joseph Smith received the first of these revelations on February 4, 1831, and the last on July 23, 1837 (see D&C 41; 112).

The Lord extended His hand to bless the lives of the Kirtland Saints with continued restoration of the gospel. While the Saints lived in this area, the Lord gave instructions regarding further organization of His church, and revelations explaining His doctrines. In addition, He directed His people in matters of education and health. The Prophet Joseph Smith and the Saints rejoiced in the goodness of the Lord and the outpouring of His Spirit. Here they worked and associated with one another in building up the kingdom of God on earth. In 1832 the Lord called for the organization of the first stake of Zion with additional clarifying revelations to follow (see D&C 82:13; 94:1; 102:1–3). Further, in Kirtland the priesthood was set in order with the organization of the First Presidency and the calling of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Seventy, patriarchs, and bishops. In time, the first missionaries sent to the nations of the world left from Kirtland. The pinnacle of the Kirtland era centered upon the building, dedication, and the Lord’s acceptance of the first temple of the new dispensation.

During the summer of 2004, members of the Church History and Doctrine faculty of Brigham Young University visited Kirtland as part of an Ohio and Upper Canada Regional Studies Seminar. We were blessed to see the temple, homes, stores, cemeteries, and historical markers that preserve the memory of the early members of the Church. This article attempts to capture the Saints’ experiences in Kirtland through a photographic essay. The reader is invited by means of a pictorial journey to contemplate the sites where important events occurred. First, we will focus on the historically restored area known as the Kirtland flats, currently owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Historic Kirtland includes a visitors’ center built to represent an 1830s gristmill, the Newel K. Whitney store and home, a schoolhouse, ashery, and sawmill, as well as other dwellings, and a reconstructed inn originally owned by an early resident of Kirtland, Peter French. The most important edifice of the Kirtland era is the temple, dedicated in 1836 and now owned and maintained by the Community of Christ, who graciously provided interior photographs to be included in this article.

Fig. 1. Map of Historic Kirtland Ohio. Courtesy of Church Public Affairs Department.

Fig. 1. This map provides visual orientation to the area known as the Kirtland flats near the east branch of the Chagrin River. Center left is the yellow-painted home of Newel K. and Elizabeth Ann Whitney, and to the immediate right is the whitewashed two-story Newel K. Whitney store. The Prophet Joseph Smith lived in both of these buildings at separate times. To the south of the Whitney properties is located the red-brick John Johnson Inn. The inn was purchased during the 1830s from landowner Peter French and was given to Brother Johnson as a stewardship within the United Firm, or United Order. The path southeast of the Whitney store leads to the newly constructed sawmill and ashery, both of which were important in the building up of Kirtland during the time the Saints resided there. The red schoolhouse lies near to the visitors’ center and was a hub of activity in early Kirtland. The road that continues south from the Johnson Inn leads up the hill about three hundred yards to the Joseph Smith home and the Kirtland Temple.

Photo 1. The Historic Kirtland Visitors’ Center is a replica of a two-story gristmill. Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are by Craig James Ostler and Sandra Ostler.


Photo 1. Providing an excellent orientation to historic Kirtland, the spacious visitors’ center was built as a replica of a ten-thousand-square-foot, two-story gristmill. The center displays photographs and paintings of early Kirtland, and a newly produced film, which is shown in the 120-seat theater, transports visitors back to the wintry February of 1831 when the Prophet Joseph Smith and his wife, Emma, arrived in Kirtland from Fayette, New York. The story of earlier missionaries called to the Lamanites and their stop in Kirtland on the way to the Missouri frontier, as well as the subsequent challenges and triumphs of the Saints in building a temple, are told through the expeiences of the Newel K. Whitney family. After stepping out of the theater, visitors see a beautiful panoramic window that provides an overview of the restored buildings of historic Kirtland.

Photo 2. Newel K. Whitney home, where the Prophet Joseph Smith and his wife, Emma, stayed in early 1831.


Photo 2. This small but comfortable home provided the Prophet Joseph Smith his first lodging in Kirtland. Upon arriving in Kirtland in February 1831, the Prophet Joseph Smith and his wife Emma, were taken in by “the family of Brother Whitney several weeks, and received every kindness and attention which could be expected, especially from Sister Whitney.”[1] There was one small bedroom on the main floor. Thus when the Prophet and his expectant wife lived here, Newel, Elizabeth Ann, and their five children must have all moved to a large unfinished open area on the upper level—a noteworthy sacrifice.


Photo 2a. Parlor of the Newel K. Whitney home. Doctrine and Covenants sections 41–44, and likely 70 and 72 were received here.


