The Temple Lot: Visions and Realities

Hearken, O ye elders of my church, saith the Lord your God, who have assembled yourselves together, according to my commandments, in this land, which is the land of Missouri, which is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints. Wherefore, this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion. And thus saith the Lord your God, if you will receive wisdom here is wisdom. Behold, the place which is now called Independence is the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse…(D&C 57:1-3).

Since Joseph Smith announced this revelation on July 20, 1831 — just over a year after the organization of the church — the “Temple Lot” in Independence, Missouri, has held a special significance for members of the Latter Day Saint movement. (Please excuse the width of the illustrations that follow.)

A little over a week later, on August 2, Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery and other church leaders gathered on the spot indicated for the temple and dedicated the land of Zion for the gathering of the Saints. At the time, the property was yet not in Mormon hands. A year and a half later, on December 19, 1832, the church’s first bishop, Edward Partridge, purchased the spot along with 63 43/160 acres of land from non-Mormon Jones Hoy Flournoy. This large parcel is sometimes called the “Temple Parcel” or the “greater Temple Lot.”

Independence, Missouri, and the Temple Parcel, 1832.

Church headquarters, meanwhile, remained some 800 miles distant in Kirtland, Ohio. In June of 1833, church leaders in Kirtland drafted a plat or plan for creating the streets, blocks, and lots for the city of Zion. This original plat contained a number of attributes that would come to characterize Mormon city planning: (1) Overly wide streets, in this case 60 132 feet broad;‡ (2) long, skinny lots with a small street frontage, in this case half-acre lots 60 ft. x 300 ft.; and (3) blocks laid out in alternating directions so that no one’s home faced another.

The First Plat of Zion

As with later Mormon cities, the first Plat of Zion also was centered on a temple block — or, in this case, three temple blocks, one for bishops’ storehouses, and two others containing a shocking 12 temples each. Unusually, these blocks were elongated 900 ft. east to west, instead of 600 — meaning that the city of Zion would not have a grid of perfect squares. Accompanying the plat were crude plans for the first of these temples. The plan called for a temple similar in design to the Kirtland Temple, although with a 61 x 77 ft. footprint. (The Kirtland Temple has a 59 x 79 ft. footprint.) The plat indicates with a cross (+) that temple number “5” was to be built first, presumably at the spot dedicated in 1831.

Although the first plat is the most famous, church leaders in Kirtland continued to make additional plans for the city of Zion. In August of 1833, they sent a second plat to the saints in Missouri, along with a letter by Oliver Cowdery explaining “those patterns previously sent you, per mail, by our brethren, were incorrect in some respects, being drawn in great haste. We send you another.”*

The Second Plat of Zion

The corrected plat made several changes: (1) The third block for storehouses was eliminated; (2) the remaining temple blocks were made square; (3) the temple blocks were stacked east-west instead of north-south, and (4) the area encompassed by the plat was vastly increased.‡ New plans for the temples also increased their length by 20 feet.

If we assume that tradition has preserved the correct location of the 1831 dedication, we can superimpose illustrations of these visions on an outline of the Temple Parcel (shown here in lighter green against the dark green background).

24 Temples on the First Plat

As we saw, the first plat has larger, 15 acre temple blocks, including a block for the bishop’s storehouses.

24 Temples on the Second Plat

Again, the second plat changed the orientation of the temple blocks, reduced them to 10 acres each, and eliminated the storehouse block.

These visions of Zion were clearly remarkable. By 1833, there were perhaps as many as 1,200 Mormons in Jackson County, Missouri. Although the church had yet to construct a single meetinghouse, both plans called for the construction of not one, but twenty-four massive temples. (Ultimately, the incredible cost of building just one such temple in Kirtland contributed to the indebtedness and collapse of the church there.)

Given the reality of the cost, it’s hard to imagine the saints would have ever been able to complete the vision of Zion’s 24 temples. In the event, they were not able to even begin the construction on the first. Beyond cost, church leaders had failed to consider one other pressing reality: their neighbors.

The plats of Zion fail to take into account the non-Mormon town of Independence’s very existence. When the first plat is superimposed onto the actual land surrounding the Temple Parcel, we see that its blocks overlap nearly half the preexisting plat of Independence.

The First Plat Overlapping Independence.

For the second, expanded plat to be completed, Independence would have to be obliterated.

The Second Plat Overlapping Independence.

