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Historic Kirtland, Ohio

Once-bustling community restored to 1830s beauty

Plaque near Whitney home details contributions of Newel K. and Elizabeth Ann Whitney, early members who consecrated land to the Church. Newel also served as bishop.
Plaque near Whitney home details contributions of Newel K. and Elizabeth Ann Whitney, early members who consecrated land to the Church. Newel also served as bishop. Photo: Photo by Shaun Stahle

KIRTLAND, Ohio — Kirtland was a bustling community that rivaled nearby Cleveland in the 1830s. The seven-year period of 1831-1838 when the Church was headquartered here was a time of unparalleled spiritual outpouring. Here, the First Presidency was organized, the first stake was organized, priesthood quorums were organized and the first temple of this dispensation was dedicated. In the upper room of the Newel K. Whitney store, in the room of the School of the Prophets, the first missionary training effort began.

During the next century, after the early members left the area, some buildings were destroyed by fire, others were flooded. Still others were altered to become taverns. With the groundbreaking of a meetinghouse in 1979 and the formation of the Kirtland Ohio Stake in 1983, the Church began acquiring historic properties.

Over time, one by one, pieces began to fall into place until it was possible for six structures to be built that restore the historic district to some semblance of the time when the Church flourished here.

"I want to say that what has happened here will be viewed by those of future generations who will come to this place in large numbers and here reflect on the marvelous things that occurred here," said President Gordon B. Hinckley in a service to dedicate the buildings May 18.

"There is now in place a fitting kind of memorial wherever our people stopped in the great journey made from New York to the valley of the Great Salt Lake."

In April 2000, plans were announced to build Historic Kirtland by reconstructing and restoring buildings to their 1830s appearance. Plans called for the construction of six structures, including a new visitors center, as well as replicas of the one-room school house, ashery, sawmill and John Johnson Inn. The home of Newel and Elizabeth Whitney was also to be restored to original design.

The visitors center, the largest and most prominent building, is a white-sided building designed in the shape of a grist mill. The 10,000 square-foot center includes a 120-seat theater where a newly produced film depicting the epic history of Kirtland is shown. A side room offers a panoramic view of Historic Kirtland.

A replica of the John Johnson Inn has been constructed on the exact location of the original inn built in the mid-1820s. Here, Church leaders conducted business. Visitors will find a topographical map of the area and historic manuscripts, including a Bible used by scribes of Joseph Smith to mark translation corrections.

Asheries provided much needed source of income during frontier times. Here, ashes were processed to make pot ash or pearl ash, which were then used to make glass or soap.
Asheries provided much needed source of income during frontier times. Here, ashes were processed to make pot ash or pearl ash, which were then used to make glass or soap. Photo: Photo by Shaun Stahle

A one-room schoolhouse, once the cultural heart of the community, is adjacent to the visitors center. This schoolhouse is an authentic restoration of the school constructed in 1819, which was destroyed by fire in 1860 and covered by four feet of soil from flood waters. Property records pinpointed the location where researchers found the foundation intact.

The sawmill was constructed to cut timber for the temple after owners of other sawmills in the area refused to sell to members. The massive drivetrain and saw runs entirely by water power. The replica sawmill is totally functional but, for safety reasons, only the water wheel is operational. It was built on the location of the original sawmill, using many of the same stones in the foundation.

During construction, workers poured cement footings while water from the nearby Stoney Brook river poured over their heads in subfreezing temperatures. "They felt they were building something special," said Darrin Sweeney, project manager for Keller Carlisle construction. "They worked in freezing temperatures even though their contract didn't require them to. They encouraged each other by saying, 'Remember Kirtland.' "

The ashery was consecrated to the Church by Newel K. Whitney. Ashes from stoves and wood burnings in the fields were sold to the ashery. The ashes were purified and baked into pot ash or pearl ash, and eventually sold to the textile industry on the east coast which then produced such items as glass and soap. The ashery was a cash staple of the time. It helped finance the temple construction and provided work to members arriving in the area.

The home of Newel K. Whitney, a successful young businessman and first bishop in Kirtland, and his wife, Elizabeth Ann, was used in many capacities over the years after the saints left, including a tavern. After the Church bought the Whitney property in the early 1980s, it was renovated and used as a visitors center. After major research, it was returned to its original design.

Meticulous attention to accuracy was paid to each of the settlement's buildings, said Steven Olsen, assistant director of the Museum of Church History and Art who directs restoration of historic sites.

"Many people who come through here won't appreciate the extent to which we've gone to preserve these historical materials," he said. "But for us, it's worth it."

During demonstration, replica sawmill rumbles and roars as the blade whips back and forth ripping the wood. Sawmill is fully operational, but the blade is now disengaged fro visitor safety.

John Johnson Inn where Church leaders met.

Replica of one-room schoolhouse built in 1819.

New visitors center designed in shape of a mill.

Replica sawmill, ashery owned by Newel Whitney.

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