Church life in Kirtland, Ohio, from 1831 to 1834 revolved around the Newel K. Whitney and Co. store. For eighteen months, this store served as the headquarters of the Church, and it was here that the First Presidency was given the keys of the kingdom. (See D&C 90:6; History of the Church, 1:334.) Joseph Smith and his family also lived here for eighteen months. During that time, the Prophet finished his work on the texts of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible.
In addition, some of the most sacred events of early Church history took place in an upstairs room at a conference held 23 January 1833. Further, the ordinance of the washing of feet was given here for the first time in this dispensation. (See History of the Church, 1:323–24. See also D&C 88:138–41.) Several of those present experienced “divine manifestations of the Holy Spirit,” including a vision of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.
In recent times, on 18 November 1988, the United States President’s Historic Preservation Award was given to Church authorities in a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C., in recognition of the excellent restoration of this building.
In History of the Church, Elder B. H. Roberts quotes the following from the Newell K. Whitney family’s history:
“‘About the first of February, 1831, a sleigh containing four persons drove through the streets of Kirtland and drew up in front of the store of Gilbert and Whitney. One of the men, a young and stalwart personage alighted, and springing up the steps walked into the store and to where the junior partner was standing. “Newel K. Whitney! Thou art the man!” he exclaimed, extending his hand cordially, as if to an old and familiar acquaintance. “You have the advantage of me,” replied the merchant, as he mechanically took the proffered hand, “I could not call you by name as you have me.” “I am Joseph the Prophet,” said the stranger smiling. “You’ve prayed me here, now what do you want of me?”’ The Prophet, it is said, while in the East had seen the Whitneys in vision, praying for his coming to Kirtland. ‘Mother Whitney’ [Elizabeth Ann, wife of Newel] also tells how on a certain night prior … , while she and her husband were praying to the Lord to know how they might obtain the gift of the Holy Ghost, which of all things they desired, they saw a vision as of a cloud of glory resting upon their house, and heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Prepare to receive the word of the Lord, for it is coming’” (History of the Church, 1:146).
Elder Orson Hyde, who became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, wrote:
“I attended the Saints’ meeting in Kirtland, Sunday, October 30, 1831, and offered myself a candidate for baptism, which was administered to me by the hands of Elder Sidney Rigdon; was confirmed and ordained an elder in the Church on the same day under the hands of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and Sidney Rigdon. Not until about three days after did I receive any internal evidence of the special approbation of Heaven of the course I had taken. When one evening behind the counter, the Spirit of the Lord came upon me in so powerful a manner, that I felt like waiting upon no one, and withdrew in private to enjoy the feast alone. This, to me, was a precious season, long to be remembered” (Millennial Star, 26 : 761).
President Brigham Young recalled:
“Over [the] kitchen was situated the room in which the Prophet received revelations and in which he instructed his brethren [the School of the Prophets]. The brethren came to that place for hundreds of miles to attend school in a little room probably no larger than eleven by fourteen [feet—about 3.3 by 4.2 meters]. When they assembled together in this room after breakfast, the first thing they did was to light their pipes, and, while smoking, talk about the great things of the kingdom, and spit all over the room, and as soon as the pipe was out of their mouths a large chew of tobacco would then be taken. Often when the Prophet entered the room to give the school instructions he would find himself in a cloud of tobacco smoke. This, and the complaints of his wife at having to clean so filthy a floor, made the Prophet think upon the matter, and he inquired of the Lord relating to the conduct of the Elders in using tobacco, and the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom was the result of his inquiry” (Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 12:158).
Brother Zebedee Coltrin adds the following information to this story: “When the Word of Wisdom [D&C 89] was first presented by the Prophet Joseph … there were twenty out of the twenty-one who used tobacco and they all immediately threw their tobacco and pipes into the fire” (minutes, Salt Lake City School of Prophets, 3 October 1883, page 56).
Zebedee Coltrin shared the following sacred experience: “At one of these meetings after the organization of the school, (the school being organized on the 23rd of January, 1833), when we were all together, Joseph having given instructions, and while engaged in silent prayer, kneeling, with our hands uplifted each one praying in silence, no one whispered above his breath, a personage walked through the room from east to west, and Joseph asked if we saw him. I saw him and suppose the others did and Joseph answered that is Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother. Afterward Joseph told us to resume our former position in prayer, which we did. Another person came through; he was surrounded as with a flame of fire. … The Prophet Joseph said this was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I saw Him” (minutes, Salt Lake City School of Prophets, 3 October 1883, pages 56–57).
This event was confirmed by John Murdock, missionary companion of Zebedee Coltrin at the time and also present at the meeting: “In one of these meetings the prophet told us if we could humble ourselves before God, and exercise strong faith, we should see the face of the Lord. And about midday the visions of my mind were opened, and the eyes of my understanding were enlightened, and I saw the form of a man, most lovely, the visage of his face was sound and fair as the sun. His hair a bright silver grey, curled in most majestic form, His eyes a keen penetrating blue, and the skin of his neck a most beautiful white and he was covered from the neck to the feet with a loose garment, pure white, whiter than any garment I have ever before seen. His countenance was most penetrating, and yet most lovely. And while I was endeavoring to comprehend the whole personage from head to feet it slipped from me, and the vision was closed up. But it left on my mind the impression of love, for months, that I never felt before to that degree” (John Murdock Journal, typescript, Brigham Young University archives, page 13).
The Prophet Joseph Smith recorded that on 18 March 1833, “Elder Rigdon expressed a desire that himself and Brother Frederick G. Williams should be ordained to the offices to which they had been called, viz., those of Presidents of the High Priesthood, and to be equal in holding the keys of the kingdom with Brother Joseph Smith, Jun., according to the revelation given on the 8th of March, 1833. Accordingly I laid my hands on Brothers Sidney and Frederick, and ordained them to take part with me in holding the keys of this last kingdom, and to assist in the Presidency of the High Priesthood, as my Counselors; after which I exhorted the brethren to faithfulness and diligence in keeping the commandments of God, and gave much instruction for the benefit of the Saints, with a promise that the pure in heart should see a heavenly vision; and after remaining a short time in secret prayer, the promise was verified; for many present had the eyes of their understanding opened by the Spirit of God, so as to behold many things. I then blessed the bread and wine, and distributed a portion to each. Many of the brethren saw a heavenly vision of the Savior, and concourses of angels, and many other things, of which each one has a record of what he saw” (History of the Church, 1:334–35).