“From New York to Utah: Seven Church Headquarters,” Ensign, Aug. 2001, 52
Today it is easy for us to identify Church headquarters as Salt Lake City, Utah. But at various times from 1830 to 1848 if a friend had asked a Church member, “Where is the headquarters of your church?” the answer would not always have been so simple.
One important perspective in seeking to identify Church headquarters at any given time period, particularly during the ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith, is to recognize that wherever the prophet of the Lord was, there was the headquarters of the Church. Even now, headquarters is—in a certain and real sense—wherever the prophet is, the senior Apostle of the Lord on earth who holds the leadership of the keys of the priesthood.
Students of Church history today are increasingly comfortable in identifying seven geographical sites as Church headquarters locations. All seven are well known to members of the Church who study the Doctrine and Covenants and who read accounts of Church history. But some members may not have thought of one or two as headquarters locations.
Identifying a location during the ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith is sometimes challenging, particularly for periods of time when the Church had not yet been able to build a headquarters building. Thus, the following questions are helpful when considering what places might be identified as a Church headquarters location:
Did the prophet and his family live there?
Did the Church have its offices or conduct its business there?
Did members of the Church gather there?
Were general conferences held there?
Were missionaries called and sent to preach the gospel from there?
Did many significant Church events happen there?
Was a temple built there?
Some locations have more supportive information for them than others. Yet research suggests that the following qualify as headquarters locations at one time or another: (1) Fayette, New York; (2) Kirtland, Ohio, for two different periods; (3) Hiram, Ohio; (4) Far West, Missouri; (5) Nauvoo, Illinois; (6) Winter Quarters, Nebraska; and (7) Salt Lake City, Utah.
At the invitation of the Peter Whitmer Sr. family, the Prophet Joseph Smith moved to Fayette, New York, from Harmony, Pennsylvania, in June 1829. His wife, Emma, soon joined him. Thereafter, they lived in Fayette off and on for the next year and a half, making trips back to Harmony and Colesville, Manchester, and Palmyra, New York. They finally settled in Fayette in August 1830 and stayed until January 1831.
The Peter Whitmer Sr. farm was the location of notable events, such as the finishing of the Book of Mormon translation in 1829, the witnessing of the plates by 11 additional men, the 1830 organization of the Church, and the beginning of the inspired work to translate (make corrections to) the King James Version of the Bible (Joseph Smith Translation). Twenty sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, including revelations on Church organization and government (see D&C 20) and the gathering of Israel (see D&C 29; D&C 38), were received and recorded here.
The first three conferences were held here in June and September 1830 and in January 1831. It is not widely known that at this time the Fayette area was home to the largest of the three groups of members. The Prophet conducted Church business in Fayette and received many new convert visitors here, including Parley P. and Orson Pratt, Sidney Rigdon, and Edward Partridge. Many early baptisms were also performed nearby, and from here the Lord called and sent four men to preach the gospel to the Lamanites.
In December 1830 the Lord directed Church members to “assemble together at the Ohio” (D&C 37:3). With the arrival at Kirtland of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his family about the first of February 1831, Church headquarters was now in Ohio. The Prophet and his wife first resided in the home of Newel K. and Elizabeth Whitney for a few weeks; then in March 1831 they moved to the Isaac Morley farm about one mile away.
The work of translating the Bible continued here. Four sections of the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C 41–44) were received in the Whitney home, including the law of the Church (see D&C 42) and guidance on discerning evil influences (see D&C 43). Additional instructions on evil spirits (see D&C 46; D&C 50) and clarifications on the law of consecration (see D&C 48; D&C 51; D&C 53–54) were received at the Morley farm. Edward Partridge was called at Kirtland as the first bishop of the Church. The fourth general conference was held here in June 1831 on the Morley farm. At this conference the first high priests in this dispensation were called and ordained.
Church membership swelled from 200 to about 400 during this time, and most lived in Kirtland. Many new converts, such as William W. Phelps and John and Alice Johnson, traveled to or gathered at Kirtland to be near the Prophet. Numerous pairs of missionaries were called by revelation from Kirtland at this time (see D&C 42; D&C 44; D&C 49; D&C 52) and sent to preach in Ohio, the eastern United States, and Missouri.
Motivated by a desire to find a secluded place in which to continue his work of translating the Bible, the Prophet and his family moved in September 1831 to Hiram, Ohio, about 30 miles southeast of Kirtland. There they stayed with the John Johnson family for about one year. During this period the Prophet was rarely in Kirtland, making only a few day trips into town to handle problems between members living there (see D&C 70; D&C 72; D&C 78).
