Nauvoo, Palmyra, Far West, Kirtland—all of these are names that have deep meaning to us. They are places where Joseph Smith, the first prophet of this dispensation, lived, worked, and received revelations for the Church. They are places that saw both miracles and faithlessness, joy and sorrow, spiritual manifestations and apostasy. In those early locations of the Church men and women developed the spiritual greatness that caused their names to be revered by the generations that followed: Brigham Young, John Taylor, Parley P. Pratt, Edward Partridge, and many more. In such places as Independence, Far West, Kirtland, the early Saints were tried and tested by mobs, by treacherous public officials, and by traitors and apostates from within.
On the pages that follow, we present scenes of Church historical sites as they exist today. Much has been done to restore portions of Nauvoo to what it probably looked like when the Saints lived there. But most other sites have changed greatly from what they were. Some homes have been remodeled and added to. Many of them are far more luxurious than the original buildings that played a role in Church history. Others have been completely destroyed, and only foundation stones or historical markers indicate where they stood. On the other hand, the peaceful rivers, fertile farms, and gently rolling hills are probably much the same as they were nearly 150 years ago.
Topsfield had been the site of the Smith family estate for many years when Joseph Smith Sr. was born there on 12 July 1771.
The entire Smith family moved to Tunbridge, Vermont in 1791. At Tunbridge, Joseph Sr., at age 25, married 19-year-old Lucy Mack; and here Alvin, Hyrum, Sophronia, and Samuel H. were born to them.
In 1804, due to financial setbacks, the Smith family rented a farm from Lucy Mack Smith’s family in Sharon. Joseph Smith Sr. cultivated the land during the summer and taught at the village school during the winter. It was on the Mack farm that Joseph Smith Jr. was born December 23, 1805.
On the one-hundredth anniversary of his birth, the Joseph Smith monument, a 38 1/2 foot granite shaft (one foot for each year of the Prophet’s life) was erected at this site and was dedicated by President Joseph F. Smith, the Prophet’s nephew.
It was here that the Smith family had three successive crop failures which encouraged their move to Palmyra, New York.
Joseph Smith Jr. was ten years old when the family moved to Palmyra. Two years later the Smith family purchased one hundred acres of unimproved land, mostly timber, two miles south of Palmyra. They lived first in a log cabin, but after a few years, Alvin, the eldest son, took the lead in erecting a large, nine-room frame house for his parents.
Four Corners, Palmyra, New York.
At the intersection of Main Street and Highway 21 in Palmyra is “Four Corners” as it is locally known. The churches of the Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and Baptist faiths each occupy a corner here. Though none of the buildings are old enough to date back to the spring of 1820, they recall the religious conflict that caused Joseph to retire to the Grove to ask, “Which church is right?”
The Sacred Grove.
The Sacred Grove to which young Joseph retired to pray in the spring of 1820 is one-quarter mile west from his parents’ home on the Smith homestead. He left the Grove possessing more knowledge of the Godhead and the adversary than any mortal then on the earth.
In visions received from 1823 to 1827, Joseph was directed to an elongated hill, later to be identified as Cumorah, four miles south of the village of Palmyra. There he was shown a stone box containing the golden plates.
Martin Harris Farm.
When translation of the Book of Mormon was completed, Martin Harris, a wealthy farmer of Palmyra, mortgaged his farm for three thousand dollars to pay for the printing of the first 5,000 copies. He later became one of the Three Witnesses.
Brook on Smith Farm.
This is where some of the first baptisms may have been performed.
Harmony is Emma’s birthplace. After their marriage in 1827 Joseph purchased from his father-in-law, for $200, 13 1/2 acres of land. The young couple then moved into a three-room house located on the site. It was Joseph and Emma’s first home. Near here on the banks of the Susquehanna River the Aaronic Priesthood was restored. A short time later, in an unknown secluded spot, they received the Melchizedek Priesthood.
