The Kirtland Temple is a National Historic Landmark in Kirtland, Ohio, USA. It is owned and operated by the Community of Christ, formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS). This was the first temple to the Latter-day saints. The design mixes Federal, Greek Revival and Gothic Revival architectural elements.
Each year tens of thousands take tours of the temple. The Community of Christ allows various denominations to hold 50 to 60 worship services and educational events each year. There are also community Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Holy Week services that are held at the temple each year.
The Temple was not originally white on the exterior as it is today. The original exterior was a bluish-gray according to Truman Coe, a local minister in the 1830s. The roof is believed to have been red, and the front doors olive green. Presently, only the doors are the original color.
The first structure of its kind to be built by the Saints, the Kirtland Temple is similar in purpose from the Nauvoo temple built in the 1840s. Both Kirtland and Nauvoo had 2 large assembly halls, while only Nauvoo would have a font, and only Nauvoo would use the Attic space for the endowment. (Neither proxy baptism or the endowment had been instituted by the time the Saints moved from Kirtland. It is different in both design and purpose from the temples built by the Church today. St. George Temple was initially built similar with 2 assembly halls. It has since been remodeled to match modern temple use.
The lower inner court is still used primarily for various worship services. It has two sets of pulpits, one set on either end, and the pews featured an adjustable design which allowed the audience to face either end. The second floor was designed for education, and was to house a school for church leaders known as the “School of Mine Apostles” (School of the Prophets). Use of the third floor alternated between general academic classes during the day, Church quorum meetings in the evenings, the Kirtland Theological Institution, the School of the Elders (possibly an enlargement of the school of the prophets, and may have been destined to become the school of mine apostles), Church offices, including that of Joseph, were also located on the third floor.
Beginning in 1831, members of the Church began to gather in the Kirtland area. In December 1832 Joseph Smith received a revelation that called for the construction of a house of worship, education, and order. On May 6, 1833, Joseph reported that he had received a revelation from God, directing members of the church to construct “a house… wholly dedicated unto the Lord for the work of the presidency,” “dedicated unto the Lord from the foundation thereof, according to the order of the priesthood.”
Directions were given to build a “lower court and a higher court,” and a promise given that the Lord’s “glory shall be there, and [his] presence shall be there.” D&C 94:3-9
“Joseph received the word of the Lord for him to take his two counselors, Frederick G. Williams and Sidney Rigdon, and come before the Lord and He would show them the plan or model of the house to be built. We went upon our knees, called on the Lord, and the building appeared within viewing distance. I being the first to discover it. Then all of us viewed it together. After we had taken a good look at the exterior, the building seemed to come right over us, and the makeup of this hall seemed to coincide with what I there saw to a minutia.” 
According to Leonard Arrington’s economic history of the Latter Day Saint movement, Great Basin Kingdom, the completed temple had cost $40,000.
Temples of nearly identical design were planned at about the same time period in Missouri at Temple Lot (in Independence), Far West, and Adam-ondi-Ahman. However, none were built because of the 1838 Mormon War which evicted the members from the state.
Many members of the Church were important to the construction of the Kirtland Temple. Of particular note is Artemus Millet. He has been credited by many for providing the method of the exterior wall construction, head mason, creating the mix of the exterior stucco, and as the superintendent of construction for a portion of the work. There is some disagreement as to the question if Millet was baptized before or after his building skills were needed and recommended by Brigham and Joseph Young. Either way, he was baptized by Brigham Young and Confirmed by Joseph Young while in Canada, and Millet came afterwards to help provide methods, labor, and financial support for the building of the Kirtland Temple.   
The temple was dedicated in an eight-hour service on March 27, 1836. A reported “one thousand persons” attended the gathering, which introduced such traditional dedication rites as the Hosanna Shout and singing of W. W. Phelps’s hymn “The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning.” Following a two-and-a-half hour sermon given by church leader Sidney Rigdon, Smith offered a dedicatory prayer that had been prepared by a committee of church leaders, which he indicated was given to him by revelation. Two other church leaders, Brigham Young and David W. Patten, were reported to have been inspired to speak in tongues following the prayer (Messenger and Advocate (March 1836)). Truman O. Angell recorded in his journal the following account:
“When about midway during the prayer, there was a glorious sensation passed through the house [Kirtland Temple]; and we, having our heads bowed in prayer, felt a sensation very elevating to the soul. At the close of the prayer, F. G. Williams being in the upper east stand- -Joseph being in the speaking stand next below–rose and testified that midway during the prayer an holy angel came and seated himself in the stand. When the afternoon meeting assembled, Joseph, feeling very much elated, arose the first thing and said the personage who had appeared in the morning was the Angel Peter come to accept the dedication.”
Visions and miracles
On January 21, 1836, before the temple was completed, Smith reported the first of several visions received at the temple. As he and his associates performed a feet washing and anointing ritual, he saw “the celestial kingdom of God, and the glory thereof… [and] the blazing throne of God, whereon was seated the Father and the Son.” Smith also reported seeing Adam, Abraham, and three family members, only one of which had previously died; this experience of Smith was canonized by the LDS Church as revelation and published as section 137 of the Doctrine and Covenants for the first time in 1981.