While church leaders in Kirtland had not considered non-Mormons in their plans, during that same summer of 1833 back in Independence, those non-Mormons were making it clear that they had plans of their own. In July, Edward Partridge and fellow-Mormon Charles Allen were tarred and feathered. In addition, the church’s printing office and press in Independence, along with other church-owned property, were destroyed. Conflict continued to escalate until the end of the year when non-Mormon vigilantes succeeded in driving all the saints from the county. In all their successive attempts, legal and extra-legal, the first generation of saints failed to “redeem” their property in Zion.

By the time any Latter Day Saints finally did return, Independence had grown and expanded to include the Temple Parcel, which was subdivided into blocks and lots. The first saints to return were members of a small, Illinois-based group, which outsiders nicknamed “Hedrickites,” after their leader, Granville Hedrick. In 1863, John E. Page, an apostle under Joseph Smith Jr., ordained Hedrick to be prophet and president of the church. In 1864, Hedrick reported that he had been visited by an angel who instructed the church to “gather together upon the consecrated land which I have appointed and dedicated by my servant Joseph Smith…in Jackson County.”† By 1865, Hedrickites had begun to return to Independence. Between 1867 and 1874, they purchased the eight lots including the traditional spot of the 1831 dedication. They built their first chapel in 1889, and today they are known as the Church of Christ (Temple Lot).

The two largest Latter Day Saint churches, the LDS Church and the RLDS Church (now Community of Christ), also began to have a presence in Independence and to repurchase their own portions of the Temple Parcel. Today the ownership of the Temple Parcel remains split between these three denominations.

Repurchasing Lots in the Temple Parcel.

The Community of Christ began construction of a large stone church just north of the Temple Parcel in 1888. In 1918, the church moved its headquarters to Independence and in 1926 began the forty-year-long construction of the Auditorium on the Temple Parcel. The LDS Church constructed a Visitors Center on its portion of the Temple Parcel in 1971 and in 1980 added a Stake Center just to its east. The Church of Christ (Temple Lot) constructed a new headquarters building on its portion of the Temple Parcel in 1991. In 1994, the Community of Christ dedicated its temple on the Temple Parcel. Finally, in 1999, the Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — made up primarily of conservative former RLDS members — established its headquarters just to northeast of the Temple Parcel.

The Temple Parcel Today.

The early visions of Zion called for twenty-four temples. Thus far, three have been attempted (counting the original church’s dedication and a Hedrickite attempt in the 1920s) and one has been completed. The LDS Church’s recent decision to avoid building its new metropolitan Kansas City temple on its portion of the Temple Parcel makes it unlikely there will be any more Latter Day Saint temples in Zion in the near future.

But who knows what the far future will bring?

_______________
* Ronald E. Romig and John H. Siebert, “Jackson County, 1831-1833: A Look at the Development of Zion,” in Restorations Studies III (1986), 300.
† R. Jean Addams, “The Church of Christ (Temple Lot), Its Emergence, Struggles, and Early Schisms,” in Bringhurst and Hamer, Scattering of the Saints: Schism within Mormonism (Independence, Missouri: John Whitmer Books, 2007), 208.
‡ The first plat of Zion called for streets 132 ft. (8 perches) broad. This dimension was shown in my maps, but the text of my post originally said “60 ft.” which would have been considerably less broad. On the second plat of Zion, the four main streets bounding the temple blocks were still to have been 132 ft. broad, but all the other streets were reduced to 99 ft. (6 perches) broad.

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    This is very helpful to someone like me with very little exposure to the Independence sites.

    All those churches in such close proximity reminds me of the different Christian churches that are joint caretakers of holy sites in Israel, jealously guarding their own traditions’ prerogatives.

  2. Nick Literski says:

    Actually, the LDS “Kansas City area” temple plan is not to build on the Independence temple parcel. Rather, they are planning to build inside a combined residential and commercial “master planned community,” which is being built as an investment of the LDS church itself. From lds.org:

    For the temple serving the greater Kansas City area, the site will be in Clay County, Missouri, on residential land within the Kansas City limits that is already being developed by the Church. The development is known as Shoal Creek.

    Specifically, the temple will be at the intersection of I-435 and Shoal Creek Parkway. The Shoal Creek Valley development is under the auspices of Zions Securities Corporation, a subsidiary of Deseret Management Corporation–the corporate organization for management of the LDS church’s real estate properties.

    In short, the LDS church owns the land, and for a number of years has been developing the surrounding real estate in order to sell hundreds of homes and retail/office spaces. In this lagging economy, one can only imagine the effect building a temple within the development will have on boosting the return on investment.

  3. John: Fabulous stuff, as always. About a year ago, I really enjoyed reading Craig Campbell’s Images of the New Jerusalem, which goes into detail about all you have mentioned here.

