KIRTLAND, Ohio — From the pinnacle of his position as leader of the Church, President Gordon B. Hinckley shared thoughts from his perspective of watching a prophesy come to pass that was originally given by Joseph Smith to a handful of priesthood leaders huddled in a small schoolhouse near Kirtland.
"I think those who walked these roads could not have dreamed — although the Prophet spoke of it — could not have dreamed of the marvelous expansion of this great work," he said during the dedicatory service.
President Hinckley visited Kirtland May 17-18 to dedicate six facilities recently constructed or renovated on this historic site. These buildings mark the first major effort to preserve the history of Kirtland since the Newel K. Whitney store was renovated and dedicated in 1984.
While in Kirtland, President Hinckley addressed members in two meetings; a member meeting on May 17, and a dedicatory service the next day. Proceedings were broadcast by satellite from the Kirtland Ohio Stake Center to members located in meetinghouses across Ohio.
"There is something unique and wonderful about what happened here," President Hinckley said during the dedicatory service, putting the Kirtland period of Church history in perspective. "Nothing like it has occurred anywhere else in the history of the Church, either before or since."
President Hinckley departed from his prepared text and spoke of what he felt earlier that day while partaking of the sacrament in the Kirtland Ward.
"As I sat here," he said, choked with emotion, "my mind stretched across the earth. I saw this little infant Church — not born here, but nurtured here and blessed here and tested here, and tried here — grow and expand across the earth."
He listed major cities and countries from all areas of the world and said, "I have been to all of these places, and have worshipped with our people in these places. I just cannot believe it."
Sitting in a beautiful chapel "sanctified by the sacrifice of those who stopped here for a season, including my own forebears, I was deeply touched as I thought of the miracle of what has come to pass as this work has spread across the world," he said.
"We are part of an incomparable miracle."
During his comments, President Hinckley acknowledged the contribution of many who made the new facilities possible, specifically noting the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation. "A remarkable and wonderful thing has occurred here," he said. "It has been made possible through the efforts of many generous and wonderful people."
The dedicatory session concluded a busy day of events that included a visit to the Kirtland Temple where President Hinckley was hosted by Lachlan MacKay of the Community of Christ, formerly The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. President Hinckley studied the handiwork of the pulpit and the breastwork and sat in a pew quietly reflecting on the events that occurred there.
After visiting the temple, he was eager to see the property owned by his ancestors, located on a bend in the road in the direction of the Isaac Morley farm near the historic sites.
When it was suggested that he view the land through the window, he said, "No, I want to get out and get my feet muddy."
After surveying the heavily wooded land, he mused, "Let that be a lesson. Never buy land you haven't seen or when it is covered with snow."
After visiting the temple, President Hinckley, accompanied by his wife, Marjorie, along with Elder Neal A. Maxwell and his wife, Colleen, were chauffeured in golf carts to see the six new or restored buildings.
With his love of woodwork, President Hinckley found particular fascination with the sawmill and nearby ashery. Tucked away in a secluded cove, both buildings were rebuilt on the foundations of the original buildings.
"You never know if the sawmill will work until it's built and you try it," said Darrin Sweeney, project manager for Keller Carlisle construction company, who helped construct the sawmill. Elder T. Bowring Woodbury, historic site director, led President Hinckley's entourage through the ashery, a popular place in frontier times where early Church members sold ashes made in their homes and fields. The ashes where purged and heated to make pot ash and pearl ash which was shipped to the east coast to be used to make soap and glass.
After touring the new sites, President Hinckley attended a reception with local and state dignitaries, including Lt. Gov. Jennette Bradley who presented a large road marker noting the contribution of the early members in settling Ohio. The marker was one of more than 340 to be presented around the state as part of Ohio's bicentennial celebration this year.
The marker was unveiled by Karl and Joyce Anderson, longtime residents and historians of Kirtland.
Kirtland Mayor Edward Podojil acknowledged contributions by the Church and expressed appreciation for how the historic sites improve the city. He also thanked Brother Anderson who had long been working on this project.
"First," said President Hinckley a little later in the program to the delight of the audience, "I would like to say, Mayor Podojil, that Karl Anderson has not been working on this just since before you were mayor. He's been working on it since before you were born."
In his comments during the dedicatory session, Elder Maxwell said, "It is a wondrous thing to see a merciful God working through a choice seer. This is a God we understand so much better because of the Kirtland period."
He highlighted other teachings from the Lord during this time, including the Lord's witness of men raised up to write the U. S. Constitution, and the foretelling of the Civil War 30 years before it happened.