In 1839, Joseph Smith, first prophet and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, visited the nation’s capitol with Elias Higbee to seek redress of grievances suffered by Church members in Missouri. The Latter-day Saints were suffering mightily in Missouri, where Governor Lilburn Boggs had issued an Extermination Order against the Mormons. In response, United States President Martin Van Buren reportedly said, “Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you.” The Saints were eventually driven out of Missouri during a bitter winter and sought refuge in Illinois. They prospered in Nauvoo, their own city, for five years, but then were driven out by persecution and mobs once again, Joseph Smith and his brother having been martyred. As they moved west to the Rocky Mountains, hundreds lost their lives.
Early Church members paid occasional visits to Washington, D.C., as they sought statehood for their newly-established communities in the Great Basin. Church leader Reed Smoot was elected to the United States Senate in 1903, and seated in 1907 after a series of hearings that brought publicity to the Church. In 1933, a large granite chapel was completed in the area. Future Church President Ezra Taft Benson worked in Washington, D.C. as Secretary of Agriculture in the Eisenhower administration, 1953-60. In 1974, a temple was completed in Kensington, Maryland. Ambassadors and diplomats visit the temple’s annual lighting ceremonies during the Christmas holiday, and cultural events and exhibits are held at the Washington, D.C. Temple Visitors’ Center throughout the year.
Late church President Gordon B. Hinckley, along with 26 other religious leaders from across the nation, visited the Capitol after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and met with U.S. President George W. Bush. Many Mormons serve in the U.S. federal government and live in Washington, D.C.
Within the District of Columbia proper, there are over 2300 Latter-day Saints, with many in outlying areas, and a huge population of young single adults who belong to the Mormon Church, some studying at local universities and others pursuing careers there.
Washington D.C. Temple Trivia
The Washington, D.C. Mormon Temple is the tallest Mormon temple (as of 2011). It has six spires like the Salt Lake Temple, and six ordinance rooms, the only temple outside of Utah to have that many ordinance rooms. It’s a large temple (160,000 square feet) with 14 sealing rooms. The Angel Moroni statue atop the temple is one of only a few that is holding a representation of the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. The open house for the Washington, D.C. temple (which was held 17 September–2 November 1974) was attended by 758,328 guests including special guest Betty Ford—wife of then-U.S. President Gerald Ford. These tours resulted in over 75,000 missionary referrals.
The temple sits on 52 acres about 10 miles north of the United States Capitol in Kensington, Maryland. A free temple shuttle, funded by donations, is offered to patrons and visitors traveling between the Metro and the Washington D.C. Temple.
On Tuesday, August 23, 2011, a 5.8 earthquake caused “minor damage” to the Washington, D.C., Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter said the temple’s spires and facade were damaged during the earthquake.
“There was no damage to the temple interior and no injuries were reported,” Trotter said. “The temple remains operational.”
Area resident Douglas Wiggins told the LDS Church News that the tips broke off of four of the temple’s six spires. The tip on one of the remaining two spires was bent.