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Historical Sites


A stonemason prepares the base of the obelisk erected in 1905 at Joseph Smith's birthplace in the township of Sharon, Vermont. The inscription is taken from the Title Page of the Book of Mormon and emphasizes the Prophet's role as translator to the book.
 

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by Richard H. Jackson

The sites of historical importance to Latter-day Saints include those associated with Christianity in general (the Holy Land, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jordan River, Mount of Olives, etc.), as well as those directly related to LDS beliefs. The latter mainly include places in the United States associated with the founding and organization of THE CHURCH of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints and its subsequent migrations west. LDS historical sites are important to individual members because of the Church's emphasis on its history and cultural roots rather than as formal pilgrimage destinations (see History, Significance to Latter-day Saints). Church members commonly visit these sites as tourists and, in the process, gain greater personal understanding of the History of the Church and its beliefs.

Many historical sites in the United States were obtained through the efforts of such individuals or entities as Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, Willard W. Bean, Wilford C. Wood, and the Corporation of the Presiding Bishopric of the LDS Church. Most of these sites have been restored to the time of the historical events and are staffed by local unpaid volunteers or missionaries.

Visitors centers are located at several sites, and are free and open to the public. Each location includes displays and literature explaining the site and its significance in Church history. One such site is the Joseph Smith Memorial in Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont. Joseph Smith was born here on December 23, 1805. In 1905 the Church erected a 38.5-foot-high granite monument to commemorate the 38.5 years of his life. A full-time missionary couple live at the home.

Near the village of Palmyra, New York, in the township of Palmyra, is located the site of the log house in which the Smiths resided from 1817 to the early or mid-1820s, and again intermittently until late 1830. In the adjacent township of Manchester is the Smith family farm, existing frame home, sacred grove, and also the hill Cumorah only a few miles southeast of the home. The Sacred Grove is where the boy Joseph received his first vision, the initial event in the restoration of the Church. Latter-day Saints believe that the young Joseph Smith was directed by the angel Moroni to retrieve from the hill Cumorah the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. The first edition of the Book of Mormon was printed in the Grandin Press Building in Palmyra. A mile and one-half north of Palmyra is the farm of Martin Harris, a portion of which was sold to finance the publication of the Book of Mormon. Thirty miles to the southeast is the Peter Whitmer farm in Fayette, New York, where the Church was formally organized in 1830. Yet another hundred miles southeast from Fayette is harmony, pennsylvania, where the majority of the Book of Mormon was translated by Joseph Smith and written down by Oliver Cowdery.

Joseph Smith moved his family to Kirtland, Ohio, in early 1831. They remained there until January 1838, when they fled to Missouri to escape mob violence. Events of importance in the life of Joseph Smith that occurred in Kirtland include receiving many revelations now found in the Doctrine and Covenants and the construction of the first Latter-day Saint temple. The whitney store was the location of many of these events and has been restored. The Kirtland Temple was dedicated on March 27, 1836. It is owned today by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (rlds).

At Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, an LDS visitors center is situated on a portion of the temple lot dedicated by Joseph Smith in 1831. Twelve miles to the north is Liberty Jail in Clay County, Missouri, where Joseph was imprisoned from December 1, 1838, to April 6, 1839. Here he received sections 121-123 of the Doctrine and Covenants. The reconstructed remnant of the jail stands today as a reminder of the trials experienced by the Prophet for his beliefs, of the faithfulness of his followers (some of whom shared the jail with him), and of the suffering of his wife, Emma Smith, and his children during the harsh winter while he was imprisoned. Northeast of Liberty are the historic sites of Far West, in Caldwell County, Missouri, and Adam-ondi-Ahman, in Daviess County, Missouri.

After Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Nauvoo is the second most visited historic location in the Church. Joseph Smith moved to the village of Commerce in Hancock County, Illinois, on May 10, 1839. Purchased by the Church, Commerce was renamed Nauvoo and became a major destination for converts to the Church, reaching a population in excess of 11,000 in 1845, and some 20,000 in the greater area. The Church has obtained a number of the buildings and sites owned by early members in Nauvoo and has restored or reconstructed them to show what life was like for the Saints in Nauvoo.