Photo 2a. During the time that the Prophet lived with the Whitneys, from about the first of February until the first part of March 1831, this home was a place of revelation and testimony. In fulfilment of the Lord’s earlier promise, He revealed the law of Church (D&C 42) to the Prophet, most likely in the parlor room, which would have been used as an office and place for Church meetings. Doctrine and Covenants sections 41–44, and probably 70 and 72 were received here. If section 72 was revealed to the Prophet while at this home, then Newel K. Whitney was called to serve as bishop in the Ohio area in his own parlor.

In addition, within these walls the power to heal was made manifest in the early days of the Restoration. John Johnson of Hiram, Ohio, and his wife Alice (Elsa), accompanied by Ezra Boothe, a Methodist preacher, visited the Whitney home shortly after Joseph Smith arrived in Kirtland. While discussing religious principles, someone commented, “Here is Mrs. Johnson with a lame arm; has God given any power to men now on earth to cure her?” After the conversation continued to other topics, the Prophet rose from his seat and walked to where Mrs. Johnson was sitting. He took her by the hand, declaring, “Woman, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I command thee to be whole,” and then left the room. Mrs. Johnson was immediately able to lift her arm without pain and the day after returning home to Hiram, rejoiced in being able to do her washing unhampered by her previously lame arm.[2]

After Joseph and Emma moved from the home, they and the Whitneys continued to have close association. For example, Joseph recorded that on Thursday, January 7, 1836, he

attended a sumptuous feast at Bishop Newel K. Whitney’s. This feast was after the order of the Son of God—the lame, the halt, and the blind were invited, according to the instructions of the Savior. Our meeting was opened by singing, and prayer by Father Smith; after which Bishop Whitney’s father and mother, and a number of others, were blessed with a patriarchal blessing. We then received a bountiful refreshment, furnished by the liberality of the Bishop. The company was large, and before we partook we had some of the songs of Zion sung, and our hearts were made glad by a foretaste of those joys that will be poured upon the heads of the Saints when they are gathered together on Mount Zion, to enjoy one other’s society for evermore, even all the blessings of heaven, when there will be none to molest or make us afraid.[3]

The rooms of the Whitney home were bustling with service, with hearts and pantries opened to share the bounties of the Lord’s blessings. Hands were busy preparing food, setting tables, and extending warm welcome to friends and neighbors. This feast for the poor, reported Sister Whitney, “lasted three days, during which time all in the vicinity of Kirtland who would come were invited, and entertained. . . . The Prophet Joseph and his two Counselors being present each day, talking, blessing, and comforting the poor, by words of encouragement and their most welcome presence. . . . Joseph often referred to this particular Feast, during his lifetime, and testified of the great blessing he felt in associating with the meek and humble ones whom the Lord has said ‘He delights to own and bless.’ He often said to me that it was preferable and far superior to the elegant and select parties he afterwards attended, and afforded him much more genuine satisfaction.”[4]

Photo 2b. Main floor bedroom of the Newel K. Whitney home. Emma and Joseph Smith were given Newel and Elizabeth Ann’s bedroom when the Whitneys invited them to stay at their home for several weeks in February 1831.


Photo 3. The Newel K. Whitney store. In 1988 the Church received a presidential historic preservation award for the restoration of the building and presentation of its 1830 contents.


Photo 3. This village store and post office played a significant part in the Restoration and growth of the Church in the 1830s. The store itself was located on the left side of the lower floor. Levi Hancock remodeled the building in 1832 to include living quarters for the Prophet Joseph and his family, as well as a room for a school and an office for translation work on the Bible. These rooms can be seen on the upper floor from the outside. The large room on the southeast corner served as the translation room, with the school of the prophets room behind, directly to the north, and a private bedroom on the northwest corner. Joseph and his family lived here from 1832 to 1834.


Photo 3a. Newel K. Whitney store interior. Today shelves in the store have been stocked with merchandise similar to that found on the original ledgers kept by Newel K. Whitney and his associates.


Photo 3a. Newel K. Whitney first met the Prophet Joseph Smith in the N. K. Whitney & Company store. According to Whitney family records, when Joseph arrived in Kirtland from New York State by sleigh, he came to the Whitney store. He bounded up the steps and entered, where he greeted the gentleman tending the counter, “Newel K. Whitney! Thou art the man!” “You have the advantage of me,” Newel replied. “I could not call you by name as you have me.” “I am Joseph the Prophet,” he introduced himself. “You’ve prayed me here, now what do you want of me?”[5]

Later, after being baptized, Newel consecrated his store to the Church for the building up of the kingdom of God on earth. The store served as the Lord’s storehouse, kept by the bishop in the law of consecration and stewardship, and as the primary property of the mercantile establishments owned by the Church in the United Firm, or United Order. The Lord indicated that, among other purposes, income from the store was to provide funds to publish the scriptures and construct important Church-owned buildings (see D&C 42:33–35; 78:3–4).


