LDS Church History Pilgrimage | A Photo Travel Journal
New England Church History Tour – An LDS Family Pilgrimage
We followed the map along the red arrows from left to right.
FIRST STOP: Kirtland.
Working somewhat backwards on our North East Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints history spring break tour… we drove from Charlotte to the Cleveland area. Who heads NORTH for Spring Break? Next year I’m already planning on FLORIDA.
Just north of Kirtland a few miles is Lake Erie… and at the end of March it was STILL frozen over and yeah. COLD.
In the early 1830s, the small LDS population moved from Western New York to the North Eastern corner of Ohio. As many as 1500 ‘saints’ were there by the end of the 1830s when they felt compelled to move further west. (The Mid-West version of a church history tour and pilgrimage is hopefully next on the Roger’s future travel plans!) But at the time the first church members arrived Kirtland was a small frontier town. And the winter weather in the mid 1800s was MUCH colder than it is now. We were freezing. Imagine showing up with nowhere to live?!
The LDS church has slowly been purchasing historic homes and stores in the ‘Historic District’ of Kirtland since the 1930s. Refurbishing original buildings like the Whitney Store above. We were told it is about 80% original. And the Whitney home is just left of the store… below.
I was fascinated with the furnishings of the store and the home. All the period pieces carefully located and placed just so. In a museum fashion.
In the center image is the ACTUAL table owned by Joseph Smith and very likely something he would have used while studying and writing down Revelations later canonized into the Doctrine & Covenants. (The translation of the Book of Mormon was complete by this time point.)
Here we are listening to two Sister Missionaries (young women who opt to volunteer for 18 months on a mission for the Latter-Day Saints Church). When you first stop in to Historic Kirtland, you first enter a Visitor’s Center where you will be greeted by Missionaries for the Church. And you can watch a 15 minute video about the Kirtland area, featuring the Whitney family. They are your tour guides and can answer lots of questions about the history and the Church Doctrine as well.
They lead you through a spiritual journey asking questions and encouraging you to imagine life during this time and contemplate the spiritual nature of the area.
The Church more recently built a working replica of a Wood Mill in the site where one once existed. All the pulleys and levers were fascinating. (And I love the lighting in the mill working room, where they would have built the more intricate pieces for the Kirtland Temple.) THAT WINDOW LIGHT!? WOW.
Which leads me to the actual Kirtland Temple.
It’s such a fascinating building. And its history is just as fascinating. Early church members built the 3 story structure more than 175 years ago. It was the largest building in North East Ohio for most of the 1800s. The ‘Saints’ left the Kirtland area just a few years after it was built and dedicated. Abandoning their beloved temple and yet again heading further West to avoid persecution. Around 1500 members lived in the Kirtland, Ohio area by the end.
The Kirtland Temple after several years of little use and mis-use was claimed by several splinter Latter-Day Saint groups. Eventually the Reorganized LDS church began using it and by 1901 was granted title by adverse possession. Later the R-LDS Church changed their name to The Community of Christ. And they currently own and operate the Temple. They offer tours for $3/person just after you watch a well done documentary about the Temple and their faith.
It is a beautiful building and has undergone massive refurbishment. For example: none of the outer windows are original and have been replaced. As well as parts of the cupola. And the outside of the building was more blue/grey originally not white. We were respectfully asked to not take photos inside the temple.
The tour of the building was well done, but I was slightly surprised at the tour guide’s animosity towards my family. She was very knowledgeable about the building but she also made a lot of assumptions about us and kept saying things like: you already know… THIS or THAT etc… and several times she yelled at us as we inadvertently leaned on something inside the building. I kept thinking, you could just tell us to be careful not to lean on something before we were near it, instead of yelling at us the second you ‘caught’ us. I got the feeling she was waiting for us to make a mistake the whole time?
It was a weird experience to say the least. And a big contrast to the previous experience down the hill in Historic Kirtland, where the young Sister Missionaries were kind and willing to listen to us and answer anything we asked.
SECOND STOP: Niagara Falls
Technically the Falls have no real bearing on our church history trip. But the early members did utilize the Erie Canal for their journey from Western New York to Kirtland. And the Canal ends just upstream from the falls. Plus Buffalo (a few miles south of Niagara) is pretty much on the route from Kirtland to Palmyra where much of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints gets its roots. Where the Smith family farmed and where Joseph Smith had his first vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ as two separate beings. Later he would also see Moroni, a resurrected prophet from the Book of Mormon times and where he was directed to locate the Gold Plates, which he would translate and became scripture: The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ… and the reason for the Church’s nickname, The Mormons. Palmyra is south of Rochester.
It was around 10AM on a blustery late March day and believe me… people will literally SHOUT AT YOU to view the Falls from the Canadian side… we figured we better do as people suggest! Plus all the main attractions on the US Side … Maid of the Mist and the Caves are all closed this time of year.
