At a certain place in Independence, Missouri, a rectangle of land is surrounded by an amphitheater, a visitors’ center, a peace plaza, a mission office, hundreds of parking spaces, three meetinghouses for congregational worship, and the headquarters for an international church.
The rectangle measures about 300 feet by 200 feet (90 meters by 60 meters). It has nothing on it but grass, a few trees, six small stone markers, and a sign. Compared to nearby structures, it doesn’t look like much. But it is one reason those structures are there.
The buildings are operated by three churches: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Church of Christ, and Community of Christ. Members of all three churches—and other churches in the area—feel a special attachment to that little rectangle of land. They believe it was once dedicated for the construction of a temple in the center place of Zion, in preparation for the Savior’s millennial reign.
Every year, thousands of Latter-day Saints go to the visitors’ center in Independence. Many of them ask about the temple lot. This brief article answers some of their questions.
Where is the temple lot?
The temple lot is in the western portion of the city of Independence. It is one of the highest points in the area, overlooking the metropolis of Kansas City, Missouri, about 9 miles (14 kilometers) to the west. People who visit the Independence Visitors’ Center can see the lot when they exit through the front doors. It lies immediately to the northwest.
On January 2, 1831, several months before revealing the location for the temple, the Lord said that He would give His people “a land of promise.” He declared, “I will give it unto you for the land of your inheritance, if you seek it with all your hearts. And this shall be my covenant with you” (D&C 38:18–20). On June 6, 1831, the Lord commanded Joseph Smith and others to preach the gospel in the state of Missouri and to prepare for a conference there. He promised that if they would be faithful, “the land of [their] inheritance” would “be made known unto them” (D&C 52:5).
As Joseph and his fellow servants journeyed in Missouri, they were anxious to learn of this promised land. Joseph expressed their hope: “When will the wilderness blossom as the rose; when will Zion be built up in her glory, and where will thy Temple stand unto which all nations shall come in the last days?”1
On July 20, 1831, the Lord revealed His answer to Joseph:
“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).
When the Lord revealed the location of the lot, the land was west of the city of Independence. Since then, the city has expanded to include the temple lot. The courthouse mentioned in this revelation no longer exists. It was replaced in 1836 by the building now known as the Truman Courthouse.
When was the land dedicated as a temple lot? Who pronounced the dedication?
John Whitmer wrote that on August 3, 1831, eight elders “assembled together where the temple [was] to be erected.” Those eight elders were the Prophet Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, Peter Whitmer Jr., Frederick G. Williams, William W. Phelps, Martin Harris, and Joseph Coe. John Whitmer recorded: “Sidney Rigdon dedicated the ground where the city is to stand, and Joseph Smith Jr. laid a stone at the northeast corner of the contemplated temple in the name of the Lord Jesus of Nazareth. After all present had rendered thanks to the great ruler of the universe, Sidney Rigdon pronounced this spot of ground wholly dedicated unto the Lord forever.”2
On this same day, the Church claimed the site so they could purchase it someday.3 The United States government did not make the land available for purchase until December 1831, and Jones H. and Clara Flournoy bought it.4
When did the Saints acquire the temple lot?
On December 19, 1831, Bishop Edward Partridge purchased 63.27 acres from the Flournoys.5 That land included the area that had been dedicated for a temple.
What did the early Saints plan to do with the temple lot?
As the Lord continued to reveal His will to Joseph Smith, the Saints came to understand that the temple lot and the land surrounding it were to be used for more than one sacred building.
In June 1833, the Prophet Joseph and his counselors in the First Presidency prepared a plat for the city of Zion—a plan for the layout of the city. President Frederick G. Williams drew the plat, which called for bishops’ storehouses and 24 temples in the center of the city, surrounded by blocks divided into property for residences.6 The plat called for a square mile of land—more than 10 times the amount of property Bishop Partridge had purchased.
The plat included a brief explanation of the 24 temples. They were to correspond to quorums and functions of the priesthood. Twelve of them corresponded to the Melchizedek Priesthood, and the other twelve corresponded to the Aaronic Priesthood.7
The plat did not specifically explain the kinds of activities that would take place inside the temples. However, the Saints’ use of the Kirtland Temple from 1836 to 1838 suggests that the temples in Independence would have been used for worship, teaching and learning, priesthood ordinances and blessings, Church administration, and community functions. Each temple was to bear the inscription “Holiness to the Lord.”8
In August 1833, the First Presidency prepared a revised plat for the city of Zion and a revised plan for the temple that was to be built first. The plan for the temple included the following explanation, written by Oliver Cowdery: “Those patterns previously sent you, per mail, by our brethren, were incorrect in some respects, being drawn in great haste. They have therefore drawn these, which are correct. The form of the city was also incorrect, being drawn in haste. We send you another.”9
The revised plat called for a larger city—one and one-half square miles—with more lots for residents. It no longer featured storehouses in the city’s center, leaving only temples in that part of the city. It also shifted the temple blocks in their orientation, from north–south to east–west.
Both versions called for one certain temple to be built first. This temple was to be a “house of the Lord for the [First] Presidency.”10 In the first version, that temple was labeled with the number 5 and then with an X. In both versions, it was to be built on the spot now referred to as the temple lot. In the final plan, it was “to be 97 feet long, and 61 feet wide [about 30 meters long and 19 meters wide] within the walls.”11
Although the two versions differed from each other in significant ways, their focus was essentially the same. Both centered on sacred buildings in the heart of a covenant community. Both were patterns to be followed in stakes of Zion as the Church continued to grow.
Did the Saints build any of those temples?
Soon after the Lord revealed plans for the city of Zion, the Saints were forced to leave Jackson County. They did not build any of those 24 temples, but they did not forget the plat of Zion—a pattern for a community centered on holy temples, worship, covenants, unity in faith, and consecrated service. They followed this pattern in other settlements, such as Far West, Missouri; Nauvoo, Illinois; and Salt Lake City, Utah.
Who owns the temple lot today?
Community of Christ owns most of the 63.27 acres purchased by Bishop Partridge. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owns the next-largest portion.
The smallest portion of the land—including the spot dedicated for a temple—is owned by the Church of Christ, once known as the Church of Christ (Temple Lot). This church was founded by Granville Hedrick, a former Latter-day Saint who chose not to go to the Salt Lake Valley when the Saints left Nauvoo, Illinois. Granville Hedrick and his followers returned to Independence in 1867.
What buildings are near the temple lot today?
As shown in this photograph, the building closest to the lot is a meetinghouse owned by the Church of Christ. Other nearby buildings are owned by Community of Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Why is the temple lot significant today?
To answer this question, we return to words of revelation. “This is the land of promise,” the Lord declared, “and the place for the city of Zion. . . . The place which is now called Independence is the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward” (D&C 57:2–3).
We do not know exactly how, when, or where these words will be fulfilled, but we do know that that rectangle of land in Independence is sacred. It has been dedicated to the Lord. The Lord’s revelations about that land—and the principles of gospel living that are woven into those revelations—are part of His people’s past, present, and future.