    Nick: Actually, John specifically mentioned that the new LDS Temple is not being built on the original temple parcel. Get his statement straight before making your accusation.

  4. …which, if I may add, seems rather tangential to John’s thoughtful historical post.

  5. Velikiye Kniaz says:

    An excellent and most enlightening presentation, John. You are a fine cartographer! One wonders what the Prophet Joseph envisioned as the purpose for the 24 Temples. perhaps he was looking towards the Millenium and figured that they would be functioning 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year in order to perform all of the ordinances for those of the human family who died before hearing the Gospel. Could he have already had the foreknowledge of baptisms for the dead and the sealing ordinances before Nauvoo and the King Follett eulogy? Maybe the answer lies somewhere in the forthcoming volumes of the Joseph Smith papers.
    Thank you very much for this vsiual presentation. As a resident of a Salt Lake lot that is 55.5′ wide and 103′ deep, I confess that I am less than enamored with the lots of Zion. Perhaps if one had the option to choose all of one’s neightbors. If not, I can tell you that it is not particularly pleasant to live cheek to jowl with others. And I am sure that my neighbors would agree! Pity the poor Saint who had a corner lot and had to shovel all of that snow!

  6. Thanks, John, as always.

  7. Masterful work, John! The overlays are especially dramatic…and informative.

    Velikiey, Joseph Smith most certainly didn’t have in mind our Temple liturgy at the time. I think the use of the Kirtland temple makes the most sense as a pattern, which the Joseph Smith Papers you mentioned, highlight quite nicely. The Temple was the essentially the only meeting house of the Saints. It was used for school, church, blessing meetings, and the Kirtland temple rituals. Note that the 24 temples were assigned to various priesthood groups. Note also that the plats were designed before the Kirtland Temple was even close to being finished.

  8. Steve Evans says:

    Really great, and not just for the illustrations. A good background and wonderful way to visualize the whole movement,

  9. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: That’s exactly what I thought, Kevin: This is just like in Jerusalem, but thankfully with less violence these days.

  10. Very enlightening. I have somehow grown up thinking that the “Temple Lot” is the only temple site in Independence, with the vaguely apocalyptic fantasy that one day the Hedrickites will relinquish the land to the Brighamites. If I’m reading you correctly, John, all the various Restorationist buildings are already on the Temple Parcel. Thus there already is a temple on the temple land in Independence, belonging to the CoC. Has Jesus appeared in it yet…?

  11. Amazing post. Thank you John for putting all this together and for the information you provided.

  12. blocks laid out in alternating directions so that no one’s home faced another.

    Is this setup advantageous (maybe it’s obvious – but I’m not so sure)?

    Was any explanation provided for this particular trait to the planning?

  13. Nick Literski says:

    Nick: Actually, John specifically mentioned that the new LDS Temple is not being built on the original temple parcel. Get his statement straight before making your accusation.

    You’re absolutely right. I missed the word “avoid” when I read. While I don’t believe I “accused” John of anything, I certainly apologize to John for my error.

    …which, if I may add, seems rather tangential to John’s thoughtful historical post.

    How “tangential” it may be is in the eye of the beholder, Ben. Likewise, just because you don’t like the implications, doesn’t mean (as you imply) that it isn’t “thoughtful.” Feel free to draw your own conclusions, of course.

  14. Eric Boysen says:

    Alternating directions would give you some measure of privacy. This would have been handy for crypto-polygynists, but that never became much of an issue.

  15. Eric, again, that is anachronistic.

    Long skinny lots allowed for a home on the street front and then a green area, of gardens and trees. Most homes would therefore face something of a greenbelt.

  16. John Hamer says:

    Kevin (1) and MikeInWeHo (9): I agree — it’s a little like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with different sections held by the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Armenian Orthodox churches, with outposts on the roof for the Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox churches.

    Velikiye (5): As J. points out, the original idea of Latter Day Saint temples had nothing to do with “temple work” in the modern LDS sense. The twenty-four temples seem to have been symbolic of the church’s priesthood hierarchy, like the multiple pulpits in the Kirtland Temple and the multiple towers on the Salt Lake City Temple.

    Notation on the first plat indicates that temples 1-12 represent Melchizedec offices and 13-24 represent Aaronic offices. Specifically, temples 1-3 are for the Elders, 4-6 are for the High Priests, 7-9 are for the Bishop, 10-12 are for the Presidency of the Melchizedec Priesthood, 13-15 are for the Deacons, 16-18 are for the Teachers, 19-21 are for the Priests, and 22-24 are for the Presidency of the Aaronic Priesthood. (If you’re wondering what a bunch of twelve year old boys would do with three temples of their own, recall that the modern LDS practice of ordaining male teenagers is quite different from the practice in the early Mormon church.)

