Photo Essay

Photo Essay: Historic Kirtland Highlights Early Beginnings of Mormonism

Summer is a busy time of year in the small community of Kirtland, Ohio, located near Cleveland, where visitors travel to see Mormon historic sites, including the Kirtland Temple and nearby Historic Kirtland Visitors’ Center.


“This is an amazing place,” said Elder William “Bill” Wynder, director of the Kirtland Visitors’ Center. Elder Wynder and his wife, Carol, have been serving as missionaries in Kirtland for the past 14 months.

“Our busiest months are June, July and August and December," said Elder Wynder. 

Twenty-eight sister missionaries and 10 senior missionary couples serve at the visitors’ center, in addition to a senior couple who are facilities maintenance missionaries. The sister missionaries work in an online teaching center located in the visitors’ center and serve in surrounding communities when they’re not leading tours at the historic village.

One of the most popular attractions in the village is the restored Newell K. Whitney Store. The Prophet Joseph Smith and his wife, Emma, lived in the building for a time. This is also where he established the School of the Prophets.

Elder Wynder said Kirtland was central to the Restoration of the Church, but it’s not as well known as Nauvoo and the pioneer trek west.

The John Johnson Inn was the first brick building in Kirtland. It was reconstructed on its original foundation. Church leaders conducted business and published a newspaper there in the 1830s.

Other attractions in the historic village are a replica sawmill that existed in frontier times in Kirtland, a replica of an ashery owned and operated by Newell and Ann Whitney and later donated to the Church, as well as a schoolhouse. The Saints burned hardwood in the ashery, turning the ashes into potash that could be sold for manufacturing processes.

The red schoolhouse first built in 1819 was reconstructed. It predates the arrival of the early Mormons but was likely one of the first places where they met as congregations rather than small groups in homes.

The Kirtland Temple was the first temple built by early Latter-day Saints. Church President Joseph Smith moved his family to Kirtland in February 1831, shortly after the Church was organized. Kirtland was the headquarters for the Church from 1831 to 1838.

The 180-year-old temple is owned and operated by the Community of Christ.  

Elder Wynder said the Community of Christ provides the Church with access to the Kirtland Temple. “We have a very cordial relationship,” he explained. New missionaries in the Ohio Cleveland Mission are allowed to visit the temple.

Elder Wynder said the Community of Christ occasionally hosts dinners for Latter-day Saint groups so they can see the temple at night. “It’s just a spectacular view.”

Elder and Sister Wynder will serve in Kirtland until January 2017. “We’ve really loved being here,” said Elder Wynder, who plans to return to his law practice.

“I’m going to go home with a whole new appreciation of Kirtland, of its importance and what happened here, and a whole new appreciation for a group of early Latter-day Saints again who are not particularly well known in Church history,” he concluded.

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