“Restored Whitney Store Dedicated in Kirtland,” Ensign, Nov. 1984, 110–11
“If New York was the cradle of the Church, then Kirtland represents the school days of the Church. How tremendously significant it is we meet here in this restored building,” President Gordon B. Hinckley, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, said at the dedication of the restored Newel K. Whitney store August 25.
Some 2,000 people surrounded the simple yellow-gold frame building in Kirtland, Ohio, for the dedicatory services.
President Hinckley commented that the building is significant not simply for its history, but as a divine setting that will “be maintained over the years.”
Prior to offering the dedicatory prayer on the restored building, President Ezra Taft Benson of the Council of the Twelve elaborated on its significance in the history of the Church. “This store was a hallowed place of glorious revelation,” he said. Joseph Smith received more than twenty revelations while he and his wife Emma lived on the upper floor of the store, including the “Olive Leaf” (D&C 88) and the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89). It was there that the School of the Prophets was first held and many great spiritual manifestations took place. President Benson cited John Murdock’s account of his vision of the Savior during a meeting of the School of the Prophets.
Much of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s inspired revision of the Bible was done in the building, President Benson pointed out, and it served as an early bishops’ storehouse after Newel K. Whitney was called as bishop of Kirtland. It was there, too, that Joseph and Emma Smith’s first son to survive birth, Joseph Smith III, was born.
“We know, our Heavenly Father, that Thou hast promised, ‘I, the Lord, will build up Kirtland. …’ (D&C 124:83.) We have witnessed the fulfillment of this promise in recent years and pray that thou wilt continue to bless thy children in this area,” said President Benson in the dedicatory prayer.
He asked the Lord to protect the historic building, and to continue to use it in missionary work. “We pray that those who visit this store will be taught of its significance in the history of the Church.”
Elder Rex C. Reeve of the First Quorum of the Seventy, president of the Church’s North America Northeast Area, and Elder Eldred G. Smith, patriarch emeritus of the Church, also attended the dedication, and Elder Reeve spoke at the services.
Immediately following the dedicatory services, the Whitney store opened for public tours. Many visitors were enthralled by the exacting reproductions of merchandise from the 1830s artistically arranged in the building.
The opening culminated a year of research and restoration work. Research was made easier because the archives of the Reorganized LDS Church “graciously lent us several original inventory books belonging to the store. These records indicated the kinds and quantities of goods stocked,” said Florence S. Jacobsen, director of the Arts and Sites Division of the Church’s Historical Department.
Gay calicos, quaint handmade shoes, leather-bound books, household implements, and colorful sundries line the wooden shelves of the store. Other parts of the building, including the upper floor room where the fourteen-member School of the Prophets met, have been furnished with period objects acquired by the Historical Department staff.
The dedication of the store climaxed “Kirtland Heritage Days,” a two-day, community-wide celebration inaugurated by the Church. Members of many community groups and churches, including the RLDS church, participated. An estimated 15,000 people attended activities in Kirtland on August 25, as many as usually attend Kirtland’s popular annual three-day Strawberry Festival. Kirtland’s normal population is about 5,500.
Church representatives received proclamations from the city, county, and state expressing appreciation for the Latter-day Saints and their contribution to the community. “The finest feeling of unity was apparent in the Church and community efforts,” Elder Reeve commented.
Those attending the events in Kirtland included Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, and Parley Pratt—each a descendant of his famous nineteenth century namesake. They were among the many Latter-day Saints living in the area who trace their ancestry to Kirtland settlers, or who traveled from the West to meet with their eastern cousins. Other well-known pioneer names seen on visitors’ identification badges included Angell, Booth, Carter, Cowdery, Gee, Johnson, Kimball, and Mack.
Four generations of Whitney descendants from all over the United States, for example, held a family reunion in connection with Heritage Days. Descendants of John Johnson held a similar meeting at their ancestor’s historic home in nearby Hiram, Ohio. (It was at the Johnson home that the revelation which is now Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants was received.)
Representing Joseph Smith’s family was Mike Kennedy, the first of the Prophet’s descendants to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood; Gracia Jones; and Gracia’s mother, Lorena Normandeau. Sister Jones was the first descendant to receive her temple endowment, and Sister Normandeau is serving a mission in Independence, Missouri.
Some 120 nonmember descendants representing twenty-one different pioneer Kirtland families attended the dedicatory services for the store.
A Kirtland Heritage Society was organized to help preserve, restore, and beautify the city. The society prepared brass plaques for noteworthy sites in the area: the Kirtland Temple; the Joseph Smith, Sr., home; the Frederick G. Williams/Sidney Rigdon home; the Johnson home; and a number of other early pioneer dwellings.
In addition to the dedicatory services, speeches, dinners, and programs in connection with the festivities, townspeople put on a health fair, family film festival, five-mile footrace, and a pancake breakfast. There were also puppet shows, a blacksmithing demonstration, a pie-baking contest, and booths for the sale of homespun items.
Sister Andrews is a member of the Westlake First Ward, Cleveland Ohio Stake.