In LDS history, city was oasis of tolerance, security

The Church has been in Missouri almost from the beginning of the Restoration, and its earliest branch in St. Louis was established in 1844.

Just two years after the Church was organized in 1830, members were instructed to gather to Jackson County in western Missouri. The intent was to establish it as the center of Zion.Thousands relocated from Ohio to Independence, augmented later by a steady wave of converts from New England, Canada and the British Isles.

Conflict with earlier settlers led to the establishment by the state legislature of Caldwell and Daviess counties, to which the Latter-day Saints were urged to relocate. They founded Far West and other communities, but this proved only a temporary solution, as conflict again arose, culminating in an order being issued by Gov. Lilburn W. Boggs, requiring the Mormons to leave the state within 30 days or be exterminated.

Establishment of Nauvoo on the banks of the Mississippi River in Illinois followed in 1842. Meanwhile, some of the Latter-day Saints found refuge from persecution in St Louis, where a branch of the Church was formed in 1844.

That branch continued until 1854. Meanwhile, the Prophet Joseph Smith had been martyred, and Brigham Young had led the Latter-day Saints west to the Great Basin. St. Louis members were called west to help in the colonization.

Another St. Louis branch was established in 1898, part of the Church's Northern States Mission.

In 1904, the Church entered an exhibit in the St. Louis World's Fair.

The first Church meetinghouse in St. Louis was purchased in 1915, arranged for by Spencer W. Kimball, a young missionary who would later become president of the Church.

By 1930, eight branches of the Church were functioning in Missouri, at Independence, Joplin, Kansas City, St. Louis, Dealia, St. Joseph, Springfield and Webb City.

By 1974, Church membership in Missouri had reached 14,000, and the St. Louis Missouri Mission was organized in 1977. Then-Gov. Christopher S. Bond rescinded Boggs' extermination order in 1976, in a symbolic gesture that reflected a new era of goodwill in the state toward Latter-day Saints.

By 1980, Church membership in Missouri had reached 25,000, and in 1990, the First Presidency announced plans to build a temple in the St. Louis area. Ground was broken for the temple on Oct. 30, 1993.

Presently, Church membership in Missouri exceeds 40,000. There are two missions in the state, one headquartered in St. Louis and the other in Independence.

In the early days, St. Louis was an oasis of tolerance and security for Latter-day Saints. The citizens never participated in persecution against the Church members and gave protection to them when they fled persecution in western Missouri in the 1830s and in Illinois in the 1840s.

In addition to being a city of refuge it was an emigrant center. The first wave of converts from Europe passed through St. Louis in April 1841, and until at least 1855, the main route to Nauvoo, and later Utah, was through the city.

It 1838, the St. Louis Daily Evening Gazette and other newspapers expressed sympathy for the Latter-day Saints and condemned the forces that were persecuting them and trampling their rights. Some citizens held fund raisers to assist the destitute Latter-day Saints.

After the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the St. Louis press condemned the murder.

After the exodus from Nauvoo, trustees of the Church came to St. Louis to gather funds and goods to relieve the suffering of the Latter-day Saints. By this time there were more than 1,500 Church members in St. Louis and hundreds more on their way from Europe. Brigham Young officially selected the city as "a gathering place for the driven from Nauvoo and the converted from Europe coming up from New Orleans" until a settlement in the West could be established. The Church in the city expanded to several congregations.

After Church members in St. Louis were called west in 1856, there were few members there until 1896, when Elders Melvin J. Ballard and Ezra Christensen were sent from Salt Lake City to reorganize the St. Louis Branch and renew activity. In 1916 the Church purchased an old chapel from the Reformed Dutch Church of America at 5195 Maple Ave. There members met until after World War II. In 1947, a new meetinghouse at 4720 Jamieson was built, the Church's first in the area.

By 1958, Church membership in St. Louis had reached 1,738 members. By 1969, 10 units were established and membership had reached 4,530. Today, there are approximately 15,000 members, 20 meetinghouses and three stakes in St. Louis.

(Source: LDS Public Affairs)

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