Historic Kirtland: Revisit Ohio town's central role in the early development of the LDS Church
Carma Wadley, Deseret Morning News
KIRTLAND, Ohio It was all so new back then.
That's the thing that strikes you about Kirtland how early it took its central place upon the stage.
By 1831, the United States of America had barely passed its two-score milestone. Settlement in this section of "the Ohio," as it was known, was barely 20 years old. The first homesteaders had moved into the area in 1811; by 1818 enough had arrived to form a township. In 1823 an enterprising young storekeeper named Newell Whitney opened up shop; by 1825 mail service had arrived.
Kirtland named after an agent of the Connecticut Land Company who never actually lived there was a pleasant enough spot. But without the benefit of railroad or seaport, it would never have become another Cleveland. It may never have been more than a typical little frontier town had it not been for another development that also shared a feeling of newness.
In February of 1831, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had existed for less than a year when its prophet, Joseph Smith, came to the area. He was only 25.
Church missionaries had been through this "wilderness" earlier and had had striking success, particularly among the Campbellite congregation of Sidney Rigdon. So, there was a base of the faithful and reason enough to move the young church's headquarters to this new gathering place. But both Smith and the church had a lot of growing to do.
Now, as you look at the gently rolling hills and the fields of Shasta daisies, as you feel the quiet, peaceful spirit that lingers over the "flats," you can't help but think this was a great place to do it.
Kirtland, which today has a population of just over 6,600, is considered on the fringes of the greater Cleveland area; Cleveland is just 22 miles away. Kirtland is about 10 miles south of Lake Erie and is a choice little pocket of interest tucked into this corner of the state.
The town has a few other attractions, mostly nature sites such as the Holden Arboretum and the Penitentiary Glen Nature Center, which have walking trails through woodland areas. But the most important draw is Kirtland's connection to the early LDS Church. There are several important sites, including what is now known as "Historic Kirtland," the area of the flats that has been restored and turned into a small village by the church. In recent years, the LDS Church has expanded, restored, reconstructed and even moved a highway to create the little village. There are visitors centers at the nearby Isaac Morley farm and at the Johnson Farm, some 35 miles away in Hiram, Ohio.
A mini-park is at the old Temple Quarry, where sandstone was cut into blocks for the temple. Men quarried the stone during the week, let it dry in the sun and hauled it to the temple site on Saturday. A nice little path leads through the woods and around the pond. Drill marks from the quarry are visible on some of the stones.
On the hill overlooking the flats, the Kirtland Temple the first
such structure built by the Saints still stands. It is now owned and operated by the Community of Christ church. Nearby is a little cemetery where a number of early pioneers are buried, including Hyrum Smith's first wife, Jerusha Barden Smith, and Joseph Smith's paternal grandmother, Mary Duty Smith.
A number of other structures in town were associated with the early settlers. (A plaque on the house across from the cemetery, for example, notes that it was once the home of Joseph and Emma.) But they are all privately owned and not open for tours.
The best place to get a feel for Kirtland is in the Historic Kirtland district. Much of what you find there is faith-related, and believers will be deeply touched by seeing the places and hearing the stories of early church events.