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Temple Lot

A view of the Temple Lot with the Church of Christ headquarters (constructed 1990) in the background

Basic information
Location 200 South River Boulevard, Independence, Missouri
Affiliation Church of Christ (Temple Lot)
Year consecrated 1831
Website Church of Christ-Temple Lot
Architectural description
Groundbreaking 1831 (cornerstones laid by Joseph Smith)
Year completed Never completed

A view of the Temple Lot with the Community of Christ's Auditorium in the background.

The Temple Lot, located in Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, is the first site to be dedicated for the construction of a temple in the Latter Day Saint movement. The two-acre (0.8 ha) plot was dedicated in 1831 by the movement's founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., to be the center of the New Jerusalem or "City of Zion" after he received a revelation stating that it would be the gathering spot of the Saints during the Last Days.[1] The Temple Lot is currently an open, grass-covered field occupied in its northeast corner by a few trees and the headquarters of the Church of Christ (Temple Lot), which is not considered a temple. No other structures exist on the property.


The city of Independence, Missouri became important to the Latter Day Saint movement starting in 1831, only the second year of the religion's existence. The movement's founder, Joseph Smith, had received revelations designating this city as the "Center Place" of "Zion",[2] and many early adherents believed that the Garden of Eden had been located there, though this was never officially promulgated as church doctrine.[3] Although Smith had designated the Temple Lot site as the heart of his new City of Zion, the Latter Day Saints were expelled from Jackson County (late 1833) and later from Missouri (early 1839) before a temple could be constructed.

Ownership of the property later became the subject of court challenges among some sects of the Latter Day Saint movement that arose from the succession crisis following Smith's assassination, most notably between the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) and the Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In 1891 the Reorganized Church, founded by Smith's son Joseph Smith III, sued in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri to take possession of the property. It won in lower court, but lost in the United States Court of Appeals. The United States Supreme Court refused to review the case.[4]

The Temple Lot is currently owned by the small Church of Christ (Temple Lot), which acquired the land in 1867. This organization made a failed effort in 1929 to build a temple of its own on the property,[5] which represents to date the only attempt to erect such a structure since the time of Joseph Smith. Currently this body has its headquarters on the site, which has twice been damaged by arson attacks. The Temple Lot church has insisted that it will never cooperate with other Latter Day Saint or Christian denominations in building a temple, nor will it sell the Lot, regardless of any price that might conceivably be offered.[1] Some members of other Latter Day Saint groups have described the Temple Lot church as "'squatters' on the location,"[6] but that organization steadfastly defends its right to possess the property as its physical and spiritual "custodian".[7]

The Community of Christ, the second-largest church within the modern Latter Day Saint movement, now owns the bulk of the original 63 acre (26 ha) property around the Temple Lot, often referred to as the greater Temple Lot. This land had been purchased in the 1830s by Latter Day Saint bishop Edward Partridge to be the central common and sacred area according to the Plat of Zion. It maintains its world headquarters in this area, opening its Auditorium to the south of the Lot in 1958, while in 1994 it dedicated its Independence Temple just to the east.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) operates an interpretive visitor center one block east and south of the Temple Lot. It also maintains a Stake Center, LDS Social Services center, and mission headquarters on its portion of the greater Temple Lot.

Early history of the property

Selection of the site

Stone from the Southeast Corner of the Temple and a "witness marker" for the cornerstone on the northeast corner on exhibit in the Temple Lot museum. The witness marker has a "surveyor 4" (backwards numeral "4") to differentiate it from a "9" The stone refers to being 40 feet (12 m) from the cornerstone.

In March 1831, Joseph Smith received a revelation which stated that a New Jerusalem was to be established in the United States.[8] In June 1831, Smith received a second revelation that the New Jerusalem was to be established somewhere on the western border of Missouri, "on the borders by the Lamanites (Native Americans)."[1][9] Independence is six miles (10 km) east of Kaw Point on the current Missouri–Kansas border, which formed the north–south line west of which all tribes were to be removed in the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

On July 20, 1831, Smith presented another revelation on the subject, with more precise details:

"[T]he land of Missouri ... 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. ... Behold the place which is now called Independence is the center place, and the a spot for the temple is lying westward upon a lot which is not far from the court house: wherefore it is wisdom that the land should be purchased by the saints; and also every tract lying westward, even unto the line [the Missouri-Kansas border] running directly between Jew [Native Americans] and Gentile. And also every tract bordering by the prairies, inasmuch as my disciples are enabled to buy lands. Behold this is wisdom, that they may obtain it for an everlasting inheritance.[10]

Smith's vision of acquiring every tract of land between Independence and the Kansas border would draw the ire of non-Latter Day Saint settlers throughout Jackson County, including what is now downtown Kansas City.

