Mormon Historical Sites
By Doris White.
The early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently referred to as “Mormons”) suffered a great deal at the hands of mobs and misguided government officials. Looking at the places where they have left their mark teaches us a great deal about the importance of faith and upholding the spirit of the laws of freedom we enjoy in this country.
Kenneth Mays, an institute teacher at Salt Lake University, is a history enthusiast for anything to do with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most Mormon historical sites are located in upstate New York; Nauvoo, Illinois; Utah; Kirtland, Ohio; and near Independence, Missouri. However, Mays has made a hobby of visiting some Latter-day Saint (“Mormon”) sites off the beaten path.
Mays recently made his top-ten list of less-popular Mormon historical sites he recommends to other curious history buffs.
Thomas L. Kane Chapel
Thomas Kane was not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but he was one of the very few friends the early Saints had. Many Mormons were driven from their homes several times and even driven out of Missouri on an extermination order from the governor. Kane was well-connected politically and tried to use his influence on behalf of the Saints. He also worked closely with Brigham Young after the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith when the Mormons fled to the Utah desert.
Kane resided in Kane, Pennsylvania, where he built a Presbyterian chapel in 1878 at the request of his aunt Ann Gray Thomas. He requested to be buried between the stone entrances of the chapel!
In 1970, this chapel was purchased by The Church of Jesus Christ. Usually The Church of Jesus Christ builds its own facilities, but nothing has been altered in the Kane Chapel, and in honor of Thomas Kane, it still bears his name. The Church also erected a statue of Major General Kane on the premises.
John Young Cabin
This cabin, barely still standing, was owned by John Young, son of Brigham Young, and is located near Flagstaff, Arizona. Wilford Woodruff, fourth president of The Church of Jesus Christ, once received a revelation while camped in these woods.
There have been ranger-guided walks to see this cabin as well as Little Leroux Spring which talk about the history of the Flagstaff settlement.
The Honeymoon Trail goes from Winslow, Arizona, to St. George, Utah. It got its name for some of its most frequent travelers. Mormon doctrine emphasizes the importance of keeping the law of chastity (meaning no sexual relations outside of marriage and complete fidelity within marriage), but it also stresses the importance of getting married in a Mormon temple so the marriage is sealed for eternity, not just for this life.
In early Mormon history in Utah, there was only one temple for many years: the St. George Temple. Because it was considered inappropriate for an engaged couple to take the many-day trek to the temple without first being married, couples were married civilly before traveling to St. George to be sealed in God’s holy temple.
Many couples left their names in graffiti along the way! Some scratched their names into the sandstone cliffs while others painted their names in axle grease along the trail.
Located nine miles north of Elkhart in Morton County in northeast Kansas, Middle Spring marks an important stop along the route taken by members of the Mormon Battalion. The Mormon Battalion was made up of about 500 Latter-day Saints who were “invited” by the U.S. Government to help fight in the Mexican War in 1846. Many of them left their families who were travelling to the Utah Territory in order to be part of the Mormon Battalion. They were led by Colonel James Allen until he died on the way, in Leavenworth, Kansas.
The Mormon Battalion pushed on, following the Cimarron Route of the Santa Fe Trail. This was a treacherous trail notorious for its lack of water. Middle Spring marked a very important stop for the Mormon Battalion on its way, offering the first fresh water for 50 or 60 miles through heat and sand. Not a journey I would like to take! Being that hot and sweaty it would be hard to not use it to clean up a bit.
Guernsey State Park in Wyoming helps preserve some of the original ruts from the Oregon Trail, a part of which is the same route the Mormon pioneers took. While most ruts from the original trails have been lost to development or erosion, many ruts here are almost perfectly preserved.
Mays said of his own visit, “The wagons and wheels of the carts engraved the rock. These trails are amazing. Some spots are about 4–5 feet deep. Other sites in the area may be only a foot deep with grass on either side.” A half-mile stretch in the parks preserves these ruts. That is some kind of determination to etch ruts that deep into rock. The pioneers truly had iron wills.
Also, only half a mile away is Register Cliff, where many pioneers carved their names into the rocks.
Another stop on the trail for the Mormon pioneers was Scotts Bluff in Nebraska, which overlooks miles of rolling prairie. When Brigham Young was leading the first group of Saints through here in 1847, he became tired of the light-minded behavior and foul language of some of his companions. Near Scotts Bluff, he said, “I am about to revolt,” and proceeded to chastise the group for their behavior.
The Saints accepted Brigham Young’s rebuke and apparently reformed their behavior on the way to the Salt Lake Valley.
Scotts Bluff is preserved today as a national monument.
A few years after the Saints first entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, missionary work brought many converts from Europe to the United States, where these humble people hoped to join the rest of The Church of Jesus Christ. Many who sailed to New Orleans journeyed up the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and then began their trek west. First, though, they needed to be outfitted. One outfitting station was located in Wyoming, Nebraska. This particular station was established in 1864 and ran for about three years.
Today the only thing that remains is a small placard, marking the location of the old store. It is on private property today. Mays said he spoke to the landowner who recognized a special spirit in the area, which Mays himself also felt when he visited.
This area held some of the last shreds of civilization the Saints would see until they established their own settlement in the Utah Territory.
Brigham Young’s Birthplace
On the southern border of Vermont, in a small town called Whitingham, there are several markers of the birthplace of Brigham Young, second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Brigham Young is the man who led the Saints to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith. The Saints had been turned out of their homes many times and finally fled the country in hopes of finding some place desolate enough to be left alone. Soon after they left, though, their new land became part of the United States as a territory.
The land Brigham Young was born on is not owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and nothing remains of the original home, but the marker is on private property, and the current owner has left the marker untouched.
Though the “Mormon Temple” is just its nickname and, in fact, has nothing to do with The Church of Jesus Christ, this building in Geneva, Illinois, was at least started by Latter-day Saints. When many Saints were settling in Nauvoo, Illinois, some of them settled in Geneva. They laid a sturdy foundation for a tabernacle there, but all of them ended up going west with Brigham Young before the building was completed.
Later settlers, finding a solid foundation, decided to put a building on top. The “Mormon Temple” still stands today, a beautiful red brick home which retains its nickname.
Chatburn Baptismal Site
In 1837, a few missionaries were sent to England from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Heber C. Kimball was one of these missionaries. He and his companion found great success in the towns of Chatburn and Downham, near Preston.
Hidden behind a renovated church in Chatburn, England, is a small pool of water where Heber C. Kimball baptized 100–200 new members. The area is seemingly unchanged since that time. Missionaries today sometimes visit this site to remember those who have gone before them.
The lessons we can learn from visiting these and other Mormon historical sites are invaluable. It is good to learn from the past, both from mistakes and from things that were done right. It is inspiring to look at the sacrifices others made in the name of faith and their God. Learn more about what Mormons believe today and how they live their lives by visiting Mormon.org.
Doris White is a native of Oregon and graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and a minor in Editing. She loves to talk with others about the gospel of Jesus Christ.