    Ben (3): That’s a great book. We were lucky enough to get Craig Campbell to give a plenary address at the last John Whitmer conference in Independence in 2006.

    Nick (2, 13): My phrasing there was a little contorted.

  17. John Hamer says:

    J (7): I agree — that’s why I like putting context into maps. You discover all kinds of fascinating things when you can visualize them in a new way.

    Danithew (12): I believe J’s right in the thinking that went behind alternating the orientation of the blocks. It’s a very common characteristic in Mormon city planning found in the Kirtland plat, Far West plat, the Salt Lake City plat, the Manti (Utah) plat, etc. Eric (14): Privacy may well have been part of the idea, but J’s quite right that nobody was thinking about a designing a city for polygamists in 1833.

    Ronan (10): The traditional spot of the 1831 dedication is clearly special real estate and this is what the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) owns among the 8 city lots it repurchased in the late 19th century. However, the outline of those lots (the outline of the current Temple Lot property) is based on the non-Mormon subdivision. The LDS Church property and the Community of Christ property are both part of the original temple parcel and the early plans for the temple blocks encompass land outside that parcel.

    So, yes, if the LDS Church wanted to build a temple on the Temple Lot — (which it apparently does not) — it owns a portion that is more than sufficient to do so. This is a good thing, since there is no way the Hedrickites are giving up their part of the Temple Lot to anyone short of the returned Christ in all his glory. (At that point, Jesus will have to explain to a lot of dissappointed members of the Restoration that his one and only true church is, and has always been, the Cutlerites.)

    Yes, I’m sure Christ has visited the Community of Christ temple; however, they have rejected a literal eschatology, so you don’t have to worry that the Millennium is nigh, just that it’s merely symbolic.

  18. What a great post! Thanks.

  19. Very cool. Thanks John.

  20. As others have said already, this is fascinating – especially with the maps. Thank you.

  21. So, who were the lots re-purchased from? Is abandoned land available for claims after a certain period of time?

    I’ve always wondered that, but never come across a discussion in my casual church history reading?

  22. John Hamer says:

    Spencer (21): During the 1830s and 40s, the parcel lay vacant and was used as a woodlot by Independence locals. Title to the parcel was held in trust for the church by Edward Partridge who died in 1840. After this, the title situation became murky. To raise money for the trek to Utah, Partridge’s widow and heirs sold a quitclaim deed to the property to James Pool, a non-Mormon, for $300. Pool sold sections of the parcel to John Maxwell. It seems that Martin Harris may have had a separate, conflicting deed, for reasons that are unclear. Another non-Mormon named Samuel Woodson bought a section from Lemuel Edwards based on a separate deed (which may or may not have been connected with the Harris deed). Maxwell and Woodson worked out their competing claims and subdivided their Temple Parcel property into city lots which were added to Independence in 1851 as the “Woodson & Maxwell Addition.” Other non-Mormons bought these lots and the Hedrickites bought the lots from them.

    The title situation led to a major lawsuit known as the “Temple Lot Suit” in the 1890s. The RLDS Church, claiming to be the sole legal successor to the original church, sued the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) for possession based on Partridge’s original ownership. The RLDS Church also came up with a third, odd deed, which was supposedly transmitted through the heirs of Oliver Cowdery. The LDS Church entered the suit on the side of the Church of Christ (Temple Lot).

    The U.S. Eight Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that too much time had elapsed for any claimant to exercise rights of prior ownership based either on succession to Partridge’s original purchase or through claims of the Cowdery deed. Thus the “adverse occupants” (the people who had purchased the city lots, including the Hedrickites) were ruled to be the rightful owners. In 1896, the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal, finally settling the ownership dispute.

  23. Very educational! I was also under the mistaken impression that the Hedrickites would have to fold or sell their land to the LDS Church for the prophecy to be fulfilled.

    Once clarification, however. You have Westport Road on your maps, but isn’t it W. Lexington Ave. that borders the temple plot?

  24. John Hamer says:

    Jeremy (23): Yes, W. Lexington Ave. is the current name for that section of the road, which was originally an early trail — one of several variant legs of the Santa Fe Trail. If you look at a current map of Independence and Kansas City you’ll see other remains of the trail that are still called Westport Road because it connected the towns of Westport and Independence.