On August 3, 1831, Smith, Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, Peter Whitmer, Jr., Frederick G. Williams, William W. Phelps, Martin Harris, and Joseph Coe laid a stone as the northeast cornerstone of the anticipated temple. On December 19, 1831 Edward Partidge purchased 63 acres (250,000 m2), including the Temple Lot. During the purchase, Smith was to reveal: "The temple shall be reared in this generation, for verely this generation shall not pass away until an house shalt be built unto the Lord and a cloud shall rest upon it."[1][11] Because no temple at this location has ever been built, Smith's prediction that a temple would be reared "in this generation" has stirred debate.[12]

Temple plans

The Plat of Zion showing the temple as the central location of the community. Most cities with Latter Day Saint roots (including Salt Lake City, Utah and Phoenix, Arizona) were to follow the grid portion of this layout

In June 1833, Smith set out the Plat of Zion, which laid out how the community was to be structured. At the center of the planned city were to be 24 "temples" — 12 for the high priesthood and 12 for lesser priesthood. The specific name for the temple to be built on Temple Lot was "The House of the Lord for the Presidency" which had the following description:

The house of the Lord for the Presidency, is eighty-seven feet long and sixty-one feet wide, and ten feet taken off of the east end for the stairway, leaves the inner court, seventy-eight feet by sixty-one, which is calculated and divided for seats in the following manner, viz: the two aisles four feet wide each; the middle block of pews are eleven feet ten inches long, and three feet wide each; and the two lines drawn through the middle are four inches (102 mm) apart; in which space a curtain is to drop at right angles, and divide the house into four parts if necessary. The pews of the side blocks are fourteen and a half feet long, and three feet wide. The five pews in each corner of the house, are twelve feet six inches long. The open spaces between the corner and side pews are for fireplaces; those in the west are nine feet wide, and the east ones are eight feet and eight inches (203 mm) wide, and the chimneys carried up in the wall where they are marked with a pencil.


Make your house fourteen feet high between the floors. There will not be a gallery but a chamber; each story to be fourteen feet high, arched overhead with an elliptic arch. Let the foundation of the house be of stone; let it be raised sufficiently high to allow of banking up so high as to admit of a descent every way from the house, so far as to divide the distance between this house, and the one next to it. On the top of the foundation, above the embankment, let there be two rows of hewn stone, and then commence the brick-work on the hewn stone. The entire height of the house is to be twenty-eight feet, each story being fourteen feet; make the wall a sufficient thickness for a house of this size. The end view represents five windows of the same size as those at the side, the middle window excepted, which is to be the same, with the addition of side lights. This middle window is designed to light the rooms both above and below, as the upper floor is to be laid off in the same way as the lower one, and arched overhead; with the same arrangement of curtains, or veils, as before mentioned. The doors are to be five feet wide, and nine feet high, and to be in the east end of the house. The west end is to have no doors, but in other respects is to be like the east, except the windows are to be opposite the alleys which run east and west. The roof of the house is to have one-fourth pitch, the door to have Gothic top, the same as the windows. The shingles of the roof to be painted before they are put on. There is to be a fanlight, as you see. The windows and doors are all to have venetian blinds. A belfry is to be in the east end, and a bell of very large size.[13]

Eviction from Jackson County

In July 1833, Mormon leader W. W. Phelps published a copy of a Missouri law setting out requirements for free blacks to come to Missouri in the Evening and Morning Star, a prominent Mormon newspaper.[14] The Latter Day Saints had been experiencing considerable friction with their neighbors in Jackson County prior to this event, but Phelp's publication proved to be the last straw for many non-Mormons in the area—most particularly slaveowners.[15] Enraged that the Mormons were apparently bent upon showing blacks that there was an alternative to slavery in Missouri, they burned the newspaper plant and tarred and feathered Bishop Edward Partridge and church Elder Charles Allen.[15] The process set in motion by this event would end with Latter Day Saints Saints being evicted from Independence and the surrounding Jackson County, Missouri area later that year.

