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MORMONS

MORMONS. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) has experienced 2 distinct periods of its history in northeast Ohio: the "Kirtland Era" of the early 19th century and the post-WORLD WAR II era. During the Kirtland Era, the Saints gathered at specific geographic locations to "build up the Kingdom of God." In the later period, the Latter-day Saints Church expanded beyond geographic confines. Joseph Smith, Jr. (called the Prophet) and 5 other men organized and incorporated the Church of Jesus Christ on 6 Apr. 1830 in Fayette, NY. (The phrase "Latter-day Saints" was added in 1838.) The church quickly attracted converts, many of whom became zealous missionaries, including Parley P. Pratt. A former Campbellite preacher from Ohio, Pratt helped to introduce Mormonism into the WESTERN RESERVE. In Nov. 1830 Pratt and Oliver Cowdrey preached the restored doctrines of Mormonism to the congregations of Pratt's friend, Sidney Rigdon (another former Campbellite minister) in Mentor and Kirtland. Impressed, Rigdon read the Book of Mormon and admonished his congregations to carefully investigate its message. Conversion to Mormonism quickly followed for Rigdon and about 127 members of his flock. News of the Kirtland success reached Smith in western New York; in Dec. 1830 he received a revelation directing the New York Mormons to "assemble together in Ohio." The next January, Smith and his family arrived in Kirtland, which soon became a physical and spiritual focal point for the Mormons.

Although Mormon activity centered in the counties east of Cuyahoga, proselytizing produced mixed results throughout the Western Reserve. In 1831 Mormon missionaries baptized John Murdock, a farmer who lived near Warrensville, who then preached throughout eastern Cuyahoga county. Eventually 55 residents were baptized because of his efforts.

Due to its reliance on lay priests and volunteers, the Church of the Latter-day Saints created new stakes and wards only when certain that a particular area could supply its own leadership and guidance. (A Mormon stake and ward are analogous to a diocese and parish respectively; a branch has fewer members than a ward.) Between 1831-38, 4 Latter-day Saints branches were established in MAYFIELD VILLAGE, ORANGE, STRONGSVILLE, and WARRENSVILLE HTS. The NORTH UNION SHAKER COMMUNITY also attracted the attention of the Mormons. In Mar. 1831 Smith directed Rigdon, Pratt, and Leman Copley to proselytize among the Shakers, who proved unreceptive; the effort was discontinued. Kirtland eventually lost its favored position. The attention of the Prophet, material goods, and people were increasingly diverted to Jackson County, MO, following a revelation in July 1831 designating that area as the new Mormon Zion. Economic problems in Kirtland caused disharmony during the mid-1830s: land speculation provided quick profits for some, bankrupted others, and destroyed friendships. With the failure of the Kirtland Anti-Banking Safety Society, many local Mormons discounted Smith as a fallen prophet concerned only with generating capital to repay debts. Finally, persecution from local residents outside the Latter-day Saints Church increased over time. With the departure of the Prophet and many of the Saints from Ohio in 1838, the Kirtland Era came to a close. Over the next 10 years, the Mormons were expelled from Missouri, built Nauvoo, IL, and trekked westward to the Great Salt Lake Valley, beginning in 1847. For nearly 100 years following the establishment of the Mormon Kingdom in Utah, the church administered to a scattered membership in northeast Ohio through units known as missions.

In 1946 one Latter-day Saints branch encompassed not only Cleveland but also a large part of northeast Ohio. Members traveled from as far as the Pennsylvania border, Sandusky, and Hudson to attend Sunday services in a rented room in the Carter Hotel. The average attendance was 30. By 1986 the same geographic boundaries housed 2 stakes comprising 15 wards, and 3 branches, encompassing a total membership of over 4,800. At the stake level, 2 significant developments affected Cuyahoga County Mormons. In Oct. 1961 a large portion of northeast Ohio was organized into the Cleveland Stake, which administered to over 2,400 Latter-day Saints in 8 wards and 3 branches. In 1983 the Kirtland stake was organized, which took in the eastern portion of the Cleveland stake. With the boundaries running north and south through PUBLIC SQUARE, the Cleveland and Kirtland stakes included the western and eastern portions of Cuyahoga County, respectively.

For nearly 20 years following the end of World War II, the core of Cuyahoga County's Mormon population consisted largely of transplanted westerners who moved into the Cleveland area because of job transfers, professional opportunities, and matriculations at local educational institutions. They helped strengthen a growing local body. Throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s, most area Mormons lived on the city's west side, and in 1947-48, steps were taken to build a meeting house there. A small 2-story structure was completed on Lake Ave. near Detroit Rd. in 1950. Increasingly, a significant portion of the branch's population came to be composed of students attending Western Reserve Univ.'s School of Dentistry. These students and their spouses first congregated in the LAKEWOOD area and, later, in CLEVELAND HTS. and SHAKER HTS. Together with a small number of permanently relocated Mormons and a growing convert population, the student families comprised a viable east-side group of Latter-day Saints. In 1955 the Euclid Branch was organized, later renamed the Cleveland East Branch, which stretched from Public Square to the Pennsylvania border. While most of its members resided on or near Cleveland's east side, there were families, mainly converts, scattered throughout the far eastern portions of the branch. All of the meetings and activities took place in members' homes and in several community buildings, including the Brainard Community Center, the Mayfield YOUNG MEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSN., and public schools. Inability to find a suitable site for a meeting house stymied construction attempts throughout the late 1950s. In 1962 a parcel on Cedar Rd. in Mayfield, just west of SOM Center Rd., was purchased. The meeting house, begun in 1966, was completed in 1967. In 1969, after it had been fully paid for, the building was dedicated. The Cleveland East Branch became a ward in Oct. 1961, when the Cleveland Stake was organized. Since then membership growth and ward proliferation have taken place east of Cuyahoga County, as well as within its boundaries, including wards in Ashtabula (1968) and Kirtland (1977). In 1986 3 wards shared the eastern portion of Cuyahoga County, Mayfield, Shaker Hts., and Solon, including approx. 700 Latter-day Saints.

Following the student migration from the west side, the population of the Cleveland Branch was reduced to relocated westerners and local converts. Both populations grew, and by 1966 the Lakewood Chapel had become too small to house the west side branch. After selling the building to a Lutheran congregation, members of the Cleveland Branch worshipped and held social activities in community buildings and private homes for 2 years. In 1968 a new building was completed on Westwood Rd. in WESTLAKE. The building housed 2 wards and the offices of the Cleveland Stake. A second chapel was completed in 1979 on Rockside Rd. in SEVEN HILLS. Since individual branches of the Mormon church were established west of Cuyahoga County, in Lorain and Sandusky, in the 1950s, the proliferation of the Cleveland Ward occurred within the confines of western Cuyahoga County. In 1986 4 wards occupied the area, Cleveland, NORTH OLMSTED, Seven Hills, and Westlake, with approx. 1,200 Latter-day Saints. The postwar establishment of the Cleveland and Kirtland stakes and the subsequent organization of new wards within their boundaries indicated the numerical growth experienced by the area Latter-day Saints Church. The average ward had 300 members in 1986.

Harry F. Lupold

Lakeland Community College

Robert Psuik (dec.)


Arrington, Leonard J. and Davis Bitton. The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints (1980).

Backman, Milton. The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830-1838 (1983).