Near Nauvoo is the town of Carthage, the county seat for Hancock County. Here Joseph Smith was imprisoned on June 25, 1844, and murdered by a mob on June 27. Nauvoo and Carthage Jail are supervised by the Illinois Peoria Mission and full-time missionaries staff them.

Following the martyrdom, the Saints, under the direction of Brigham Young, left Nauvoo in the winter of 1846, founding a number of temporary settlements en route to the West. Winter quarters, Nebraska (now Florence, a suburb of Omaha), on the west bank of the Missouri River, and Kanesville, Iowa (now council bluffs), on the east bank, were the locations of a large settlement in the fall and winter of 1846-1847, remaining there until 1852. The Winter Quarters cemetery is all that remains of this historical site today.

The Mormon Trail to Utah has a number of monuments and historic sites. Salt Lake City has numerous historical sites. Temple Square with the temple, tabernacle, assembly hall, and visitors center is the most visited site in the Church. Other sites include "this is the place" monument, the Beehive and Lion houses built and occupied by Brigham Young, and the nearby cemetery with his grave.

The Church also maintains three historic sites in St. George, Utah: the Brigham Young winter home, representing the LDS expansion southward along the valleys of the Intermountain West; the St. George Tabernacle, an epitome of the construction of large assembly halls in the major communities settled by Latter-day Saints; and the St. George Temple, the first temple completed in Utah. The temple's dedication in 1877 demonstrated the commitment of the Latter-day Saints to temple work and to establishing permanent communities in the Intermountain West. It is an important example of LDS architecture of the period. And in nearby Santa Clara stands the home of Jacob Hamblin, one of the earliest missionaries to the Indians in southern Utah.

These and other historic sites serve as reminders of the humble yet extraordinary beginnings of the Church and of the sacrifices made by those individuals who committed their lives to follow its teachings.

(See Daily Living home page; Church History home page)

Illustrations

Church historical sites with visitors centers, 1990.

Visitors center and monument near Sharon, Vermont, at the birthplace of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Obelisk rises 38.5 feet—one foot for each year of Joseph Smith's life. This cottage and monument were dedicated on December 23, 1905, the centennial anniversary of the Prophet's birth. Courtesy University of Utah.

LDS HISTORICAL SITES WITH FULL-TIME STAFF

Main Historic Dates

1805

1817-1818

1820

1823-1827

1827-1831

1829-1830

1829-1831

1831-1833

1831-1833

1831-1838

1831-1838

1836-1838

1838-1839

1839-1846

1844

1846-1848

1847

1847-1848

1854

1863-1869

1867

1869-1877

1875 (Ded.)

1878 (Est.)

 

Place/Location

Joseph Smith Memorial; Sharon, Vt.

Joseph Smith Farm; Manchester, N.Y.

Sacred Grove; Manchester, N.Y.

Hill Cumorah; Manchester, N.Y.

Martin Harris Farm; Palmyra, N.Y.

Grandin Press Building; Palmyra, N.Y.

Peter Whitmer, Sr., Farm; Fayette, N.Y.

John Johnson Home; Hiram, Ohio

Independence Temple Site; Independence, Mo.

Newel K. Whitney Store; Kirtland, Ohio

Newel K. Whitney Home; Kirtland, Ohio

Kirtland Temple (RLDS owned and staffed); Kirtland, Ohio

Liberty Jail; Liberty, Mo.

Nauvoo (LDS and RLDS sites); Nauvoo, Ill.

Carthage Jail; Carthage, Ill.

Winter Quarters; Omaha (Florence), Nebr.

Temple Square; Salt Lake City, Utah

Mormon Battalion Duty Station; San Diego, Calif.

Beehive House; Salt Lake City, Utah

Jacob Hamblin Home; Santa Clara, Utah

Cove Fort; Cove Fort, Utah

Brigham Young Winter Home; St. George, Utah

St. George Tabernacle; St. George, Utah

Thomas L. Kane Memorial Chapel; Kane, Pa.

 

Bibliography

Burton, Alma P. Mormon Trail from Vermont to Utah: A Guide to Historical Places of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, 1966.

Kimball, Stanley B. Historic Sites and Markers Along the Mormon and Other Great Western Trails. Urbana, Ill., 1988.

Oscarson, R. Don, and Stanley B. Kimball. The Travellers' Guide to Historic Mormon America. Salt Lake City, 1990, revised.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, Historical Sites

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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