Photo 3b. Upper room in the Newel K. Whitney store referred to as “the Translation Room.”


Photo 3b. The upper floor rooms on the east side of the Newel K. Whitney store served as the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ in the 1830s. This large room acted as the Prophet Joseph Smith’s personal office, where he met in council with Church leaders, worked on the inspired translation of the Bible, and received revelations. Within these walls the Prophet received revelations regarding the priesthood, the eternal nature of humanity, the condescension of the Son of God into mortality, explanations of truth and the glory of God, instructions regarding the building and purposes of the Kirtland Temple, a prophecy of wars—including the war between the states—and the latter-day code of health, known as “the Word of Wisdom.”[6]

For example, a conference was held here the end of December 1832 through early January 1833. Frederick G. Williams, who kept the minutes, reported regarding the reception of the revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 88:


A conference of High Priests assembled in the translating room in Kirtland Ohio on the 27[th] day of Dec AD 1832. . . . Brother Joseph arose and said, to receive revelation and the blessing of heaven it was necessary to have our minds on God and exercise faith and become of one heart and of one mind. Therefore he recommended all present to pray separately and vocally to the Lord for to reveal his will unto us concerning the upbuilding of Zion and for the benefit of the Saints and for the duty and employment of the Elders. Accordingly we all bowed down before the Lord, after which each one arose and spoke in his turn his feelings, and determination to keep the commandments of God. And then proceeded to receive a revelation concerning the duty . . . above stated[.] 9 o’clock p.m. the revelation not being finished the conference adjourned and commenced by Prayer thus proceeded to receive the residue of the above revelation and it being finished and there being no further business before the conference closed the meeting by prayer in harmony with the brethren and gratitude to our heavenly Father for the great manifestation of his Holy Spirit during the setting of the conference.[7]


Photo 3c. School room in the upper floor of the Newel K. Whitney store.


Photo 3c. Responding to the Lord’s command, priesthood brethren gathered in this room for a school during the winter of 1832–33. Previously, the Lord instructed those gathered to “teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom” in preparation for being sent out as missionaries (D&C 88:77). It is likely that a conference held on January 22–23, 1833, convened in this room, at which the Prophet Joseph Smith spoke in tongues. During the second day of the conference, those present attended to the ordinance of the washing of feet, after which, by the power of the Holy Ghost, the Prophet “pronounced them all clean from the blood of this generation. . . . Having continued all day in fasting, and prayer, and ordinances, [they] closed by partaking of the Lord’s supper.”[8]

The chewing and smoking of tobacco by students in the school led Joseph to inquire of the Lord about its use. The answer was given as “a word of wisdom” that has since served as the Lord’s code of health for His Saints (D&C 89). Recalling the circumstances that precipitated the revelation, Brigham Young said:

I think I am as well acquainted with the circumstances which led to the giving of the Word of Wisdom as any man in the Church, although I was not present at the time to witness them. The first school of the prophets was held in a small room situated over the Prophet Joseph’s kitchen, in a house which belonged to Bishop Whitney, and which was attached to his store, which store probably might be about fifteen feet square. In the rear of this building was a kitchen, probably ten by fourteen feet, containing rooms and pantries. Over this kitchen was situated the room in which the Prophet received revelations and in which he instructed his brethren. The brethren came to that place for hundreds of miles to attend school in a little room probably no larger than eleven by fourteen. When they assembled together in this room after breakfast, the first thing they did was to light their pipes, and, while smoking, talk about the great things of the kingdom, and spit all over the room, and as soon as the pipe was out of their mouths a large chew of tobacco would then be taken. Often when the Prophet entered the room to give the school instructions he would find himself in a cloud of tobacco smoke. This, and the complaints of his wife at having to clean so filthy a floor, made the Prophet think upon the matter, and he inquired of the Lord relating to the conduct of the Elders in using tobacco, and the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom was the result of his inquiry.[9]

Following the close of the school, this room continued to be used for council meetings and ordinations. Of note is that on March 18, 1833, “the High Priests assembled in the school room of the Prophets, and were organized according to revelation.” During this meeting the Prophet ordained Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams presidents of the high priesthood and conferred the keys of the kingdom upon them as counselors in the First Presidency of the Church, “after which,” the Prophet recorded, “I exhorted the brethren to faithfulness and diligence in keeping the commandments of God, and gave much instruction for the benefit of the Saints, with a promise that the pure in heart should see a heavenly vision; and after remaining a short time in secret prayer, the promise was verified; for many present had the eyes of their understanding opened by the Spirit of God, so as to behold many things. I then blessed the bread and wine, and distributed a portion to each. Many of the brethren saw a heavenly vision of the Savior, and concourses of angels, and many other things, of which each one has a record of what he saw.”[10]