On Tuesday, April 6, 1830, Joseph Smith Jr., Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, Peter Whitmer, Jr., David Whitmer, and Samuel H. Smith met in the 20-foot square log cabin of Peter Whitmer Sr. at Fayette, Seneca County, New York and organized the Church.
At Fayette, the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon received their divine testimony. Also, twenty of the revelations recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants were given to the Prophet here, as well as the words of Moses and the prophecy of Enoch, published in the Pearl of Great Price.
In December 1830 the Prophet received a revelation (D&C 37, 38) to take the members, probably 200 in number, westward to Kirtland, Ohio.
Forty-six recorded revelations were given while the Prophet resided in Kirtland.
As early as December 1832 the Lord commanded a temple to be built here. The temple dedication took place March 27, 1836, and one week later, April 3, 1836, glorious manifestations were given. Standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, Jesus the Christ accepted the temple. Visitations of Moses, Elias, and Elijah followed, each bestowing his keys to the Prophet of this Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. The purpose of the temple has been fulfilled.
In the Kirtland era hundreds of missionaries were sent, the First Presidency was organized, Joseph Smith Sr. became the first patriarch, Kirtland Stake was organized, Zion’s Camp was organized, the Council of the Twelve and the First Council of the Seventy were organized.
From the fall of 1831 to April 1832 the Prophet Joseph was a guest at the John Johnson home in Hiram. The Prophet directed the Church from here, received numerous revelations, worked on the Inspired Version of the Bible. Conferences were held here, and the members assembled voted to publish the Book of Commandments, now the Doctrine and Covenants.
In March 1832 at Hiram, the Prophet Joseph and Sidney Rigdon were taken by a mob, tarred and feathered and otherwise brutally treated.
When the Prophet came to Independence in July 1831, he revealed that the area was to be designated and consecrated as the “City of Zion.” A temple would be built here. Sections 57 through 60 of the D&C [D&C 57–60] were received here and the temple site of 63.27 acres was purchased in December 1831, but persecution in the next two years forced the Latter-day Saints to leave before construction could begin.
Far West was the headquarters of the Church from 1836 to 1839, and D&C 114–115 and D&C 117–119 were received here. In the summer of 1837 preparations were begun for a temple. The cornerstone ceremony took place 4 July 1838, but no more was completed at that time. President Joseph F. Smith, sixth President of the Church, was born here November 13, 1838.
The Prophet Joseph Smith by revelation in May 1838 designated the place near Spring Hill, as the place where Adam assembled and blessed his descendants three years before his own mortal passing. It is also where, at some future time, “he will call his children together and hold a council with them to prepare them for the coming of the Son of Man.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 157; see also D&C 116, D&C 107:53; Dan. 7:9–14.)
The years from 1839 to 1846 for the Saints in Nauvoo were glorious and tragic years. Nauvoo, Hebrew for “beautiful location,” grew from a small town on the Mississippi River named Commerce to a city with a population of 12,042. Fine homes were built, and here life on the American frontier was at its best.
Nauvoo represents a period in which the organization of the Church was strengthened. A temple was planned, built, and dedicated. The Prophet Joseph gave the endowment to selected Church leadership, May 4, 1842, in the room over his store. These ordinances were later administered in the Nauvoo Temple to as many Saints as possible.
The Relief Society was organized for the women of the Church on March 17, 1842. In Nauvoo in 1839, the ecclesiastical term ward became known and three were organized.
Briefly after the martyrdom of the Prophet and Patriarch—Joseph and Hyrum—Nauvoo became the “City of Joseph.”
But with the departure of the Saints from Nauvoo in 1846, the glory of that area was gone. The temple was destroyed by arsonists and the walls were later blown down by a tornado.
Carthage Jail is the site of the assassination of Joseph Smith Jr. and his brother Hyrum, on June 27, 1844. They had been jailed on false charges of treason. An armed mob stormed the building and shot the two brothers.
In February 1846 during the mass departure of Saints from Nauvoo, the weather was extremely cold, allowing long caravans of wagons to stretch out across the Mississippi River over a solid flow of ice extending from bank to bank, a distance of one mile.