Wednesday, December 9, 2015

LDS CHURCH HISTORY SITES NEAR KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI

One of the reasons I was excited for the AP scoring move from Louisville to Kansas City was that it put us closer to some LDS Church history sites. Mormons have a way of finding each other in large crowds, and the AP English scoring group is a very large crowd. However, over the past few years my LDS friend from my hometown and I had identified and befriended several other Mormons, and in 2014 when we heard about the location change, we decided a group of us would rent a car the following year so that we could go on some evening excursions as soon as we were turned loose at 5:00.

There were five places we wanted to go: Independence, Liberty, Far West, Adam-Ondi-Ahman, and the LDS Temple in Kansas City. We were fortunate that everywhere we wanted to go was open late, unlike many of the tourist attractions in Kansas City. It took two different trips to see everything we wanted to see.
(Note: The 1 h 19 min marker on the map is the distance from Kansas City to Adam-Ondi-Ahman)

On our first foray we made it to Independence, Liberty, and the the Kansas City Missouri LDS Temple.


1. Independence
In 1831, members of the newly organized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began to move into this area, and before long there was a fairly sizable population here. Joseph Smith designated a spot for the building of a temple, but tensions grew with the locals, and the Mormons were eventually driven out in 1833. Some years later, some offshoots of the original LDS church returned to this area, and the Community of Christ (formerly known as the Reorganized LDS Church) eventually built their headquarters in the center of town.

We made a short visit to a very nice visitors' center that is kitty-corner from what is known as the Temple Lot, the place Joseph Smith chose for the temple that never got built.

There are some nice displays that show what life would have been like in the area in the 1830s.

There are many other things to see in Independence that are owned by the Community of Christ and other LDS offshoots, but unfortunately all of them were closed. Luckily, I came back a week later when Bob came into town and we were able to get inside almost everything else.  I'll save that for a later post.

2. Liberty Jail 
From there we drove to Liberty, a sleepy little town with a population of just under 30,000, although it feels much smaller than that.
In 1838, Joseph Smith and other church leaders were arrested by order of the Governor, Lilburn W. Boggs, at the Mormon settlement of Far West and brought to a jail in Liberty.
Liberty Jail, where Joseph was held from December 1, 1838, to April 6, 1839, is sometimes referred to as a "prison temple" by church members (a phrase coined by LDS historian B. H. Roberts), for it was here the Joseph received multiple revelations that are now recorded as sections 121, 122, and 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

From the outside the structure looks like a pretty normal museum:
The waiting area inside has a representation of what the gold plates from which Joseph translated the Book of Mormon may have looked like:
Photographs of the old, crumbling Liberty Jail taken in 1888 hang on the walls:
The jail was eventually torn down, so these pictures were invaluable when the LDS Church wanted to rebuild the jail in the 1960s. A house had been built on the site in the 1930s, and when it was torn down, some of the dungeon floor and walls were found intact, giving the builders the footprint for the reconstruction.
The jail was rebuilt within the walls of the new museum. Limestone bricks form the back facade. The walls of the original jail were two feet thick.
The thickness of the walls can be seen in the double doorway:
The front of the jail is a cut-away view of the interior. The lower level where the prisoners were kept had a ceiling height of six-and-a-half feet, and the upper level had a height of seven feet. The inside floor area was about fourteen feet square on each level. Note the rocks piled on the ceiling. No one was going to escape via the attic, that's for sure:
The diorama shows Joseph Smith on the left, his brother Hyrum, Sidney Rigdon, and Lyman Wight. (One man is seated behind the hanging rope and is hard to see in this photo.) However, there were actually six men kept in these cramped quarters for much of the incarceration period. The other two not shown here were Alexander McCrae and Caleb Baldwin. Conditions were horrible. The men slept on the straw-strewn floor, there was very little light, it was the coldest part of winter, the food was filthy and often inedible, and sanitation was non-existent. Meanwhile, thousands of church members living in Missouri, including the families of these imprisoned men, were being driven out of the state due to an "extermination order" signed by Governor Boggs in October.

No wonder Joseph cried out "O God, where art thou?" (See Doctrine and Covenants 121)
Joseph's defense attorney, Alexander Doniphan, worked hard to get a change of venue. He eventually succeeded, and while en route to their new venue, Joseph and the others escaped--or were allowed to escape. Shortly thereafter Joseph left Missouri for good and led the members of the church to their new settlement in Nauvoo, Illinois.