Of this occasion, Brother John Murdock wrote:

In one of those meetings the Prophet told us if we could humble ourselves before God, and exercise strong faith, we should see the face of the Lord. And about midday the visions of my mind were opened, and the eyes of my understanding were enlightened, and I saw the form of a man, most lovely, the visage of his face was sound and fair as the sun. His hair a bright silver grey, curled in most majestic form, His eyes a keen penetrating blue, and the skin of his neck a most beautiful white and he was covered from the neck to the feet with a loose garment, pure white, whiter than any garment I have ever before seen. His countenance was most penetrating, and yet most lovely. And while I was endeavoring to comprehend the whole personage from head to feet it slipped from me, and the vision was closed up. But it left on my mind the impression of love, for months, that I never felt before to that degree.[11]

Photo 3d. This upstairs room in the Newel K. Whitney store served as a bedroom for Joseph and Emma.


Photo 3d. This room was the Prophet Joseph Smith and Emma’s private bedroom. On November 6, 1832, Emma bore her first child that would live past childbirth, a son, whom she named after his father—Joseph Smith III. More than a decade after the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred at Carthage, Illinois, Joseph III offered to lead a group known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (now known as the Community of Christ) as its first president.

Photo 3e. Kitchen in the Newel K. Whitney store. This room is rightly referred to as “Emma’s kitchen” because the kitchen was in all probability modified when Levi Hancock remodeled the building to accommodate Joseph and Emma’s living here.

Photo 4. Reconstruction of the Church-owned multiuse John Johnson Inn purchased from Peter French.


Photo 4. The only reconstructed brick building in historic Kirtland closely resembles the Peter French Inn, originally built in the mid-1820s and purchased by the Church along with the 103-acre French farm in April 1833. In 1834 the Lord directed that John Johnson be placed as steward over the inn as a member of the United Order, or United Firm (see D&C 104:34–38). From that time, it took upon it the name of its new proprietor. The Church utilized the inn as an office building, printing shop, community hall, and museum, in addition to a place of lodging.

Several noteworthy events occurred at the John Johnson Inn. The Church periodical The Evening and Morning Star was published here after William W. Phelps’s printing press, operated in Independence, Missouri, was damaged and seized by a mob the previous July.[12] On December 18, 1833, dedicatory services were held for the newly remodeled printing office within the inn. While giving blessings to his family and others at the dedication, Joseph Smith ordained his father as the first Patriarch to the Church.[13] The Twelve Apostles departed from the inn on their first mission as a collective quorum to the eastern states at about two o’clock in the morning on May 4, 1835.[14] In early 1836 Egyptian mummies and records associated with the book of Abraham were entrusted to Brother Joseph Coe with the intention that they would be displayed in one of the rooms of the inn.[15]

Today the interior of the inn is used for many purposes, and the first floor is open to visitors. It includes a three-dimensional topographical model of Kirtland in the 1830s that quickly orients guests to historic Kirtland. In addition, several newly commissioned paintings illustrate the history and unfolding doctrinal revelations received during the Kirtland era. The Johnson Inn also houses period manuscripts and publications, reminiscent of the time that Church leaders conducted business and published a newspaper in this building. Computer kiosks provide access to a database of about eighteen hundred families who became members of the Church in Kirtland during the 1830s.

Photo 5. Reconstructed Kirtland Schoolhouse used for early community and Church gatherings, as well as for education of children.


Photo 5. The reconstructed schoolhouse stands on the site of the original 1819 building, which was destroyed by fire. In the early days of Kirtland, the schoolhouse was the “cultural heart of the community.”[16] Not only did it provide a place for instructing children in reading, writing, and arithmetic, the school also was used as the town hall and as an evening school for adults. The building was used as a school for about three months of the year during the winter, and it is probable that in some circumstances tuition was paid by bringing firewood to burn in the stove located in the middle of the school.

Photo 5a. Interior of the Kirtland Schoolhouse. Older students sat on benches surrounding the teacher. The younger students sat on the tiers on each side.

Photo 5a. After missionaries from New York arrived, newly baptized members and investigators met together in homes. Sometime later, they began worshiping together on Sundays in the schoolhouse on the flats. Sunday School meetings were held in the morning at the school—the usual hour was 10:00 a.m.—and often also for sacrament services. On occasion, the Prophet attended meetings, prayed, and preached in the schoolhouse.[17]

“I attended a meeting ‘on the flats,’ where ‘Joseph’ presided,” Elder Daniel Tyler recorded of one occasion during the time that the Prophet’s brother William and others rebelled against the Lord’s anointed.