The Latter Day Saints moved across the Missouri River to Clay County, Missouri, where they retained David Rice Atchison as their attorney to settle claims on their real estate in Jackson County. The Mormons would relocate again to Caldwell County, Missouri with its county seat at Far West, before being expelled from Missouri altogether in the 1838 Mormon War.[16] In March 1839, Smith—whose surrender to the State Militia at Far West ended the conflict—told his followers to "sell all the land in Jackson county, and all other lands in the state whatsoever."[1] The Temple Lot was sold to Martin Harris, but Harris did not record the deed.[1]

Post-Smith era

Acquisition by the Hedrickites

Joseph Smith was assassinated in Carthage, Illinois in June 1844. On April 6, 1845, Apostle Brigham Young expressed the desire to reassert church control of the Temple Lot: "And when we get into Jackson county to walk in the courts of that house, we can say we built this temple: for as the Lord lives we will build up Jackson county in this generation."[1] However, he was unable to act on this desire at the time, since he and most of the other Latter Day Saints were in the process of migrating to Utah, and they remained uncertain of the attitudes of Jackson Countians toward the possibility of renewed Mormon interest in their area. On April 26, 1848, Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt and Wilford Woodruff in Winter Quarters, Nebraska debated what they should do about their claim on the property prior to the planned journey to the Salt Lake Valley. Their decision was to accept a $300 quit claim offer on the deed.[1]

In 1847 the city of Independence formally incorporated, with the Temple Lot receiving the legal designation of lots 15 through 22 in the "Woodson and Maxwell Addition". While the main body of Latter Day Saints accompanied Brigham Young to Utah, other groups remaining in Illinois argued that they should return to Independence to build the temple. The first of these groups to relocate to the area was the diminutive Church of Christ (Temple Lot), also called "Hedrickites", in 1867. Unable to acquire the entire greater Temple Lot due to a lack of funds, this organization managed to purchase the Temple Lot itself, erecting its first house of worship on it in 1882.[1]

On June 9, 1887, the RLDS Church laid claim to the entire 63-acre (250,000 m2) greater Temple Lot, including that portion purchased in 1867 by the Church of Christ, after acquiring the deed for the property from the heirs of Oliver Cowdery. The only contested portion of the purchase was the Temple Lot itself. In 1891, the RLDS Church sued the Temple Lot church for the title to the land, winning at trial,[17] but losing on appeal in a Federal appeals court.[18]

A panoramic view of Temple Lot from the U.N. Plaza to the west. Significant buildings (left to right): Stone Church (a historic congregational building of the Community of Christ), Church of Christ Temple Lot, Community of Christ Temple, Community of Christ Auditorium.

First arson incident

In July 1898, W. D. C. Pattison, a suspended member of the LDS Church from Boston, Massachusetts,[19] was arrested and briefly detained after attempting to remove a fence placed around the Temple Lot.[20] Late in the following month, he reportedly demanded that church officials sign ownership of the property over to him, because he believed he was the "One Mighty and Strong".[21] He was detained by police but then released a few days later. Early on September 5, 1898, he set fire to the tiny headquarters building, and then walked to the police station and turned himself in.[22] After testifying in court appearances in November 1898, Pattison was found guilty but insane and confined to a mental institution.[19]

Attempts to build a temple

On February 4, 1927, Otto Fetting, an apostle of the Church of Christ (Temple Lot), claimed that John the Baptist had visited him at his home as an angel and urged construction of a temple on the Temple Lot.[23] Fetting's claim was officially endorsed by the leading quorum of the church and by most of the laity,[24] and ground was broken on April 6, 1929, with instructions that the temple was to be completed within seven years.[1] The proposed structure was to be 180 feet (55 m) in length 90 feet (27 m) in width.[1] After staking out a portion of the ground, an angel allegedly appeared and stated that "[t]he building that you have staked is ten feet too far east, and if you will move the stakes then it shall stand upon the place that has been pointed out by the finger of God."[1] Excavations revealed the stones originally buried by Joseph Smith, in line with the survey markers.[25] These two stones are currently in the Temple Lot headquarters building, while their original position is marked by two other engraved stones embedded visibly in the lot. The outer corners of the temple are presently marked by similar stones.

A doctrinal dispute within the Temple Lot organization about baptism ensued later that year, and Fetting was censured by a majority vote of fellow apostles at a church conference in October 1929.[24] Fetting left the Temple Lot church at this time, taking many members with him who eventually founded the Church of Christ (Fettingite) and the Church of Christ with the Elijah Message. Although the Temple Lot church solicited donations for its proposed temple from individuals and even from other Latter Day Saint organizations,[26] little money was forthcoming (none from the other organizations), and construction never progressed beyond excavating for the structure's foundation. This unsightly hole was filled in by the city of Independence in 1946, after the Temple Lot church had finally abandoned all efforts on the project.[27] The Temple Lot church relandscaped the area, which presently comprises a grassy field, with a few trees and the Temple Lot headquarters building at its northeast end. No further plans for construction of a temple on the site have been announced.

Recent events

A man described as a former member set fire to the Temple Lot meetinghouse (itself constructed in 1905 to replace an earlier structure, also destroyed by fire) in what he claimed was a political protest on 1 January 1990, damaging the upper floor.[28][29][30] The remainder of the building was razed, and a new edifice constructed. This structure serves as the church headquarters, conference site, museum and a meetinghouse for the local Temple Lot congregation.