The Lord instructed the Prophet before his move to Hiram, “to retain a strong hold in the land of Kirtland” (D&C 64:21), so it is doubtful that the Prophet intended to initiate a permanent shift in where members were to gather, but there are important factors that show Hiram was Church headquarters for a year.
At Hiram the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon labored diligently on the translation of the Bible, which stimulated them to inquire of the Lord about significant doctrinal and organizational matters. A historic series of special conferences was held at Hiram from September to November 1831, during which sections 1, 65–69, and 133 of the Doctrine and Covenants were received. At one of these conferences it was decided to publish a book containing more than 60 of the Prophet’s revelations and call it the Book of Commandments. The Lord gave through the Prophet a “Testimony of the Witnesses of the Book of the Lord’s Commandments” (see Explanatory Introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants). This testimony was agreed to by those present and carried to Missouri for publication to the Church. In all, 17 sections were received here. Section 76, a vision received by Joseph and Sidney concerning the destiny of God’s children, was given on 16 February 1832 in an upstairs room of the Johnson home. Counselors in the original First Presidency of the Church were called and set apart here in March 1832.
A significant number of Church members lived in and around Hiram near the Prophet. New converts called at the Johnson home, and from here missionaries were sent forth.
The Prophet’s enemies, worried that Hiram would become a major Church center, attacked Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon on the night of 24 March 1832. A few days later the Lord reiterated his instruction that the Prophet Joseph visit Missouri (see D&C 78:9). Before leaving on 1 April, he placed his family in the care of friends in Kirtland. He returned with his family to Hiram in June 1832, staying here until September that same year.
The Prophet and his family moved back to Kirtland in September 1832 and lived above the Whitney store until their own home was finished not far from the site of the Kirtland Temple. They lived in their new home from February 1834 to January 1838.
Kirtland served as headquarters longer than any other location during the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Priesthood keys were restored by Moses, Elias, and Elijah (see D&C 110). The School of the Prophets was inaugurated, and marvelous spiritual manifestations were seen by many. Nine general conferences were held here, and the original Quorums of the Twelve and the Seventy were organized during this period. The first patriarch, Joseph Smith Sr., was called. The first stake, stake presidency, and high council were organized. The first latter-day temple was constructed, in which a partial endowment was given.
Twenty-seven sections of the Doctrine and Covenants came during this second Kirtland period. In one, the Word of Wisdom (see D&C 89) was revealed, and in another the Prophet saw “the celestial kingdom of God, and the glory thereof,” and “the transcendent beauty of the gate through which the heirs of that kingdom will enter” (D&C 137:1–2).
Hundreds of members were gathering to Missouri at this time, but Kirtland was still where the larger group of Saints was located, growing from a few hundred to about 2,000 between 1834 and 1837. Four future Presidents of the Church—Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Lorenzo Snow—came at this time to meet the Prophet Joseph Smith. They were instructed in the doctrine and organization of the Church, which prepared them for the day when they would lead the Church. Heber C. Kimball also joined the Church and came from New York to Kirtland. He was tutored by the Prophet Joseph Smith and sent with Orson Hyde and others to Great Britain, where approximately 1,500 individuals joined the Church.
Apostasy among Church members in Kirtland led the Prophet Joseph and his family to abandon their home in January 1838 and move to northern Missouri, where many members had already gathered. The Prophet and his family never returned to Kirtland.
A joyous welcome greeted the Prophet and his family in Far West. Because of serious dissension among some Church leaders in Missouri and the apostasy in Ohio, one of the first matters the Prophet needed to handle was the reorganization of the leading quorums. New leaders were called at an April 1838 conference here.
Eight revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants were received at or near here, including one which gives the Church its present name and instructs a temple be built in Far West (see D&C 115:4, 8). The Lord’s law of tithing and its disbursement (see D&C 119–120) was revealed here, and the Prophet began writing a history of the Church (see JS—H 1:1–2).
Many faithful members left Kirtland and gathered to northern Missouri. A large group arrived in the fall of 1838, swelling the Latter-day Saint population to about 5,000. In a July 1838 revelation (see D&C 118), the Lord also called the Twelve Apostles to go to England for missionary work.
From Far West, Brigham Young, as President of the Quorum of the Twelve, led the Church into Illinois in January–February 1839 while the Prophet wrote instructions to the Church from jail in Liberty, Missouri.
