The Lord commanded the Saints who gathered to Kirtland, Ohio, to do a monumental task. “A commandment I give unto you,” He said in August 1833, “that ye shall commence a work of laying out and preparing a beginning and foundation of the city of the stake of Zion, here in the land of Kirtland, beginning at my house” (D&C 94:1).
Building a city and a temple required resources the Saints simply did not then possess. Unsure about the kind of building the Lord desired for His temple and concerned about limited resources, a council of early Church leaders proposed building the temple with logs.
In February 1831, the Lord revealed His economic plan for the Church. Saints living the law of consecration turned over their property to the Church and in return received a stewardship for the care of their families. Excess resources were returned for blessing the poor and for the support of the Church, including the construction of the temple.
By living the law of consecration, the Saints could provide for themselves and the poor and fulfill the Lord’s commandment to build a temple. The ashery and sawmill in Kirtland were good examples of these efforts.
Kirtland Bishop Newel K. Whitney consecrated his prosperous ashery as well as his store and other businesses to the Church. All of Bishop Whitney’s income, including profits from the ashery, helped finance the establishment of the Kirtland stake of Zion, including the construction of the temple.
What is an ashery? It is a factory where wood ashes are converted into a substance called potash—an alkaline ingredient important in many 19th-century products.
The workmen wore heavy leather aprons and long leather gloves to protect their skin from the caustic alkali and potash.
The ashery and the revenue it provided aided the growth of the Church in many ways. It was used to secure loans, and it became a dependable source of cash for the impoverished Saints. Income from the ashery helped sustain Joseph Smith and financed the printing of Church literature. It also became an essential source of revenue for building the temple.
To fulfill the commandment to build a temple, the Saints constructed and operated a sawmill. Much of the labor, resources, and skills required to build and operate the mill were consecrated by the Saints. Laborers in the mill crafted the interior support timbers for the temple as well as intricate woodwork.
The Church purchased 16 acres of old-growth forest to provide lumber for the temple. Once felled, logs of walnut, white oak, cedar, and cherry could be floated by means of the Chagrin River within a few hundred yards of the sawmill.
Carpenters laboring on the temple began their day with a prayer meeting at the sawmill to seek a blessing on the day’s labor. Following the meeting, the workforce divided. Those working at the temple went up the hill, and those laboring at the sawmill went to their posts in the mill.
The ashery and the sawmill have been reconstructed at their original locations and are open to the public. Together they bear witness to the Saints’ efforts to consecrate their all to building a temple and establishing the first stake of Zion.