See These Beautifully Restored Historic Buildings and You’ll Remember Kirtland

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has restored and recreated several buildings in Kirtland, Ohio where Church members lived and worked between 1831 and 1838. Free tours are given of these sites, located near the Kirtland Temple at 7800 Kirtland-Chardon Road. 

We began at the visitors’ center, a replica of a two-story gristmill, where we watched “I Remember Kirtland,” a film that tells the story of Joseph and Emma Smith’s arrival in Kirtland in February 1831, Newel and Elizabeth Whitney’s conversion and their experiences as early Church members, and the construction of the Kirtland Temple. Passages from the journal that Elizabeth Whitney kept during her years in Kirtland help to tell the story. Then, Sister Arnesen and Sister Nelson, two delightful young Mormon missionaries from Utah, met us and shared some of these sites with us. 

Built in 1826, the Newel K. Whitney General Store was one of the places where the community gathered for Church meetings. Joseph Smith and his family also lived there from 1832 to 1834. The Sisters showed us several rooms in this original building, which was restored in 1984 to the way it would have looked in 1830. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan presented the LDS Church with the President’s Historic Preservation Award for the restoration of the building and the presentation of its contents inside. 

The main room on the ground floor of the store has been stocked with merchandise similar to that which was found in Whitney’s original ledgers as having been sold in the general store.

Next, we went into another room that was the Church’s first Bishop’s Storehouse. Sister Arnesen told us that on Fast Sunday, the first Sunday of every month, Church members brought food and other household essentials to the storehouse for people in need. 

Upstairs, the Sisters showed us the Translation Room, Joseph Smith’s office where he translated the Bible. They told us that the Prophet experienced 16 revelations in this room, including one providing him with instructions for the exact dimensions to be used for building the Kirtland Temple.

Another room served as a school room in which those preparing to be sent out as missionaries were taught. After observing the clouds of smoke that resulted from students chewing and smoking tobacco in this room, Smith asked the Lord about the use of tobacco. In response, the Sisters said, the Prophet received a revelation in the form of an answer given as a Word of Wisdom that has guided the Saints’ code of health ever since. 

Across the hall, the Sisters pointed out the bedroom in which the Smiths’ son, Joseph Smith III, was born on November 6, 1832. 

Downstairs, the Sisters told us about how Elizabeth Whitney developed a reputation in the community for her baking talents and showed us the brick bustle oven that Eliza used to bake the loaves of bread that she sold in the store. When Emma Smith stayed here, Elizabeth turned her kitchen over to Emma. 

Next, we walked to a small yellow frame house that was the home of Newel and Elizabeth Whitney. Joseph and Emma Smith stayed here when they first arrived in Kirtland in February 1831. The Prophet is said to have received revelations in the parlor of the home, which was used as an office and a place for Church meetings. 

The Sisters pointed out an original chair in the Whitneys’ bedroom that bears Newel Whitney’s stamp.

We also admired a table that was reminiscent of our “Heinmiller Table,” one of our own family heirlooms. 

Historic Kirtland Village includes several other buildings that visitors can also tour. The reconstructed Johnson Inn houses interactive exhibits about Kirtland’s heritage. This brick building resembles an inn that was used by the Church as an office building, printing shop, community hall, museum and a lodging place. Down the path sits a reconstructed schoolhouse that was used for community gatherings, as well as for educating children and adults. 

Situated on a brook that empties into the Chagrin River, a working water-powered sawmill provided the lumber that was used to build the Kirtland Temple. The Kirtland Ashery was where community members produced potash and exported it to provide income for building the temple. A sandstone quarry located within the Chapin Forest Reservation Park, two miles south of the Kirtland Temple, was the source of the stones used to build the temple. A walk and platform have been constructed above the stream to allow visitors to see the drill marks made by the workmen who quarried the stone. 

Not far from Historic Kirtland, at 8605 Chillicothe Road, you can visit the Isaac Morley Farm, which was where Church members gathered when they arrived in Ohio. While Joseph Smith lived here for six months in 1831, he received 13 revelations that are now included in the Doctrine and Covenants. 

One final LDS Church historic site is located at 6203 Pioneer Trail in Hiram, about 30 miles from Kirtland. Located on farmland with a beautiful view of Portage County’s rolling hills, the John Johnson Home was where Joseph and Emma Smith and their adopted twins lived from September 1831 to September 1832. 

Elder and Sister Jones, a Mormon missionary couple from Utah, were our guides at this beautifully restored home. I loved the striking colors that the Johnsons chose for their woodwork, the beautiful decorative painting that they applied to doors and stair risers, and the eye-catching floorcloths and other painted floor treatments that decorate the home. 

As we stood in the room in which the dairy-farming Johnsons were introduced to Mormonism, the Joneses told us about a miracle that confirmed the family’s conversion. In 1831, John and Elsa Johnson traveled to Kirtland to see Joseph Smith and learn more about Mormon beliefs. For many years, Elsa had been troubled by a rheumatic arm that was so painful that she could not raise her hand to her head. During the Johnsons’ visit with Smith in the parlor of Newel Whitney’s home, Elsa’s arm was healed. 

We saw the bedroom in which Joseph and Emma Smith were sleeping on March 24, 1832, when a mob stormed the home, dragged the Prophet from his trundle bed, and tarred and feathered him. 

Our tour ended in Joseph Smith’s office, the place where the Prophet dictated a translation of the Bible to Sidney Rigdon, one of the leaders of the early LDS Church. Elder Jones told us that this room is significant to Mormon history because it is where Smith received about 20 revelations. It is also the room in which Smith and Rigdon had a vision on February 16, 1832 that is described in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 76 as the degrees of glory.

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