Once released from jail, Church leaders moved quickly to purchase, survey, and clear land for a new gathering site. At a conference in October 1839, Nauvoo (Commerce) was appointed as a stake of Zion and a gathering place, along with Hancock County, Illinois, and Lee County, Iowa. It was a place where the Prophet felt free to teach the Saints many doctrines that had been revealed to him, such as baptisms for the dead and the eternal nature of the family. The book of Abraham, new editions of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Wentworth letter, containing the Articles of Faith, were printed.
The Lord again commanded the Saints to build a temple (see D&C 124:28–31) so that sacred temple ordinances could be performed to unite families forever and provide the opportunity for exaltation to all who would obey the principles and ordinances of the gospel.
Eleven general conferences were held here, and the responsibilities of women in the Church were further revealed with the establishment of the Relief Society. The role of the Quorum of the Twelve was firmly established, and in 1844 they were given all of the keys necessary to preside over the kingdom of God. Here Brigham Young was sustained by the Saints to lead the Church following the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Missionaries continued to be sent to Great Britain and to the eastern United States, and many converts journeyed to gather at Nauvoo. At its peak in 1845, Nauvoo was home to more than 11,000, mostly Latter-day Saint residents.
Forced to abandon their temple and beautiful city of Nauvoo, the Saints sought to establish a new headquarters in the Rocky Mountains. The name Winter Quarters is used here to describe a collection of more than 100 settlements, including Council Bluffs, along the Missouri River in the present-day states of Nebraska and Iowa. This area was where the Saints temporarily gathered while preparing to move west.
From here a 500-man army, the “Mormon Battalion,” was raised to assist the United States in its war against Mexico. Brigham Young, as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, received significant revelations here. One guided the Saints to their new home in the tops of the mountains (see D&C 136).
In 1847 a pioneer company under the leadership of President Brigham Young and the Twelve left Winter Quarters to find the place the Lord had prepared for their new home. When President Young and the Twelve returned here that same year, the First Presidency was reorganized in December 1847 with Brigham Young as president. Three general conferences were held, and more than 10,000 Saints congregated here. The Saints were then encouraged to undertake preparations and depart for their new home in the Rocky Mountains.
When President Brigham Young arrived in Salt Lake Valley for the second time, in September 1848, a new headquarters was in place; since then, every prophet-president has guided the Church from Salt Lake City.
Soon after his arrival in the valley, four new apostles were called and missionaries were sent to France, Germany, Italy, and the Scandinavian countries. President Brigham Young also designated a site for the building of a temple. Property surrounding this site was set aside for Church purposes and became known as Temple Square. In 1848 a large meeting facility known as the Bowery was constructed on Temple Square. A series of other meeting halls were built and replaced until a large dome-shaped house of worship, the Tabernacle, was opened for the October 1867 general conference. The building of a temple was undertaken in 1853 and was dedicated in 1893. Today that temple stands as a symbol of the Latter-day Saints and their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The first general conference in Salt Lake City was held in October 1848 in a temporary covering. More than 300 general conferences have been held in Salt Lake City. In April 2000, about 21,000 people gathered in the new Conference Center, along with 9,000 in the Tabernacle and Assembly Hall, with many more participating by satellite broadcast.
The Church Administration Building, with offices for the First Presidency and other General Authorities, was constructed in 1917, and the Church Office Building was opened in 1972 to provide much-needed office space. Missionary calls have been issued from here for more than 150 years.
Three revelations now found in the Doctrine and Covenants were received, and a new book of scripture, the Pearl of Great Price, was canonized here. Numerous Church programs and auxiliaries have been organized to meet the needs of the growing, worldwide Church.
From the small group of Latter-day Saints that gathered 6 April 1830 at Fayette, New York, the Church has grown to more than 11 million members worldwide. The Book of Mormon has been translated into more than 100 languages, and the gospel is being taught throughout the world by more than 60,000 missionaries. “There was never a brighter day than today in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. … What we see today is but the scratching of the surface of far greater things yet to come” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Lengthened Shadow of the Hand of God,” Ensign, May 1987, 52, 59).
More on this topic: See Alexander L. Baugh, “From High Hopes to Despair: The Missouri Period, 1831–39,”Ensign, July 2001, 44–55; Richard E. Bennett, “Winter Quarters,”Ensign, Sept. 1997, 42–53; “House of Revelation” and “The Times and Seasons,”Ensign, Jan. 1993, 31–43; Glen M. Leonard and T. Edgar Lyon, “The Nauvoo Years,” Ensign, Sept. 1979, 11–15; see also 16–50; Milton V. Backman Jr., “Kirtland: The Crucial Years,”Ensign, Jan. 1979, 24–28.