Latter-day Saint settlements in the 1830s and '40s were models of order patterned after Joseph Smith's inspired "City of Zion" concept.
Now, a newly discovered original plat of the city of Far West, in northern Missouri, offers a new visual image of the four-square city plan.The historic document, in near-perfect condition, is drawn with black ink on sheepskin. It is labeled "Original Platte of Far West, Caldwell Co., Mo."
In August 1836, two counselors in the Missouri presidency, W. W. Phelps and John Whitmer, selected the 640-acre site for Far West. The town site was surveyed with the temple block in the center and public squares in each quadrant.
Surveyors platted all of the streets 5 rods wide, except those adjacent to the temple block, which were 8 rods, or 132 feet across. The different street widths are clearly evident in the leather plat.
The document appears to have been used to note the assignment of city lots. In more than 60 of the lots, including one of the public squares, someone has placed a firm dot with a pencil.
The rare find is on temporary loan to the Museum of Church History and Art for the new Church history exhibit, opening May 19. It was borrowed from J. B. West of Cameron, Mo., by arrangement with the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Independence.
West found the leather document in the attic of his grandfather's vacant farmhouse about 15 years ago. The farm had been in the Cross family for three generations.
West's great-great-grandfather, William Hurlburt Cross, had acquired the property from George M. Hinkle. West assumes that the the plat was left behind by Hinkle, according to Steven L. Olsen, operations manager at the Church museum, who coordinated arrangements for the loan.
"Whatever its provenance," Olsen said, "the plat is a significant find."
"Like the other city plats, it is a religious document," he added. "It sets forth an orderly pattern intended as an earthly reflection of the ideal religious community."
The museum heard of the plat from Charles Allen, a former resident of Cameron, who is helping to restore historic buildings in Nauvoo. Allen has been doing research in early Church history. He shared that interest with West, who has been an RLDS guide at Far West and Adam-ondi-Ahman.
The plat will be displayed alongside the original manuscript of the well-known City of Zion plat for Jackson County, Mo., and original architectural sketches for the Independence Temple.
Joseph Smith's handwritten instructions surround the city plan for Jackson County. The temple plan was prepared by Frederick G. Williams in Kirtland, Ohio, and sent to Missouri in June 1833, along with the plat of Zion.
Bishop Edward Partridge's widow, Lydia, presented the temple drawings to the Historian's Office in 1865, along with two tin carrying tubes used for protecting architectural drawings. These are also in the display case, located in front of a log cabin from northern Missouri.
The cabin is a reminder that even though the saints were living in primitive log homes, they dreamed of an ideal religious society in a city with the temple at its center.