Entering the school-house a little before meeting opened, and gazing upon the man of God, I perceived sadness in his countenance and tears trickling down his cheeks. . . . A few moments later a hymn was sung and he opened the meeting by prayer. Instead, however, of facing the audience, he turned his back and bowed upon his knees, facing the wall. This, I suppose, was done to hide his sorrow and tears. . . .

Never until then had I heard a man address his Maker as though He was present listening as a kind father would listen to the sorrows of a dutiful child. Joseph was at that time unlearned, but that prayer, which was to a considerable extent in behalf of those who accused him of having gone astray and fallen into sin, that the Lord would forgive them and open their eyes that they might see aright—that prayer, I say, to my humble mind, partook of the learning and eloquence of heaven. There was no ostentation, no raising of the voice as by enthusiasm, but a plain conversational tone, as a man would address a present friend. It appeared to me as though, in case the vail were taken away, I could see the Lord standing facing His humblest of all servants I had ever seen.[18]

Photo 6. The restored Kirtland ashery preserves methods of the arduous task in taking ash and producing potash or even the more refined pearl ash. Large hoppers outside the ashery are shown here.

Photo 6. The ashery is a reminder of the spirit of dedication that inspired the Whitney family to donate property to the Church to help in building Zion. Later, upon the dissolution of the United Firm, the ashery and mercantile store were given to Bishop Newel K. Whitney as a stewardship from the Lord (see D&C 104:39–40). Surplus monies earned from these enterprises were consecrated to the Church for such projects as constructing the Kirtland Temple and printing scriptures and other Church literature.


Photo 6a. Ashery interior showing ash to be placed in hoppers.

Photo 6a. Often the first cash crop from new farmland was the trees cleared before planting. These trees could be used for lumber or the wood could be burned into ash. The process of rendering ash to potash required specialized equipment. Ash residue from burned trees was placed into one of several large containers, called hoppers, through which the water leached out caustic lye. This substance was then placed in kettles and boiled into potash, which could be sold to those that manufactured alum, saltpeter, glass, soap, leather goods, gunpowder, and paper, as well as in cotton-and-wool processing facilities as far away as England.[19]


Photo 6b. Ashery interior showing kettles in which lye mixture from ashes was heated to produce potash.


Photo 6b. As displayed in historic Kirtland, the most important money-making pieces of equipment were the cast-iron kettles, measuring forty inches in diameter and twenty-four inches deep, weighing more than six hundred pounds each. These kettles were actually quite small compared to some kettles used in the Western Reserve, where kettles could be up to fifty-four inches in diameter and weigh one thousand pounds. The lye mixture in the kettles would be over an intense fire heated to approximately 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit, creating a molten brew that would then be cooled into the solid mass of potash. Workers would then break the hardened mass into smaller chunks with an ax and sell it.

Photo 6c. Further heating of potash in the ashery ovens produced the more refined and valued commodity of white pearl ash, which is a purer form of potassium.


Photo 7. A reconstructed water-powered sawmill has been restored next to the ashery upon the original sawmill foundation.

Photo 7. The working sawmill, reconstructed upon the original location formerly owned by Joel Johnson, recalls the early Ohio Saints’ dedicated efforts to build a house of the Lord that would be worthy of His acceptance. The Prophet Joseph Smith referred to these labors and sacrifices during the dedicatory prayer of the temple: “We ask thee, O Lord, to accept of this house, the workmanship of the hands of us, thy servants, which thou didst command us to build. For Thou knowest that we have done this work through great tribulation; and out of our poverty we have given of our substance to build a house to thy name, that the Son of Man might have a place to manifest himself to his people” (D&C 109:4–5). Inside, a large replica saw is displayed, and in an adjoining room are displays of machinery, authentic tools, a working water-powered lathe, and other objects representative of those used to produce the priesthood pulpits for the Kirtland Temple and the intricate woodwork found in Kirtland homes. In this room, model temple pulpits are exhibited in successive stages of production, recreating for visitors the spirit of excitement and joy that prevailed in Kirtland while the temple was being prepared for dedication.

Photo 7a and 7b. Working saw at the mill demonstrates the power transferred from the waterwheel.


Photo 7c. Water-powered sawmill lathe and models of the Kirtland Temple priesthood pulpits.

Photo 8. Home purported to be that of the Prophet Joseph Smith from approximately 1834 to 1838, located north of the Kirtland Temple.

