News Story

New Kirtland Visitors' Center, Restored Whitney Home and Johnson Inn Open to Public

KIRTLAND, OHIO — Showcasing the vitality and faith of its early members, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened the doors today of its new visitors' center in Kirtland, Ohio, along with two historic structures — one rebuilt and one restored.

Church leaders anticipate that the Historic Kirtland Visitors' Center, the Newel K. Whitney Home and the John Johnson Inn — all key sites in a multiphase restoration project — will soon attract as many as 100,000 visitors annually to the re-created 19th-century settlement.

Kirtland Mills, as it was known originally, was an area of religious revival in 1830. That same year, the Church was founded in Fayette, New York, by Joseph Smith — revered today by more than 11 million Latter-day Saints worldwide as a modern-day prophet.

New converts to the fledgling faith gathered by the hundreds in Kirtland, a place they believed was designated by revelation from God. From 1831 to 1838 Kirtland was the headquarters of the Church. By the time the temple was completed in 1836, nearly 2,000 Latter-day Saints had settled there.

"It was a defining period for the Church," says David Brown, visitors' center director. "During the Kirtland era, we believe God revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith the essential organization and much of the doctrine of the Church that is still in place today. Kirtland was the site of the first Latter-day Saint temple and the Church's first implementation of the welfare, Church education and international missionary programs."

"They were highly significant years in the history of our Church," says Steven Olsen, assistant director of the Museum of Church History and Art, located in Salt Lake City.

"Kirtland is where a spiritually adventurous people, united by hope and a common objective, first gathered as an organized body of Latter-day Saints. It is where they again were required to sacrifice for their faith, not knowing it would be the training ground for the severe hardships they would endure in Missouri, Illinois and along the 1,300-mile trek to the Rocky Mountains.

"What we're trying to do is restore that vitality of spirit," Olsen says.

The new visitors' center offers an introduction to Historic Kirtland. The 10,000 square-foot, two-story facility includes exhibit rooms with historic photographs of Kirtland and a 120-seat theater featuring a film that introduces visitors to the Kirtland period of Church history. Another room

provides panoramic views of Historic Kirtland and an introduction to each of the restored buildings on the tour.

Also opening its doors today is the John Johnson Inn — the first brick building in Kirtland, originally built in the mid-1820s by Peter French. Reconstructed on the original foundation, its exterior has been rebuilt to look as it did when early Church leaders conducted business and published a newspaper there. It now features a small theater, exhibits on the legacy of Kirtland, and a computer kiosk where visitors can search for their ancestors in a database of about 1,800 families who became members of the Church and lived in the Kirtland area during the 1830s.

The Newel K. Whitney Home, closed in November 2000 after serving as the visitors' center for more than a decade, also reopened following extensive restoration work. Latter-day Saints believe that during the time Joseph Smith lived there, he received several revelations from God that instructed members in basic principles and clearly defined his role as prophet.

An earlier phase of the project included the restoration of the Newel K. Whitney Store in Kirtland and the John Johnson Home in Hiram, Ohio.

Other restoration plans include an 1819 schoolhouse (its foundation recently discovered), a 170-year-old sawmill and an ashery used to make soap and potash.

Church leaders plan to dedicate all of the restored and reconstructed sites in Historic Kirtland by summer 2003 as part of Ohio's bicentennial celebration.

Historic Kirtland is located along the east branch of the Chagrin River, southeast of the point where Routes 306 and 615 meet. These routes were recently realigned, along with Kirtland-Chardon Road, helping to make the village more self-contained.

"We were not the only religious group to settle in Kirtland nor even the first," Brown says. "But we share a heritage of faith with all Kirtland residents, whose city motto is 'City of Faith and Beauty.'

"The restoration work at Historic Kirtland allows us to actively build upon this shared heritage and the interfaith relationships we value so highly."

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