Not long after the dedication, several more visions were reported. On April 3, Smith had his scribe, Warren Cowdery, write down in his personal journal an account of a spiritual experience Smith and Oliver Cowdery had while praying in the pulpits. In this experience Joseph states that he and Oliver saw Jesus Christ “standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit.” According to Smith’s account, Christ accepted the church’s dedication of the temple, and promised blessings according to their obedience. Following the conclusion of this vision of Christ, the account goes on to tell of Smith and Cowdery then receiving visions of Moses, Elias and Elijah. The account in Smith’s journal is the only known telling of this occurrence during Smith’s lifetime. The LDS Church canonized it as section 110 of their Doctrine and Covenants in 1876.
Smith’s time in Kirtland after the temple came into use was limited. In 1837, he became involved with the foundation of a bank known as the Kirtland Safety Society. The failure of this bank was a factor that caused a schism among Latter Day Saints in Kirtland. The dissenters were led by Warren Parrish, Smith’s former secretary, and included Martin Harris, one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon. Parrish’s group took control of the temple and other church property. By the beginning of 1838, Smith was forced to flee the state, relocating to Far West, Missouri with hundreds of loyalists. After the Mormons moved west in 1838, the Temple was used by the Western Reserve Teacher’s Seminary. Parrish’s group dissolved and by 1841 the remaining Latter Day Saints in Kirtland had come back into communion with the main body of the church, which had subsequently relocated to Nauvoo, Illinois.
A period of confusion followed the assassination of Smith in 1844 as rival leaders and factions vied for control of the temple. In 1845, the Kirtland Latter Day Saints under the leadership of S. B. Stoddard, Leonard Rich and Jacob Bump organized their own church in opposition to those of Brigham Young, James J. Strang and other leaders. This group later merged with a faction led by William E. McLellin whose president was David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses.
By 1848, another Latter Day Saint faction led by Hazen Aldrich and James Collin Brewster was organized in Kirtland and maintained control of the temple. This faction also dissolved and most of the members who were in Kirtland eventually joined the Community of Christ (then known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, adding the word Reorganized to their name in 1872) led by Joseph Smith III. In 1860, a probate court in Ohio sold the Kirtland Temple as a means of paying off some debts owned by Joseph Smith‘s estate. Joseph Smith III and Mark Hill Forscutt purchased a quitclaim deed to the temple in 1874.
In 1880, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS Church, now known as the Community of Christ) began the Kirtland Temple Suit, in an attempt to gain clear legal title to the temple. The court opinion stated that the RLDS Church was the lawful successor of the original church, but ultimately dismissed the case. Although the case had no legal bearing, the Community of Christ secured ownership of the temple through adverse possession by at least 1901.
The local RLDS congregation met in the building on a regular basis for Sunday worship until the 1950s. Due to preservation concerns, a new church was built across the street (for the congregation) and the temple saw more direct management and funding from the world church. Today, the building is used for approximately 50 to 60 worship services, classes, retreats and other special events throughout the year primarily by various Latter Day Saint denominations.
Unlike the later built Nauvoo Temple, the Kirtland Temple was never destroyed or burned down. The same stones from the original construction are still in place today. Although the majority of church members left the Kirtland area for Missouri in 1838, the Kirtland Temple was never completely abandoned by the church. From its inception to the present day it has always been in the possession of members of the Latter Day Saint movement. It has been a place of worship and a symbol of the movement since it was dedicated in 1836.
E. Cecil McGavin claims the temple was used as a barn for their animals. “The … beneficiaries of the Mormon exodus from Ohio did not need a house of worship as large as the temple, so they used it as a barn. They made a sloping driveway into the basement, using that large room as a shelter for the milch cows of the community during the winter months”, “while they filled the ground floor room with sheep”
Sources and Links
- Truman O. Angell, Autobiography (1810-1856) in “His Journal,” Our Pioneer Heritage 10 (1967):195-213.
- Marilyn Chiat, North American Churches. Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, Ltd., 2004.
- David J. Howlett, Kirtland Temple: The Biography of a Shared Mormon Space. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2014.
- Roger Launius, The Kirtland Temple: A Historical Narrative. Independence, Missouri: Herald Publishing House, 1986.
- Elwin C. Robison, The First Mormon Temple: Design, Construction, and Historic Context of the Kirtland Temple, Provo, UT: BYU Press, 1997.
- Wikisource – Kirtland Temple Dedication – Account of Kirtland Temple dedication from March 1836 issue of Messenger and Advocate, an early Latter Day Saint periodical
- Kirtland Temple – official website
- Spiritual Formation Center at the Kirtland Temple – official website
- Historic Kirtland Visitors’ Center – official website
- Current Latter-day Temples Worldwide
- Architectural drawings of the Kirtland Temple from the Library of Congress