Photo 8. This home is currently owned by the Community of Christ. Journals indicate that for a time the Prophet Joseph Smith lived in a home at this location. It is most likely that the middle part of the back of the home is the original structure that existed in the 1830s.[20] Based on the probability that this is the Prophet’s Kirtland home referred to in historical records, it is the site of the organization of the Kirtland Stake and the first high council (see D&C 102).[21] Further, revelations regarding the organizing of Zion’s Camp and obtaining volunteers to travel to the aid of the destitute Saints in Missouri, the reorganizing of the United Firm, as well as revelatory instructions for Warren Cowdery and Lyman Sherman recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, were most likely received in this home (see D&C 103; 104; 106; 108).

Photo 9. Chapin Forest stone quarry, where much of the stone for the Kirtland Temple was obtained.

Photo 9. Initially the Kirtland Temple was to be built of brick. However, “the purpose of building the temple of brick was abandoned,” explained Benjamin F. Johnson, “as a stone quarry at easy distance was opened to obtain the rock for its construction.”[22] Regarding the building of the temple, Heber C. Kimball recorded: “After we returned from our journey to the West, the whole Church united in this great undertaking, and every man lent a helping hand. Those who had not teams went to work in the stone quarry and prepared the stones for drawing to the house. The Prophet, being our foreman, would put on his tow frock and tow pantaloons and go into the quarry. The Presidency, High Priests and Elders all alike assisting. Those who had teams assisted in drawing the stone to the house. These all laboring one day in the week, brought as many stones to the house as supplied the masons through the whole week. We continued in this manner until the walls of the house were reared.”[23]

The Stannard Stone Quarry is presently located within the Chapin Forest Reservation Park, approximately two miles south of the Kirtland Temple. There is a walkway and platform that the small stream and offers a close-up view of the drill holes made by workmen who quarried the stone.


Photo 10. Kirtland Temple, the house of the Lord, in which the Savior endowed His servants with power from on high.

Photo 10. The temple at Kirtland was the first house of the Lord built in the dispensation of the fulness of times. It served as “a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God” (D&C 88:119). The Lord promised the Saints that within His house they would be endowed “with power from on high” (D&C 95:8). In addition, the Kirtland Temple was built as a place where essential keys pertaining to certain important work of the priesthood would be restored.

The Prophet Joseph Smith’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, wrote regarding a council meeting held to discuss the building of the temple in Kirtland:

In this council Joseph requested each of the brethren to rise and give his views, and when they were through, he would give his opinion concerning the matter. They all spoke. Some thought that it would be better to build a frame house. Others said that a frame house was too costly, and the majority concluded upon putting up a log house and made their calculations about what they could do towards building it. Joseph rose and reminded them that they were not making a house for themselves or any other man, but a house for God. “And shall we, brethren, build a house for our God of logs? No, I have a better plan than that. I have the plan of the house of the Lord, given by himself. You will see by this the difference between our calculations and his idea of things.”

He then gave them the full plan of the house of the Lord at Kirtland.[24]

Today the Kirtland Temple is owned and maintained by the Community of Christ. Historical interpreters provide a glimpse into the early Saints’ devoted labor to build a house to the Lord. In addition, visitors may feel the same spirit the Savior referred to when He appeared within the walls of this sacred building: “Let the hearts of all my people rejoice, who have, with their might, built this house to my name” (D&C 110:6). While in the temple, it is not uncommon for visitors to rejoice by singing the hymn “The Spirit of God,” which was written by William W. Phelps and was sung at the dedicatory services March 27, 1836.

Photo 10a. Kirtland Temple interior first floor; view looking west of congregation seating and Melchizedek Priesthood pulpits. Photo by Val Brinkerhoff. Courtesy of Community of Christ.

Photo 10a. The lower part of the Lord’s house in Kirtland, or the main floor, was used for Church services similar to those held in chapels in today’s buildings. Congregations met to worship and partake of the sacrament. The congregational seating of the building followed the custom of the day, with enclosed pews. The benches in the pews were movable, allowing the congregation to sit facing either direction. One feature that distinguishes this building from other meetinghouses is the three tiers of pulpits at each end of the inner court, each row set a little higher than the previous one. In addition, the pulpits have three seats behind an enclosed breastwork, with a fourth row near ground level behind a hinged table upon which the emblems of the sacrament were placed. The west pulpits were designated for the presiding officers of the greater, or Melchizedek, Priesthood. Those on the east were for the presiding officers of the lesser, or Aaronic, Priesthood. The breastwork of the pulpits at each end had lettering that designated the proper seating for the various priesthood offices.[25]

The consecrated labor of building the temple was rewarded at the time of its dedication on March 27, 1836. The Saints gathered to the house of the Lord early in the morning. They participated in singing hymns, saying prayers, and listening to Church leaders. The Prophet recorded that following the closing hymn and benediction at the dedicatory services,

President Brigham Young gave a short address in tongues, and David W. Patten interpreted, and gave a short exhortation in tongues himself, after which I blessed the congregation in the name of the Lord, and the assembly dispersed a little past four o’clock, having manifested the most quiet demeanor during the whole exercise.

