In October 1830, one month after being baptized in New York, Parley P. Pratt began his first missionary journey, accompanied by Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer Jr., and Ziba Peterson. They traveled to Ohio to preach to the Native Americans. On their way the missionaries taught the gospel to Sidney Rigdon, a Reformed Baptist minister, and his congregation in Mentor, near Kirtland. Within a few weeks 127 people were baptized, including Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams, and a nucleus for the Church was established in Kirtland. The missionaries later preached to Wyandot Indians in Sandusky, Ohio, and to Delaware Indians in Missouri.
In December 1830, Joseph Smith received a revelation instructing the Church to gather in Ohio (D&C 37). He traveled to Kirtland in February where he and his wife Emma lived for a time with Newel K. Whitney. Kirtland served as Church headquarters from 1831 to 1838. The first stake of the Church was created there in 1834.
Sixty-five of the revelations published in the Doctrine and Covenants were received in Ohio. The growing number of Latter-day Saints, especially in Ohio and Missouri, also led to important organizational developments in the Church. The First Presidency was organized in Kirtland in March 1832, followed by the Kirtland High Council, February 1834; the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, February 1835; and the First Council of the Seventy, also in February 1835.
Lorenzo Snow, president of the Church from 1898 to 1901, was born in Mantua, Ohio, in 1814, attended Oberlin College, and was baptized in Kirtland in June 1836. He embarked on his first mission in the spring of 1837. Many of the Church’s new converts were dispatched from Ohio as missionaries to different parts of the United States, Canada and Great Britain.
An important part of the legacy of the early Church in northeastern Ohio was the construction of the Kirtland Temple. Construction began 5 June 1833 and the finished structure was dedicated by the Prophet Joseph Smith on 27 March 1836. The temple was the site of several heavenly manifestations, including a visit of the Savior and the restoration of priesthood keys by Moses, Elias and Elijah (D&C 110).
The Church established a printing press in Kirtland in December 1833, from which issued the Evening and Morning Star (renamed in 1834 to the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate and in 1837 to the Elders’ Journal) and other important publications. The second edition of the Book of Mormon was printed in Kirtland in 1837.
Kirtland had about 2,500 inhabitants in 1836, half of which were Latter-day Saints, and the Church population was growing. Joseph Smith and others established the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-banking Company in January 1837. A financial panic swept the nation within months and the Kirtland Safety Society failed, closing in November 1837.
The failure fostered ill-will against Joseph Smith and other Latter-day Saints. Several Church members became disaffected in the wake of the bank disaster and anti-Mormons resented the growing political influence of Mormons in Kirtland. Matters came to a head in January 1838 when Joseph Smith and other Church leaders fled Kirtland for Missouri to escape mob violence. That same month the Church printing office in Kirtland was destroyed by arson. In the ensuing months many Latter-day Saints moved from Ohio to Missouri, including a group of 500 that left Kirtland in July under the direction of the First Council of the Seventy in a planned migration called the Kirtland Camp.
Between 1838 and 1839 the approximate number of Latter-day Saints in Kirtland dropped from 2,000 to 100. Latter-day Saint numbers in Ohio remained relatively small for over a century thereafter, though there was a slight resurgence in Kirtland in the early 1840s. The Kirtland Temple was used by different groups until 1879, when a court granted ownership of the edifice to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Missionaries occasionally visited Ohio but it was not part of an organized mission until the late 1870s. Thereafter missionary work was directed by the Northwestern States Mission (renamed Northern States Mission in 1889), 1878-1899; Southern States Mission, 1899-1926; Northern States Mission, 1926-1949; Great Lakes Mission, 1949-1967; and Ohio Mission beginning in 1967 (renamed Columbus Ohio Mission in 1974). Additional missions were organized with headquarters in Cleveland (1977) and Cincinnati (1998). Stakes were organized in Cincinnati (1958), Cleveland (1961) and Columbus (1962). The Columbus Ohio Temple was dedicated 4 Sept. 1999.
Full-time missionaries returned to Kirtland in 1977, the same year the Kirtland Ward was created. In 1979, the Church acquired the Newel K. Whitney store, which became a well-visited historic site. Another important project was the renovation of the John Johnson home in Hiram, which was dedicated 28 Oct. 2001 by President Gordon B. Hinckley.
In April 2000, the Church announced plans for six historic structures in Kirtland, including construction of a replica of the John Johnson Inn and a new visitors center resembling a 19th-century gristmill used by Samuel Whitney, restoration of the Newel K. Whitney home, and replicas of a tannery, an ashery, and a school house.
President Hinckley visited Kirtland 17-18 May 2003 to dedicate the six structures as part of the Ohio Bicentennial celebration. “There is something unique and wonderful about what happened here,” he said. “Nothing like it has occurred anywhere else in the history of the Church, either before or since.”
Membership was 51,406 in 2003. In 2005, membership reached 55,128.
Milton V. Backman Jr., The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830- 1838, 1983; Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, 1985; “Kirtland, Ohio,” 1894, in Historian’s Office letterpress copybook, [ca. 1880-1900], 249, Church Archives; Andrew Jenson, manuscript history of the Church in Ohio, [n.d.], Church Archives; Eliza R. Snow, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, 1884; Marvin S. Hill, C. Keith Rooker, and Larry T. Wimmer, The Kirtland Economy Revisited: A Market Critique of Sectarian Economics, 1977; Andrew Jenson, Encyclopedic History of the Church, 1941; Illinois Chicago Mission (Northern States Mission), manuscript history, Church Archives; Shaun D. Stahle, “Plans Announced to Renovate Six Major Kirtland Structures,” Church News, 29 April 2000; Shaun D. Stahle, “John Johnson Home Will Have Place in History,” Church News, 3 November 2001; Shaun D. Stahle, “Something Unique About Historic Kirtland,” Church News, 24 May 2003.