This is the last installment of our family US History and LDS Church History road trip. You can find the previous five installments here:
While all of the following sites were established by early members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, all encourage visits from all denominations. Each of these sites has been carefully restored, is historically accurate, and will provide your children a glimpse into life in the early 1800’s, along with fun, interactive activities. All of these sites, including the demonstrations and activities are completely free of charge.
Joseph Smith and his family moved to the home of John and Elsa Johnson in Hiram, Ohio, in September 1831. The Johnson’s were recent converts to the Church and had become acquainted with the Prophet while in Kirtland.
During the year Joseph Smith stayed here, the Johnson home served as headquarters of the Church. Joseph received an outpouring of revelation within these walls, including a magnificent vision of the Father and the Son and the three degrees of glory. Several conferences were also held here. In November 1831, the conference voted to publish a Book of Commandments containing revelations received by the Prophet. The Lord confirmed His approval of this book, which eventually became the Doctrine and Covenants.
In March 1832, Joseph was attacked by an angry mob in the middle of the night and was tarred and feathered near the home. When he was taken from his bed, Joseph was caring for his ill infant son, who died later that week from exposure the night of the attack. The next day, despite his injuries, Joseph preached as he often did to a large congregation gathered in front of the home and baptized three persons.
Eventually many of the Saints, including most of the Johnson family, left Hiram. The Church acquired the 160-acre Johnson Farm in 1956 and completely restored the home to its original condition in 2001.
God commanded Joseph Smith in December 1832 to build a temple in Kirtland, Ohio. The Prophet and several others saw the Kirtland Temple in a vision, which provided its design. Construction began in June 1833, at a time of great poverty in the Church. Work slowed in 1834 because many brethren were absent with Zion’s Camp. When they returned, Joseph Smith labored with others in the sandstone quarry, and vigorous efforts to build the temple resumed. Church members made enormous sacrifices to complete this house of the Lord.
The Prophet Joseph dedicated the Kirtland Temple on March 27, 1836. Beginning in January and continuing past the dedication, many Church members witnessed heavenly manifestations during this glorious season, culminating in Jesus Christ’s appearance to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to accept the temple. Moses, Elias, and Elijah also appeared to Joseph and Oliver to restore priesthood keys for the salvation of all mankind.
Most of the Saints moved away from Kirtland in 1838. The temple fell into disrepair, and its ownership was challenged. The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, now known as the Community of Christ, gained title to the building in 1880. They restored and this sacred place and maintain it today as a historic site with guided tours and a visitors center with activities for children.
Historic Kirtland Village
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has purchased and restored several historic buildings in Kirtland. There is a visitor’s center, several homes, the Newel K. Whitney store, a sawmill and ashery, a replica schoolhouse and an Inn. They are each staffed by missionaries in period costumes, with interactive experiences geared toward families and children. We had a lot of fun visiting historic Kirtland.
In the fall of 1832, Joseph Smith moved from Hiram, Ohio, back to Kirtland. Bishop Newel K. Whitney prepared an apartment for the Prophet’s family in his store, and Joseph lived here until the winter of the following year. The Whitney Store served as headquarters for the Church during that time.
Many revelations now included in the Doctrine and Covenants were received by the Prophet in this place, including the Word of Wisdom, the oath and covenant of the priesthood, and the command to build a temple in Kirtland. Joseph also completed much of his inspired translation of the Bible here.
During the winter of 1832–33, the School of the Prophets was held in an upper room of the store. The school was organized to teach gospel doctrine and principles and to prepare members for ministry in the Church.On one sacred occasion, members of the school beheld a vision of God the Father and the Son.
The Church purchased the Whitney Store in the 1980’s and restored it to its original condition in 1984. This historic site won a U.S. Presidential Award for Excellence in 1988.
Here is a fantastic interactive map of the Kirtland Historic Village and surrounding area to help you get a better feel for it. Your kids will love all of the hands-on period-accurate activities and exhibits!
In 1839, early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka ‘the Mormons’, established this city of peace and beauty on a great bend in the Mississippi River. Today, Nauvoo is one of America’s premier historic communities. Visitors can explore more than 30 historic sites from the 1839-1846 time period all year long. Many of the fun, hands-on activities and exhibits are geared toward kids, but my husband and I enjoyed them tremendously, too. You don’t need to be a mormon the visit and enjoy Nauvoo. All denominations are welcome!
Come explore more than 30 historic sites including homes, businesses, and activities in Historic Nauvoo. To learn more about the sites and history of Old Nauvoo, visit Historic Nauvoo. Each place you visit offers a unique demonstration of a particular pioneer skill, pastime, or vocation. We learned about rope-making at one of the sites, and our children helped to combine multiple strands of twine into a strong rope. At the same time, the missionary in charge of the demonstration taught them about how members of a family or community, joined together, become something stronger than each of the individual parts. We brought home the rope my kids created as a souvenir.