I met the quorums in the evening and instructed them respecting the ordinance of washing of feet, which they were to attend to on Wednesday following; and gave them instructions in relation to the spirit of prophecy, and called upon the congregation to speak, and not to fear to prophesy good concerning the Saints, for if you prophesy the falling of these hills and the rising of the valleys, the downfall of the enemies of Zion and the rising of the kingdom of God, it shall come to pass. Do not quench the Spirit, for the first one that opens his mouth shall receive the Spirit of prophecy.

Brother George A. Smith arose and began to prophesy, when a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind, which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld the Temple was filled with angels, which fact I declared to the congregation. The people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple), and were astonished at what was taking place. This continued until the meeting closed at eleven p.m.[26]

The pentecostal season continued after the dedication of the temple. Three days later the Prophet Joseph Smith recorded: “I left the meeting in the charge of the Twelve, and retired about nine o’clock in the evening. The brethren continued exhorting, prophesying, and speaking in tongues until five o’clock in the morning. The Savior made His appearance to some, while angels ministered to others, and it was a Pentecost and an endowment indeed, long to be remembered, for the sound shall go forth from this place into all the world, and the occurrences of this day shall be . . . numbered and celebrated as a year of jubilee, and time of rejoicing to the Saints of the Most High God.”[27]


Photo 10b. Kirtland Temple interior first floor; close-up view of Melchizedek Priesthood pulpits where the Savior appeared to accept the temple. Photo by Val Brinkerhoff. Courtesy of Community of Christ.

Photo 10b. The Melchizedek Priesthood pulpits of the Kirtland Temple are among the most hallowed sites on earth. It was here that the Savior appeared to accept the temple as His house. The Prophet Joseph Smith recorded that on April 3, 1836:

In the afternoon, I assisted the other Presidents in distributing the Lord’s Supper to the Church, receiving it from the Twelve, whose privilege it was to officiate at the sacred desk this day. After having performed this service to my brethren, I retired to the pulpit, the veils being dropped, and bowed myself, with Oliver Cowdery, in solemn and silent prayer. After rising from prayer, the following vision was opened to both of us—The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened. We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us, and under His feet was a paved work of pure gold in color like amber. His eyes were as a flame of fire, the hair of His head was white like the pure snow, His countenance shone above the brightness of the sun, and His voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying—I am the first and the last, I am He who liveth, I am He who was slain, I am your advocate with the Father.[28]

Following the Savior’s acceptance of the temple, Moses, Elias, and Elijah each appeared in turn, committing the keys of the gathering of Israel, the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, and the sealing keys to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (see D&C 110:11–16).

Photo 10c. Kirtland Temple interior second floor, view looking west; this area was designated to be a school. Photo by Val Brinkerhoff. Courtesy of Community of Christ.

Photo 10c. The second floor had pulpits at each end similar to those on the main floor. This was a visible indication that the activities of the school held there were under the direction of the priesthood (see D&C 90:7, 13–15). It was unusual at that time to have school in a church building. This floor and the one above it served as schoolrooms instructing priesthood holders in secular as well as religious subjects.[29]

Photo 10d. Kirtland Temple interior third floor; the west room was utilized for offices and quorum meetings. Photo by Val Brinkerhoff. Courtesy of Community of Christ.

Photo 10d. The third floor of the Kirtland Temple, which was in the attic of the building, is the site of a marvelous vision of the celestial kingdom. The floor was divided into five rooms, which were utilized as offices for the presiding quorums and officers as well as for the Kirtland High School. The Prophet Joseph saw a vision of the celestial kingdom while in the west “school room” on the third floor of the Kirtland Temple. Church leaders from Kirtland and Missouri had assembled to be anointed with oil as part of the endowment of power, which was to be bestowed upon the “first elders” in connection with the dedication of the temple. During the evening of January 21, 1836, “the heavens were opened upon us,” related the Prophet, “and I beheld the celestial kingdom of God, . . . whether in the body or out I cannot tell” (D&C 137:1). Joseph also saw that his brother Alvin would receive an inheritance in that kingdom and marveled, “seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set his hand to gather Israel the second time, and had not been baptized for the remission of sins” (D&C 137:6). The Lord spoke from the heavens, saying, “All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God; also all that die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom” (D&C 137:7–8).