A small museum operated by the Temple Lot church is located in the lower story of the headquarters building on the Lot; it is staffed by a narrator who will relate the story of this small church, answer questions about the Temple Lot itself, and discuss (if asked) doctrinal and other differences between the Temple Lot church and other Latter Day Saint organizations. Books and literature are available. This museum is open weekdays; admission is free.


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 H. Michael Marquardt, "The Independence Temple of Zion", 1997; retrieved January 24, 2008
  2. LDS Doctrine & Covenants 57:2-3.
  3. Bruce A. Van Orden, “I Have a Question: What do we know about the location of the Garden of Eden?”, Ensign, Jan. 1994, 54–55; see also Andrew Jenson, Historical Record, 7:438-39 (1888); Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 219 (1967); Heber C. Kimball, "Advancement of the Saints", Journal of Discourses 10:235 (1863); Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Brigham Young to Orson Hyde, March 15, 1857 (1830- ); Wilford Woodruff, Susan Staker (ed.), Waiting for the World to End: The Diaries of Wilford Woodruff, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 305 (1993); John A. Widtsoe, G. Homer Durham (ed.), Evidences and Reconciliations, 396-397 (1960); Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 19-20
  4. Ron Romig, "The Temple Lot Suit After 100 Years", JWHA Journal, 12 (1992):3–15
  5. History of the Church of Christ; retrieved March 25, 2009.
  6. Max McCoy, "Separatist by faith: Church of Israel's patriarch rebuts claims of racism", Joplin Globe, 2001-01-28.
  7. History of the Church of Christ. Retrieved on 2009-08-03.
  8. Joseph Smith, Jr. et al. (eds.) (1835). Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Kirtland, Ohio), section 15.
  9. Joseph Smith et al. (eds.) (1833). Book of Commandments, section 56.
  10. Joseph Smith, Jr. et al. (eds.) (1835). Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Kirtland, Ohio), section 27.
  11. LDS Doctrine and Covenants 84:4-5.
  12. For a critical approach to Smith's prophecy, see "Failed Prophecies of Joseph Smith", Institute for Religious Research, retrieved January 24, 2008. For an apologetic approach, see "Independence temple to be built 'in this generation'", FAIR LDS, retrieved January 24, 2008.
  13. An Explanation of the Plat of the City of Zion, Sent to the Brethren in Zion, the 25Th of June, 1833 - - Retrieved January 20, 2008
  14. This law required free blacks to have a certificate of citizenship from another state before entering Missouri.
  15. 15.0 15.1 David Persuitte (2000, 2d ed.). Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon (New York: McFarland) p. 234.
  16. During this period, Smith laid a cornerstone for a temple at Far West, and Brigham Young dedicated a site at Adam-ondi-Ahman, although no cornerstones were laid. Both sites are within 100 miles (160 km) of the Temple Lot, to the north. These two temples were never built, though the LDS Church currently owns the sites and has visitor areas at each.
  17. Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints v. Church of Christ, 60 F. 937 (W.D. Mo. 1894).
  18. Church of Christ in Missouri v. Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 70 F. 179 (8th Cir. 1895).
  19. 19.0 19.1 "Fanatic Burns a Mormon Church", New York Times. 1898-12-01, p. 5.
  20. The Kansas City Star, 1998-09-05, p. A-3.
  21. Court testimony by defendant W. D. C. Pattison in November and December 1898
  22. The Kansas City Star, 1998-09-05, , p. A-3.
  23. Mike Connell, "Small branch of Mormonism has ties to Port Huron", [Port Huron, Mich.] Times-Herald, January 6, 2008.
  24. 24.0 24.1 A Temple in Jackson County. Retrieved on 2009-08-03
  25. This event was noted in the Temple Lot church's newsletter, Zion's Advocate, and occurred on or about May 22, 1929.
  26. Jackson County Temple Lot Saga. Retrieved on 2009-08-03. Although the architect stated that the temple would require $500,000 to complete, the Temple Lot church had less than $1,000 in its temple fund, and never exceeded $5,000 in total donations.
  27. Jackson County Temple Lot Saga. Retrieved on 2009-08-03.
  28. James Walker, "Former Member Burns 'Temple Lot' Church After Joining Mormons", Watchman Expositor, vol. 7, no. 2 (1990).
  29. Blakeman, Karen and Beverly Potter (1990-01-02). "Ex-church member dances as vintage sanctuary burns". Kansas City Times: p. A-1, A-7. 
  30. "Missouri Man Charged in Arson and Burglary of Historic Building", Deseret News, 1990-01-04, p. B5.

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