Kirtland Temple
A National Historic Landmark

Kirtland Temple History

1830-1844: Establish a House

 

The Kirtland Temple
Photo by Val Brinkerhoff
© 2008 Community of Christ
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Nestled in the charming hills of northeastern Ohio, the "House of the Lord" stands as a vivid reminder that Kirtland was once home to some of the 19th century’s most successful community builders. Inspired by the beliefs and practices of the earliest Christians, followers of Joseph Smith, Jr. gathered in Kirtland and built their first temple between 1833 and 1836. Using local sandstone and native timber from surrounding forests, the people worked together to construct what was then one of the largest buildings in northern Ohio. The Kirtland Temple stood at the center of community life for more than 2,000 believers by 1838. Within a year, all but 100 were gone.
 

The Lower Court
Photo by Val Brinkerhoff
© 2008 Community of Christ
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"A House of Prayer"

Imagine 900 to 1,000 people filling the lower court for the dedication of the Kirtland Temple on March 27, 1836. People began gathering around the temple as early as 8 A.M. that morning. Many of the attendants were involved in the construction of the temple. For the rest of the dedication day and future years, the lower court was filled with the sounds of sermons, songs, and prayers. Unique features of the lower court include richly carved wooden pulpits located at both the east and west ends of the room. The multi-leveled pulpits represent the two priesthoods of the church. Early church leaders spoke sermons from both sets of pulpits; pew boxes were fashioned with a moveable bench, allowing their listeners to face either end of the room. Heavily painted curtains hung from the ceiling and acted as room dividers during prayer meetings and weekly services. These dividers allowed the early community members to use the lower court for multiple activities at one time. Choir lofts fill the corners of the room.

"A House of Learning"

 

The Upper Court
Photo by Val Brinkerhoff
© 2008 Community of Christ
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Community members placed such great value on education that they devoted almost two-thirds of the sacred space of the Temple to schooling. The second floor, or Upper Court, was devoted to missionary and priesthood training. The third floor was occupied by the Kirtland High School. Nearly 135 to 140 students filled the attic story learning a variety of lessons in geography, reading, writing, Greek and Latin. The far west room served as classroom space for the first Latter Day Saint seminary, the Kirtland, Ohio, Theological Institution. The Hebrew Grammar class was led by Joshua Seixas, a renowned Hebrew Scholar. It was among the first five seminaries in the state of Ohio. In 1838, the second and third floors continued to be devoted to education as the Western Reserve Teachers’ Seminary rented the space to train teachers.

"A House of Order"

The Kirtland Temple provided administrative space for Latter Day Saint church leaders.

In the evenings, the administrative quorums occupied the third floor. High Priests met on Monday nights, the Seventies on Tuesday nights, and the Elders on Wednesdays. Finally, Joseph Smith, Jr.'s private study is located in the far west office of the third floor. It was in this west office, during a meeting with several church leaders, that the prayer of dedication for the Temple was written.

 

Hebrew Grammar Book on Joseph Smith Jr. Desk
Photo by Val Brinkerhoff
© 2008 Community of Christ
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Office of Joseph Smith Jr., top floor of Temple
Photo by Val Brinkerhoff
© 2008 Community of Christ
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"A Community Divides"

Shortly after the dedication of the temple, the community fell on difficult times. Financial and personal tensions rose between members of the church and with surrounding communities. Much of the tension was caused from the creation of a bank, known as the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Company. This bank, located a few yards from the temple, was opened with hopes of alleviating the economic stresses of the community. Without a charter, the bank quickly lost the support of the surrounding communities and failed within months of opening. Lawsuits and dissent related to the failure of the Kirtland Bank resulted in the breakup of the community in 1838. By 1839, the Latter Day Saint community consisted of only 100 members. Although few in numbers and resources, the community continued to use the temple as a "house of learning" by renting the second and third floors to the Western Reserve Teachers Seminary in 1838 – 1839. Worship services continued in the Lower Court and by 1842, the community increased to 500 members.

 

Scanned image of a bank note
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Many Kirtland residents moved first to northern Missouri and then to Nauvoo, Illinois. Despite the frequent moves the church grew quickly and the teachings of its leaders evolved rapidly. Political, economic and religious differences with neighbors led to conflict, resulting in the death of Joseph Smith Jr. in 1844. Soon after his death, church leaders and the community they worked to establish began to divide.

 


 

 

Kirtland Temple Mission Statement:
Engaging visitors in the legacy of the Kirtland Temple, embracing the sacred and secular significance of the historic site, and promoting religious tolerance and open dialogue among all people.


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Copyright 2012 Community of Christ