President Gordon B. Hinckley referred to the Kirtland era from 1831 to 1838 as the elementary education years of the newly restored Church of Christ.[30] Thus, the sites of the Saints’ sojourn in Kirtland might aptly be referred to as the elementary school classrooms where the Lord taught the lessons so valuable to the early Saints. This brief photographic review of those classrooms enlightens the modern Saint with an idea of the settings for those formative years of the Restoration. The homes, the workplaces, and the house of the Lord stand as witnesses of the real people that lived, labored, and worshiped in Kirtland. They also testify in their own unique way of the divine calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith to lay the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ in the dispensation of the fulness of times. The Spirit present at these sites adds to our understanding and appreciation of the reality of our Church history and confirms the testimonies of those early Saints who lived in Kirtland. The memorials that have been restored and rebuilt recall the efforts of those early Saints and connect the modern visitor to the heritage of historic Kirtland.


[1] Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2nd ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1973), 1:146.

[2] A. S. Hayden, Early History of the Disciples, quoted in Smith, History of the Church, 1:215–16. There is no reason to dispute this account as it relates the events that were surely recited to neighbors as explanation to the miraculous healing. Philo Dibble, an early member of the Church in Kirtland, related the same event, as told him by an eyewitness: “There were eight persons present, one a Methodist preacher, and one a doctor. Joseph took her by the hand, prayed in silence a moment, pronounced her arm whole, in the name of Jesus Christ, and turned and left the room. The preacher asked her if her arm was whole, and she straightened it out and replied: ‘It is as good as the other’” (Philo Dibble, Early Scenes in Church History [Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882], 79; reprinted in Four Faith Promoting Classics [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968]).

[3] Smith, History of the Church, 2:362–63.

[4] Elizabeth Ann Whitney, “A Leaf from an Autobiography,” Woman’s Exponent, November 1, 1878, 83.

[5] Smith, History of the Church, 1:146n.

[6] The revelations received in the Whitney store include Doctrine and Covenants sections 84–98, 101, and probably 78.

[7] “Kirtland Council Minute Book,” 3–4, typescript by Lyndon W. Cook, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University; spelling, capitalization, and punctuation standardized by the author.

[8] Smith, History of the Church, 1:323–24.

[9] Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854–86), 12:158.

[10] Smith, History of the Church, 1:334–35.

[11] An Abridged Record of the life of John Murdock, taken from His journal by himself, typescript, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, 21.

[12] See Smith, History of the Church, 1:465.

[13] See Smith, History of the Church, 4:190; see also Smith, History of the Church, 1:465–67.

[14] See Smith, History of the Church, 2:219.

[15] See Smith, History of the Church, 2:396.

[16] Schoolhouse: Cultural Heart of the Community (Salt Lake City: Public Affairs Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–day Saints, 2003), 1.

[17] Smith, History of the Church, 2:301, 316, 319, 326, 330, 345, 347, 376, 389, 390, 407. Note that there was more than one school in Kirtland held by the Saints. It appears that the schoolhouse on the flats was commonly used for preaching and sacrament meetings. Therefore, it is most likely that the previous references in the History of the Church record meetings held in the schoolhouse on the flats (Smith, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, ed. Dean C. Jessee [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984], 102).

[18] Daniel Tyler, in “Recollections of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Juvenile Instructor, ed. George Q. Cannon (1892) 27:127.

[19] Two excellent articles documenting the use of the ashery are Benjamin C. Pykles, “An Introduction to the Kirtland Flats Ashery,” BYU Studies 41, no.1 (2002): 158–86; Mark L. Staker, “Thou Art the Man: Newel K. Whitney in Ohio,” BYU Studies 42, no.1 (2003): 85–88, 94.

[20] Information regarding the middle part of the standing structure being the most probable portion of the home that was occupied by the Prophet Joseph Smith was provided by Karl Anderson, a local Kirtland historian.

[21] See Smith, History of the Church, 2:25, 28–31.

[22] Benjamin F. Johnson, My Life’s Review (Mesa, AZ: 21st Century Printing, 1992), 16.

[23] Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1945), 68.

[24] Lucy Mack Smith, The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, ed. Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996), 321–22.

[25] See Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration: A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants and Other Modern Revelations (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 694.

[26] Smith, History of Church, 2:428.

[27] Smith, History of the Church, 2:432–33.

[28] Smith, History of the Church, 2:435.

[29] See McConkie and Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration, 694.

[30] See “Kirtland’s Place in Church History,” Church News, May 24, 2003, 4.