The first missionaries known to have visited Kentucky were Samuel H. Smith and Reynolds Cahoon. They passed through the northern part of Kentucky in late June 1831 on their way to Missouri. It is unlikely they preached there. About the same time, Joseph Smith and several others, traveling by steamer on the Ohio River, stopped at Louisville for three days. Because of his desire to preach wherever he could, the Prophet Joseph was likely the first to preach in Kentucky, though no record of converts exists.

After this beginning, missionary work was initiated in Ballard, Carlisle, McCracken, Graves, Calloway, Jefferson, Boone, Kenton, and Campbell counties, and a few branches were organized. The first branch organized was at Drury Creek in Campbell County. It was established in April 1834 by Robert Culbertson. In April 1835, Wilford Woodruff and Warren Parrish crossed into Kentucky from Tennessee, and found that several branches had been formed by earlier missionaries in the region. Among those baptized in Kentucky at this time was Abraham O. Smoot. Prior to returning to Kirtland, Parrish ordained Woodruff an elder on 28 June 1835 at the Eagle Creek Branch. From 23 July 1835 into 1836, Woodruff labored alone in Tennessee and Kentucky. In 1835, James Emmett and Peter Dustin baptized 22 people including Benjamin and David Lewis.

The first conference of the Church in Kentucky was held 26 February 1836, at the home of Lewis Clapp in Calloway County. The first company of Kentucky members to gather with the saints in Missouri left on 19 September 1836. This started what became a 50-year movement of saints from the Southern States area. Missionary work continued until the end of 1839, then began again in 1842. In July 1843, Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff visited Kentucky enroute to the East. Converts were still being baptized a year later when the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred and missionaries were called back to Illinois.

No other missionary work was done until September 1868 when Jesse W. Crosby Jr. and Owen Dix worked in Kentucky with limited success. On 9 October 1876, Kentucky became part of the newly organized Southern States Mission. Persecution dogged missionaries and members through the 1880s, but by the mid-1890s, toleration of the Church and its members improved, perhaps, in part, because the Church announced that it was discontinuing the practice of plural marriage. By 1900, there were about 1,700 members of the Church in Kentucky.

Kentucky became part of the Middle States Mission on 28 June 1902. When that mission was closed on 7 August 1903, Kentucky returned to the Southern States Mission.

On 27 November 1906, Elders George Albert Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve with Brigham H. Roberts, of the Seventy, visited Louisville while on a tour of the Kentucky Conference. In 1907, M. P. Stinson and Kossnth Dyal visited the tiny community of Jonah, several miles east of Lebanon, and baptized Alfred Crews and his wife, Fannie. In late 1908 or early 1909, the Jonah Fork Branch of the Kentucky Conference was organized. One of the first Church buildings in Kentucky was completed at Jonah and dedicated in 1910.

With the advent of the automobile and improved roads, Bradfordsville, six miles west of Jonah and seven or eight miles south of Lebanon, became the gathering place for Saints from the surrounding communities. As missionary activity in the region continued, meetings were held in homes and the outdoors into the 1930s. One annual tradition was a July 4th fish fry, attended by up to 200 people, including many non-members of the Church. Fiddle and banjo music accompanied the meal, which was followed by preaching by the elders.

Joseph Fielding Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve toured the mission and spoke in Richardsville, Madisonville and Louisville on 7, 8, and 10 November 1929, respectively. President Heber J. Grant visited the mission in 1934, speaking in Louisville on 21 January and Winchester on 22 January.

On 1 January 1929, Kentucky was placed in the jurisdiction of the East Central States Mission with headquarters in Louisville. The mission name was changed to the Kentucky Louisville Mission on 20 June 1974.

Membership in the state in 1930 was 2,879 in the Kentucky and East Kentucky districts, with a total of six branches that had meetinghouses: Grant’s Leek, Kentenia, Martin, Owingsville, Louisville, and Larkin.

George Albert Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve visited Louisville Kentucky on 28 November 1929. On 22 June 1941, Joseph Fielding Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve visited Kentucky while on a tour of the East Central States Mission. In October 1949, Harold B. Lee of the Quorum of the Twelve visited Kentucky while on a tour of the mission. Membership continued to grow and many meetinghouses were built during the 1950s and 1960s.

On 17 January 1971, the Louisville Stake, the first in Kentucky, was formed with wards in Fort Knox, Louisville, and New Albany, and branches in Lebanon, Salem, and Sulphur Well.

In 1990, Dan Kelly was elected state senator, the first Latter-day Saint to be elected to a state office.

The Louisville Kentucky Temple was dedicated 19 March 2000 by President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency.

In 2002, membership reached 25,049. In 2005, membership reached 29,328.


Sources: Andrew Jenson, Encyclopedic History of the Church, 1941; LaMar C. Berrett, History of the Southern States Mission, thesis 1960; Ronald G. Watt, “His First Fruits,” Church News, 30 January 1971; Mike Cannon, “My Old Kentucky Home,” Church News, 27 August 1977; Southern States Mission, Manuscript history and historical report, Church Archives.

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