A lot of rich history is infused into Salt Lake CIty and other well-loved and traveled Latter-day Saint sites. But beyond Utah; Nauvoo, Ill.; Palmyra, N.Y.; Carthage Jail in Illinois and many of the other iconic sites, there are hundreds of lesser-known locations across the U.S. and England.
Kenneth Mays, an institute teacher at the Salt Lake University Institute and an LDS history enthusiast, has made touring the LDS historical landmarks, trails and sites a hobby by spending much of his leisure and vacation time discovering and rediscovering history.
Throughout the years, Mays has taken thousands of photographs during his travels and has had them published in the Ensign, Church News, on LDS.org, and in Pioneer magazine and several other publications, including Mormon Times. Focusing on the less-traveled church sites, Mays highlighted 10 locations that are off the beaten path but essential to the stories of Latter-day Saints.
Thomas L. Kane is often referred to as “Friend of the Mormons.” Though he was not a member himself, Kane was very well connected in the political sphere and spent a large part of his life working between church leaders and government officials. Kane traveled to Utah and worked with Brigham Young while continually advising him on cooperating with the federal government.
After residing with church members when they moved to Utah, Kane returned to his home in Kane, Pa., where a Protestant chapel was named after him.
Years later, the chapel was purchased by the LDS Church.
To this day, the church is known as the Thomas L. Kane Chapel, and it has been kept in its original style and floor plan.
“The inside is left in the Protestant style, but it’s used for Latter-day Saints,” Mays said. “We don’t do churches like that. One normally wouldn’t see stained glass windows like that in other LDS chapels.”
Located just out of Flagstaff, Ariz., this old, rickety cabin may have been a lodging point for Wilford Woodruff when he was passing through in 1879.
The cabin was owned by John, Brigham Young’s son, and is tucked away in Arizona’s unsettled rough lands and may require a local or guide to take you to the site. While camped in a tent at this site, Woodruff had a remarkable revelation that was recorded in his personal journal.
“We know Wilford Woodruff had a revelation somewhere in this area and that this is a Wilford Woodruff site,” Mays said.
The Honeymoon Trail is known for its beautiful scenery, but the story behind the long, desert trail illustrates the incredible strength and faith of Latter-day Saints.
The trail, which begins near Winslow, Ariz., stretches all the way to St. George. According to LDS.org, in the late 1800s and early 1900s couples and families would travel for days or weeks, facing rattlesnakes and coyotes, just to be sealed in the St. George Temple, which was the first temple west of the Mississippi River. Because of the immediate association with marriage, people outside the LDS Church quickly dubbed the trail as the Honeymoon Trail.
There are two interesting stops along the trail, and both are in northeast Arizona. The first is Grand Falls, located on the Little Colorado River from Flagstaff on the Navajo Reservation. Here muddy waters rage down jagged slates of rock, pouring down a height as tall as Niagara Falls.
Another stop along the Honeymoon Trail is the Pipe Spring National Monument, which is located about 60 miles away from the falls near Fredonia, Ariz. The spring was used to water cattle on a tithing ranch. The fort was built for security. Because of the lack of clean water along the trail, the spring was a fresh source of desperately needed water.
“The greatest challenge of the trail as a whole was the lack of good drinking water,” Mays said. "The water flows under the wall of the fort into a pool which the animals used."
The Mormon Battalion was formed and charged to aid in the newly declared war on Mexico in 1846. The group of more than 500 Latter-day Saints was led by Colonel James Allen.
The battalion headed west from Council Bluffs, Iowa, and pushed forward to aid the U.S. government in the war but came to a stop in Leavenworth, Kan., when Allen died. The group soon picked up the Santa Fe Trail and followed it all the way to New Mexico.
However, along the Cimarron Route of the Santa Fe Trail, travelers could sometimes go many miles until they reached another water source, such as Middle Spring, which was an important site for the battalion.
"It’s remarkable how being at such a simple site as a water hole was an almost sacred experience," Mays said, describing a recent stop at Middle Spring. "This identifies an exact site of their journey. Here, these heroic men and women of the Mormon Battalion got their first drink of water in 50 or 60 miles."
Even today the spring is perfectly preserved and glistens in the Kansas prairie. It's located in northeast Kansas in Morton County, nine miles north of Elkhart, Kan. The spring rests close to the Cimarron River.
Many trails traveled by pioneers, the Mormon Battalion and even those with the Oregon Trail have been lost to history through development, farming, erosion and time. However, near Guernsey, Wyo., the exact trail followed by Latter-day Saints can be found easily by the ruts that define the rocky terrain.
"The wagons and wheels of the carts engraved the rock," Mays said. "These trails are amazing. Some spots are about 4-5 feet deep. Other sites in the area may be only a foot deep with grass on either side."
