Kirtland, Ohio is a place I have long wanted to visit. It holds a significant place in the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka “The Mormon Church”). It is a place of many “firsts” in the organization of the church. Several offices and quorums in the priesthood were established, church leaders were schooled, key revelations were received, scripture was translated, heavenly visions were seen, and the first temple was built. Church members were tried and tested, and testimonies of the gospel were forged or destroyed. As a Mormon, a travel writer, and a fan of historical places, I have felt for a long time that my understanding of church history would not be complete without a visit to Kirtland.
From 1831-1838, the town that today is a quiet, insignificant place in the midst of green rolling hills just east of Cleveland was once the headquarters of the newly formed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the scene of bustling growth, religious fervor, spiritual manifestations, and sadly, persecution, which would ultimately result in the expulsion of the members of the rapidly growing church. Today, the temple and a few restored buildings are all that remain of that time period.
My family and I had only one day to visit all the places in and around Kirtland where pivotal, spiritual and sacred events took place so many years ago. We had prepared for this trip by reading up on the history of Kirtland. It was a time when the heavens seemed to open and great spiritual knowledge and experiences poured down upon church members. Some of the most meaningful events to us, however, were the appearances of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and other heavenly beings to the prophet Joseph Smith and others during the short time church members lived here. We wanted to visit the four places where these visions took place.
Those 4 places are:
The Isaac Morley Farm (just a few miles from the Visitors’ Center)
The John Johnson home (about 30 miles away in Hiram, OH)
The Newel K. Whitney store
The Kirtland Temple
Joseph and Emma Smith lived for a short time at all of these places (except the temple).
Though there are no surviving structures to see on the Morley Farm, there remains a sacred feeling. Helpful guides there will relate in detail the events that took place on the property. It is a beautiful, peaceful place, surrounded by quiet, green woods. I felt it was another “sacred grove”, very much like the one in Palmyra, NY (which we visited a few days later).
As we visited the John Johnson home, we learned of the great faith, generosity and sacrifices of the Johnson family and others. Many gave everything they owned to forward the progress of the church. The same was true of the Morleys and Newel K. Whitney and his family. The store is restored to look just as it would have in 1831. Here, also, you can feel a hallowed spirit in the upper rooms where Joseph translated and the School of the Prophets took place.
Lastly, we visited the Kirtland Temple, which is owned and operated by Community of Christ Church. If ever a building could embody sacrifice and commitment to God, this temple does. It is a beautiful and amazing place, especially when you realize it was built by destitute church members, most of whom did not even have a roof over their own heads! Those sacrifices were acknowledged by the outpouring of spiritual manifestations at the dedication of the temple, where hundreds saw and heard the presence of heavenly beings. We felt reverence and a special spirit in all the places we visited. I am grateful to those early church members who gave so much!