Ground was broken Oct. 10, for a temple in the Detroit area near a road where it is believed the Prophet Joseph Smith once walked en route to Pontiac some 165 years ago.
"It's as if this land has been hidden; waiting to be discovered," Pres. Thomas C. Bithell of the Bloomfield Hills Michigan Stake told the more than 1,000 people who attended the groundbreaking."To the best of my knowledge, nothing has ever been built on this property. It is sacred ground, preserved for this very purpose."
The Detroit Michigan Temple will be built on Church-owned property adjacent to the Bloomfield Hills stake center.
Participating in the groundbreaking ceremony were Elder David E. Sorensen of the Presidency of the Seventy and executive director of the Temple Department and Elder Jay E. Jensen of the Seventy and president of the North America Northeast Area.
The road near where the temple will be built, known today as Woodward Avenue, has historical significance, noted Pres. Bithell. It was built around 1815 by Stephen Mack, brother to Lucy Mack Smith, mother of the Prophet. Stephen Mack was the proprietor of a large mercantile establishment in Detroit who built the turnpike road from Detroit to his farm in Pontiac at his own expense.
In 1831, a year after the Church was organized, Lucy Mack Smith came to Detroit to visit relatives. While there, Stephen Mack's widow, Temperance, joined the Church.
That same year the first missionaries, including Hyrum Smith, arrived in the area.
"It isn't what you see, it isn't what you hear. It is what you feel when you come," said Elder Sorensen during the groundbreaking ceremonies.
Prior to offering a site dedication prayer, Elder Jensen emphasized that "families can be forever and are ordained by God." He then offered four suggestions to strengthen families and prepare them for the temple: pray as families and individuals that construction will progress on time; hang pictures of temples in homes where children will see and someday wish to attend; gather family histories; and obtain a temple recommend.
Elder W.E. Barry Mayo, Area Authority Seventy, conducted the groundbreaking ceremony. After extending greetings to Benjamin Hoffiz, mayor of Bloomfield Hills, who attended, Elder Mayo paid tribute to a person who "made a great contribution to this temple. One whose talents were not recognized in his lifetime despite many noteworthy achievements.
"His name is Elijah, an Old Testament prophet and worker of great miracles," Elder Mayo said. "The tradition that Elijah would return again is so firmly established that there are religious festivals practiced today in which an empty chair and an open door await his coming.
"Our message is: Close the door, put away the chair. Elijah has already come."
Pres. Bithell recounted the history of the Church in Detroit, a city founded on July 24, 1701, 146 years before the pioneers would enter the Salt Lake Valley.
He told how the Church bought nearly eight acres of property in 1956 for construction of the area's first stake center. Because more land had been purchased than the typical four to five acres needed for a stake center, there was discussion to sell the extra acreage.
But Pres. George Romney, first stake president in Michigan and eventual governor of the state, felt strongly that the land should not be sold. Following the dedication of the stake center by President David O. Mckay in 1957, interest in selling the land generally subsided.
After learning of the Church's intention to build a temple in Detroit, Pres. Bithell examined the various Church-owned properties to recommend for a suitable location in the area.
"I visited and photographed a number of potential locations and tried to envision a place for a temple, but each seemed to have something that kept it from being the choice.
"The last property I visited was this one," he continued. "I began at the back. I thought that would be the most likely location. I walked around the grass and up to here. I walked over to the far north border. I was very surprised at the size of this lot.
"The more I looked and contemplated, the more it seemed to be the right location."
After meeting with real estate representatives and architects for the Church, "the more we saw, the more apparent it became that this was the correct location."
Over the years, this property "has been landscaped with grass and trees and kept free of weeds and litter, but hasn't been used for anything else. Now, it will be the location for one of the first 100 temples of the final dispensation," Pres. Bithell said.