The half-mile stretch of ruts is located in Guernsey State Park and was declared a National Historic Park in 1966.
Another historic site only half a mile way from the ruts is Register Cliff, Wyo., where hundreds of thousands of Oregon Trail travelers and Latter-day Saints passed by. Many carved their names into the rocks.
Though Scotts Bluff, Neb., is better known for the Oregon Trail, Brigham Young led the first group of pioneers through the rocky obstacle in 1847.
During this trip, he became fed up with the language and conduct of many of his traveling companions and decided to take a stand.
About 17 miles north of the nearby settlement Scottsbluff, Brigham Young said, “I am about to revolt.” He went on to rebuke the company for spending time with light-minded activities that were unproductive and lacking in spiritual character.
The pioneers accepted the chastisement and continued on to the Salt Lake Valley.
The geological feature known as Scotts Bluff overlooks miles of rolling prairies infused with the story of the pioneers who gave up everything to start over in Utah.
Many European Saints crossed the Atlantic Ocean to New Orleans and then journeyed up the Mississippi River. Once they reached St. Louis and the Missouri River, travelers used the Missouri River to reach various sites where they could transfer to wagons and handcarts.
For three years, the little town of Wyoming, Neb., was where people geared up for the long trek West.
This sign and location mark the place where this outfitting station, now virtually lost, once flourished for its short history. The station was established in 1864. The field is located on a home property close to the Missouri River and isn't owned by the church, but to his day a humble aura remembers the Saints who traveled through it.
"When I was there, the veil has never been thinner," said Mays, reminiscing on his first experience in Wyoming, Neb. "The second time I went, the homeowner, a nonmember, came out and said, 'I can't figure it out, but I get the most wonderful feelings here. I just feel something, and I really like how it feels.'"
Though only a field and sign remain to chart the outfitting station, Mays said the spirit at this grassy site is one of the strongest along the trail of the pioneers.
If you travel to Vermont, the village of Whitingham is home to several historical markers noting the birth of Brigham Young. One has a line on a highway sign designating it as the home of "the founder of Utah."
Tucked behind trees on a rolling hillside overlooking a large pond is a marker resembling a gravestone. The homeowner has allowed the stone, which is situated on private property, to remain intact.
Relatively few visit the birth site, maybe only a couple hundred a year, while tens of thousands visit Joseph Smith's birthplace, according to an LDS Church News article.
Another Brigham Young marker in Whitingham is a 12-foot granite monument, installed only 60 years ago. The monument is located in a community park, in the left field of a baseball field.
"I was traveling through and found it in the dark in centerfield of a ball park. I just sat there with the fireflies," Mays said. "I sat there wondering if Young's mother, Abigail, ever imagined her son would grow up to have this monument in the field or his statue in the U.S. Capitol building."
Whitingham, a small town with a population of less than 2,000, is located on the south border of Vermont.
When the Saints were expelled from Missouri in 1839, many went to Nauvoo, now an iconic location in the church. However, a small group of Saints decided to branch out and settle in Geneva, Ill.
The group lived in Geneva for about eight years, and during that time they started to lay the foundation for a tabernacle. The foundation was the only part of the tabernacle that was completed when Brigham Young took his settlement west from Nauvoo. The families of Geneva decided to go as well.
After seeing an abandoned but sturdy foundation, new settlers decided to build on the property. A red brick home, now dubbed the "Mormon Temple," is a final product of the century-and-a-half-old foundation.
"That's not an official name by any means, but it happens to be a site that five presidents of the church, to our knowledge, passed by one time or another," Mays said.
When missionaries went to England in 1837, Heber C. Kimball primarily focused on the community of Preston and the Ribble Valley where they had a lot of success teaching and converting members to the church.
Upon organizing the Preston Branch, Kimball and an occasional companion set forth to different communities, including those of Chatburn and Downham.
At that time, locals felt that residents of those villages were too wicked to respond to the gospel message. Elder Kimball responded saying that he was not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. Consequently, Elder Kimball and his companion went to work and experienced great success. They walked the road as they taught, baptized and confirmed a good number of those who lived in the area, Mays said.
Though hidden behind a renovated church, the baptismal site where Kimball baptized 100-200 new members was identified by Carol Wilkinson in 2005 and documented in her essay "Mormon Baptismal Site in Chatburn, England."
Recently, Mays and a colleague, Richard Lambert, looked for the site while in that region of England.
"After searching the neighborhood, Richard found a seemingly insignificant little wooden gate. He opened it and walked down some steps to the baptismal site," Mays said. "It's just sitting there beautiful after all these years. I imagine that it hasn't changed much after almost a century and a half since Heber C. Kimball and others baptized there."