We had a short border crossing and found easy parking on the Canadian – AKA Looks like the Vegas Strip – side. Due to the freezing weather and little bit of snow there were very few people around. And I’m sure the Falls have a very different look in Summer, the winter wonderland ice scape definitely had it’s own beauty. I was struck by the turquoise colored water at the bottom of the falls? They definitely weren’t frozen over (something that hasn’t happened since the mid 1800s btw) but all the snow and ice at the bottom of the Falls was confusing? It looked like it would dam up the water, but didn’t.
The overcast sky and lack of really any greenery made it seem like a black and white painting. And as far as photographing it I thought it was wonderful! But I must say I’ve seen bigger prettier water falls in my travels.
Still. I can finally say: I’ve been to Niagara Falls.
AND IT WAS COLD!
Such a gorgeous FROZEN view at the bottom of the Falls.
THIRD STOP: Palmyra, NY
Palmyra is several hours east of Niagara Falls through miles and miles of vineyards and wineries (which is slightly ironic since Mormons don’t drink alcohol…). But it was pretty countryside even in the dreary last throes of winter. We got off the freeway for an hour or so to enjoy the small towns and Victorian homes dotted along the route.
We first drove in to the town of Palmyra to see the famed ‘burned over district’ as the whole of Western New York was referred to in the 1820s. Because of the all the Religious fervor. There are 4 different church denominations on facing 4 corners here to prove it.
We missed it this trip but the Church now owns the original Grandin Building where the Book of Mormon was first published there in downtown Palmyra.
Only a few miles south of Palmyra is the location of the Joseph Smith, Sr. Family farm. There is a visitor’s center, the original site of the family log home (rebuilt on the original foundation), the original frame home the family built but only lived in a few years as well and a threshing barn and coopers barn both built more recently as they would have looked in the 1820s.
The log home rebuilt on the original foundation.
The Smith Frame Home about 80% original, refurbished by the Church.
This is the view out the back window of the log home… likely facing the wooded area Joseph Smith, Jr. described when he went to utter his first prayer aloud and where he would first see God the Father and Jesus Christ… telling him to join none of the churches.
We walked down the path into what Church members think of as ‘The Sacred Grove’. Not knowing for sure where young Joseph knelt in prayer, there are several paths and benches throughout the grove. And the overall feeling is calm and contemplative. We were there on March 30. His vision would have taken place in spring not long after.
It’s worth coming back to the Palmyra area in late summer when the Hill Cumorah Pageant is running. Just down the street from the Smith farm is the Cumorah Hill where the Gold plates were located and another large Visitor’s Center is there as well, plus the newly built Palmyra Temple as well.
FORTH STOP: Fayette, NY
The Peter Whitmer Sr. Farm, where the first Church meeting of the Church was officially held.
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery lived here for some months while finishing the translation of the Book of Mormon. David Whitmer was one of 5 sons of the Whitmer family and his family graciously allowed the two men to live and complete the work here.
This building is not the original building but the acreage of farm is the original spot. The logs and boards were donated to build the replica from a local in the area who we learned later joined the church.
This upper room space would have been something like where Oliver and Joseph completed the translation.
This space on the main floor of the building is where the Church was first organized.
FIFTH STOP: Susquehanna River over the border in Pennsylvania.
Not far south of Fayette where the Susquehanna River bends and dips across the border south into Pennsylvania is an area where Joseph Smith was living with his Wife Emma and about a year before the Church was formerly organized in the Whitmer Farmhouse.
At this time, Joseph and Oliver were translating and reading about the Priesthood. They retired to the woods near the house and prayed for an answer. Once again the heavens opened and John the Baptist appeared to them. He explained that he was sent to bring back – or we say: RESTORE the Aaronic Priesthood. As in the same priesthood that existed in the primitive church when Christ was on the Earth. Nearby after the vision the two baptized each other in the Susquehanna River. Later that same month Peter, James and John – The first presidency of the primitive church, also appeared and restored the Melchizedek Priesthoood… or the Higher Priesthood.
A marker near the river marks the area for people to see. And for a long time there was nothing much else to see in this area. However the Church is in the process of building structures near the marker to commemorate the Priesthood Restoration event and a visitor center as well.
This completed our North East Church History Tour. People also travel to Sharon, Vermont a sleepy little town where Joseph Smith, Jr. was born. The family moved to the Palmyra area of NY a few years later.
A ‘Road Trip’ Picture along the route in Western New York.. Pretty much what MOST of the Western State looks like!
My oldest will graduate this year and we kind of felt like it might be our last ‘Spring Break’ trip together. So it was fitting that we spent it on a family Pilgrimage to Church History sites. Plus this year in Early Morning Seminary (read more about what that is) — I am teaching and my daughter is studying; Church History and the Doctrine & Covenants.