3. Kansas City Missouri LDS Temple
At the LDS Church General Conference in October 2008, Church President Thomas S. Monson announced that a temple would be built in Kansas City. The site was a location just under seven miles from Liberty Jail. That temple was dedicated and began operating in May 2012.
We paid a brief visit on our way back to our hotel at the end of our first excursion.
After three failed attempts to build a temple in Missouri in the 1800s, I'm glad the Saints were finally successful!

Our second excursion a day or two later took us further afield to Far West and Adam-Ondi-Ahman.

4. Far West
While the property in Far West is held by the Community of Christ, it is an important site for the LDS church, so I include it here.
In 1838, two years after it was established, Far West was a "thriving community with more than 150 houses, eight storefronts, six blacksmith shops, two hotels, and a printing office." The town, along with the surrounding area, had as many as 5,000 Mormon settlers, and there were plans to build a temple in the center of town. However, clashes between the Mormons and surrounding settlers led to what is called the "Mormon War," and in 1839, following the siege of the city and the arrest of Joseph Smith and other leaders, the Mormons were driven not only out of Far West, but out of the state of Missouri entirely.

Today the area that was designated as the temple site is a pretty little park:


While everything else is gone--all the homes that once surrounded this plot of land--the cornerstones that were laid for the temple in 1838 remain:
Each of the four cornerstones are marked with a plaque that designates one of the governing bodies of the church, including the High [Melchizedek] Priesthood:
The First Presidency:

The Lesser [Aaronic] Priesthood:

The High Council Quorum of the Twelve:

Other signs note important events, including the birth of Joseph F. Smith at Far West. He was the son of Hyrum and Mary Smith and became the sixth President of the LDS Church:
This sign notes the departure of several apostles from this site in April 1839 to England to serve as missionaries:
And this one notes the rapid growth of Far West in the 1830s:
It's an out-of-the-way spot, but it's not hard to imagine a bustling town and farming community here:


5. Adam-Ondi-Ahman
Our final destination was a place even more remote and isolated than Far West, but the two places are very much companion destinations. Unlike the Far West temple lot, however, this site is currently owned by the LDS Church.
Adam-Ondi-Ahman is a wide valley in the fork of the Grand River. Joseph Smith came to this area with a surveying party in May 1838, about two years after establishing Far West. He declared that this was the spot to which Adam and Eve came after having been cast out of the Garden of Eden. Orson Pratt, an LDS Apostle from 1843-1881, thought that the name might be translated to mean "Valley of God, where Adam dwelt." A church website suggests the translation "Adam in the presence of God."
Anyway, the plan was to build a large Mormon community here, and so a plat for the city was laid out, log cabin construction began, and--as in Independence in 1833 and in Far West early in 1838--plans to build a temple were discussed. However, the settlers' time here was short. As anti-Mormon mobs began to attack, members of the church were called to gather for protection in Far West, 35 miles southwest. From the date the settlement was formally established on June 25, 1838, to the date the Mormons were driven out, November 7, 1838, was less that five months, and most of those settlers hadn't even arrived until October.
Today there is no evidence that there was ever any conflict here. When we visited, the four of us were the only sightseers. The cicadas were singing their raspy songs in the trees, a gentle breeze was rustling the leaves and grasses, fluffy clouds were floating lazily across the sky, and it was just about as close to Eden as I could image.
The site is incredibly well-tended for a place so far away from civilization. There is no visitor's center, just a few markers and the glorious beauty of growing things:

For now the rich farmland of the valley is leased to local farmers, but Joseph Smith taught that Adam held a grand meeting in this valley three years before his death, and a church website notes that this is the place Jesus will meet with the prophets of all dispensations to "receive back the keys of the kingdom in preparation for His Second Coming."




These large rocks look like they could be the foundation stones laid for the temple that (just like the temples at Independence and Far West) never got built. However, no stones were ever laid. The temple never got past the idea stage.
That is why it was so meaningful for us to walk around an LDS Temple that actually did get built in Missouri, even though it was 174 years later.

As the sun neared the horizon, we drove the loop that took us around the site, stopping every now and then for a photo:
I've read that Adam-Ondi-Ahman can be hot, sticky, windy, and generally unpleasant. We were lucky to be there on a perfect day.

2 comments:

  1. We made a visit to these places around 14 years ago, with the exception of the Kansas City temple, which had not even been announced (as far as I remember). It's interesting to see the changes since we saw it. Liberty Jail is the same, but all of the other places have added signs and explanations. Far West was in the early stages of development, and the park was not there. Adam-ondi-Ahman was not labeled at all, and it's nice to see the continuing improvements, including a few flower beds.

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  2. I've been confusing the Temple Lot with Far West in my own mind, thinking of the Temple Lot as the place where the apostles dedicated the site before going on their mission.

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