    Westport (now a cute section of Kansas City) was only founded around 1833, so it may actually be premature to call the trail Westport Rd. on the 1833 map. (Unless I get better confirmation that the trail was already called Westport Rd. in the Mormon period, I’ll probably remove that label before publishing the map anywhere.)

    In terms of prophecy, the prophesied temple has already been fulfilled for the Community of Christ. For the LDS Church, the property is available and prophetic fulfillment merely awaits construction. The same is true for the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) in terms of property; but they also would need to raise a lot of money to be able to fulfill the prophecy. Everyone else will have to be content with somewhere outside the Temple Parcel. The Cutlerites, for example, have their headquarters about 3 blocks south, in an area that is still within both the first and second 1833 plat designs for the city of Zion.

  25. Timburriaquito says:

    I remember visiting the LDS visitor’s center many years ago, and I think I remember hearing that the visitor’s center is built to the same dimensions as one of the 24 temples from Joseph’s vision. The thinking was that it was built that way so that when the time came for the realization of the original plan, at least one temple would already be in place. Anyone else hear likewise?

  26. John Hamer says:

    Timburriaquito (25): I’ve heard various theories about how the LDS Visitor Center could be converted into a temple in an emergency. Unfortunately, your guides were incorrect; the Visitor Center’s footprint is too large for either of the Independence Temple plans from the 1830s.

    There’s a lot of Mormon folklore that swirls around the building. Craig Campbell discusses and dismisses as folklore similar stories in the book Ben mentioned above: Images of the New Jerusalem: Latter Day Saint Faction Interpretations of Independence, Missouri, pp. 171-2.

  27. Thanks for the explanation John. It looks like I need to add some reading on the Temple Lot case to my library.

  28. John,

    I’m currently teaching a D&C class with about 25 adults from my stake. We’re just now getting to D&C 57. I would very much like to use these maps in a PowerPoint presentation. Could that be arranged? (I would certainly give you credit and thanks.)

    Please feel free to contact me privately at michaelbparker AT gmail DOT com.

  29. John Hamer says:

    Hi Mike (28): Yes, I’ve emailed you back.

  30. spencer, UU Press just released this, which though I haven’t read might be something that would interest you.

  31. I would be interested to see the superimposition of the temple boundaries as described by the Temple Lot saints, based on the corner stones and revelations they’ve received. The photo (available as a postcard) of their membership standing along the lines of where they feel the temple should be built and its dimensions would be a nice addition.

  32. John Hamer says:

    Mike Parker pointed out to me that my original post incorrectly listed the breadth of the streets as 60 ft., instead of 132 ft. I’ve made that correction.

    Ben (31): I’ll make a map showing the Temple Lot boundaries and also an artists rendition of the Church of Christ (Temple Lot)’s temple plans in a future post.

  33. Richard Bushman’s coverage of the City of Zion plat from his book “Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling” included:
    “.. the plans called for a population of 15,000 to 20,000 people – a city, not a town. Only seven cities in the United States in 1830 had more than 25,000 inhabitants and only sixteen had populations between 10,000 and 25,000. St. Louis had around 10,000. Zion would have dwarfed every city west of the Mississippi.”

  34. John Hamer says:

    Chris (33): One of the problems with that notation on the first plat is that there are only 960 lots set aside for houses on the first plat. To achieve a population of 15,000-20,000, each house would have to have at least 16-21 residents.

  35. Craig S. Campbell says:

    John, this is a great site. I wish I could have had maps like these in the book !

    Some comment on the announcement of the LDS Temple during October 2008 General Conference. Five temples were announced by President Thomas S. Monson including one for the “Greater Kansas City Area”, “Philadelphia, Pennsylvania”, and “Rome, Italy”. Immediately afterward there was an audible gasp which seemed to surprise President Monson, as he paused for a moment to take in the reaction. It seemed, however, that the 20,000 in the Conference Center were gasping about Rome as it was mentioned last. I think the “Greater Kansas City Area” went right over most of the heads of those in attendance. LDS members are more attuned to hearing the phrases “Jackson County” or “Independence”. “Kansas City” has no religious significance though those knowledgeable about Clay County know that it certainly does! So in that instance it seems Rome, Italy, beat out Kansas City in some kind of millennial significance.

  36. John, You mention if the LDS Church chose to build a temple on the portion of the temple lot they own it would be considered one of the 24 original temples. If this were the case this temple would not lie within the temple blocks of the original plat, and may not lie within either plat. Based on the figures provided it is difficult to determine whether the LDS visitor center be located within the 2nd plat’s temple blocks. From this reasoning it is understandable that the LDS church has not built a temple on their property since it would not maintain the original location for temples within the plats.

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