The brick-making site demonstrated how to make bricks, and how impurities in a brick will cause it to explode in the kiln. They compared it to our lives and how impurities (sins) can cause problems when a person is subjected to great heat (trials). We loved watching the cobbler make shoes and the cooper make barrels, and we each got to watch a prairie diamond ring being made by the blacksmith, while he told a story about how he had to create the ring from a horseshoe nail for his fiancee because he didn’t have any money. We visited the Post Office and the Browning Home and Gunsmith Shop, and multiple other places.
Nauvoo has a pioneer pageant every summer that I’ve heard is excellent. You should check the website for details and plan to visit during the pageant, although I imagine it’s extremely busy.
You can tour Nauvoo in a horse-pulled wagon. The tour provides beautiful, hand-tied quilts to keep everyone warm. My 2-year-old thought it was so relaxing that she fell asleep!
I made my little girls these fun pioneer dresses and bonnets to wear at the Little House museum, which we unfortunately had to skip when our motorhome broke down in Indiana. They had fun wearing them around Nauvoo, though. Lots of strangers took their pictures!
My kids’ favorite part of Nauvoo was the park, where they had awesome pioneer games set up for the kids to try. They had a wooden bear on two strings that you raced to the top of the pavilion, stilts, hoops, and a variety of hand games.
After you’ve had a great time exploring Nauvoo, head down to the riverbank. There are signs along the way (Trail of Hope) relating both the miracles and the trials that the pioneer occupants of Nauvoo experienced. Standing on that riverbank, where our pioneer ancestors once stood, looking across the wide Mississippi was a profound experience for me. I loved it so much that I painted this photo of my daughters, titled it ‘Looking forward’ and hung it on my wall.
Last, but definitely not the least, we visited the Nauvoo temple, where families are sealed together for eternity. The LDS church has temples all over the world, in which men who hold the priesthood of God, seal families. Kendel and I were sealed in the Salt Lake City temple in 1995. Because we were sealed to one another, and our children born in that covenant, they are sealed to us. Just look at those sweet faces — what more could I ask for than to have them for eternity? I am so grateful to know that family relationships continue beyond this life! Death is nothing but passing from this life into the next — it doesn’t separate us. Nothing can separate us — families are forever!
Our next to last stop on this fabulous road trip was Carthage Jail, where the prophet Joseph Smith was martyred by an angry mob. It’s not far from Nauvoo. The LDS church owns the building, and missionaries provide a tour. The spirit is strong as you contemplate the sacrifices that Joseph and his brethren made for us, and for all of Heavenly Father’s children.
While Joseph was incarcerated at Carthage, the jailers family was concerned about the heat in the jail (a portion of the upstairs with no windows), so they moved downstairs in order to let Joseph and his brethren use their much cooler and more comfortable upstairs bedroom. It was here where the angry mobs came barging up the stairs and shot Hyrum (Joseph’s older brother) in the face, through the door. During the confusion that ensued, Joseph, knowing that the mobs had come for him, jumped from the upstairs window and was shot and killed as he fell. The other members of the party were not killed.
Our very last stop before returning home was the Kanesville Tabernacle at Winter Quarters. The visitor’s center there has fun pioneer dress-ups for the kids, replica covered wagons and handcarts, and fun pioneer activities. It is much smaller than the other places we visited, but still fun. The missionaries took us into the tabernacle and told me kids about a pioneer miracle.
The pioneers were very hungry as they crossed the plains in covered wagons. Some companies ran out of food. One large family with several children was particularly hungry, and was using the very last of the flour they had brought to make a single biscuit. As she tucked the small piece of dough into the dutch oven and set it over the fire to bake, the mother prayed for help. She knew that single biscuit would not alleviate the hunger in so many tummies. When she removed the dutch oven from the fire and opened it, she was astonished to see the entire dutch oven full of a large, soft and delicious loaf of bread.
I won’t lie, there were times I wanted to pull my hair out, but I would say that 95% of this trip was absolutely perfect. I still wouldn’t trade the parts that weren’t perfect for anything! Kendel helped so much by driving late into the night and early in the mornings, so much of the long driving stretches happened while the kids were asleep.
If you are thinking of taking a long road trip like this, just do it. There might never be a better time. If finances are a challenge, find a way to do it cheap. The memories you make as a family are worth more than you can imagine.
Thanks for accompanying us on this trip-of-a-lifetime! I’d love to hear about your awesome road trips in the comments!