March with the Mormon Battalion

Credit: Jason Swensen
Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
Credit: Jason Swensen
Credit: Jason Swensen
Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
Credit: Aaron Thorup

SAN DIEGO, California

“We pray this historic site and visitors’ center will be one of those gifts that blesses friends and neighbors — near at hand, as well as strangers who may come from far away.” — Elder Jeffrey R. Holland from his dedicatory prayer at the 2010 reopening of the San Diego Mormon Battalion Historic Site.

More than 34 million visit San Diego each year to enjoy its beaches, water parks, zoos, shipyards and sun-kissed, relaxed vibe.

For Latter-day Saint history buffs, “The Plymouth of the West” is synonymous with the end of the Mormon Battalion’s grueling yet faith-defining six-month march.

After arriving in San Diego in the early days of 1847, the battalion was put to work on construction projects that helped build both the fledgling San Diego community and many lasting friendships. It remains the only military unit in American history based solely on religious affiliation.

The unit’s remarkable story and contributions are retold several times each day at the San Diego Mormon Battalion Historic Site. Located at historic Old Town San Diego, the Church-owned property hosts legions of guests each year who are curious to learn about San Diego’s rich Latter-day Saint history.

“We designed the site to teach messages of faith and service,” said Mark Lusvardi, the Church’s director of public programs. “Visitors learn how the Mormon Battalion served the community of San Diego with their contributions of digging wells and firing bricks.

“Today we continue to support and serve the community and have truly become friends with our neighbors in Old Town.”

Missionaries at the Mormon Battalion site enlist a bit of the old and the new as they guide visitors along the unit’s nearly 2,000-mile march from Iowa to California’s Pacific coast. The missionaries don replica period costumes, but their presentations also employ creative video technology that allows them to interact with “members” of the famed battalion.

Presentations are offered in English, Spanish and Chinese. It’s educational, kid-friendly — and a lot of fun.

“The exhibits were designed to bring the story to life and help the guests experience the battalion’s journey from the enlistment, to outfitting, to life on the trail and, finally, its arrival and continued service to the community,” said Lusvardi.

The essential contributions of the many Mormon women who accompanied the battalion are also celebrated.

Visitors can also try on period clothing, pose for a Battalion-themed family photo and even pan for gold outside the facility. Expect to spend about an hour at the site to take in a presentation and enjoy the other activities.

The San Diego Mormon Battalion Historic Site is open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; with the last tour beginning at 8 p.m. Admission is free.

Call 619-298-3317 for more information. @JNSwensen

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