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Liberty, MO, Old Mormon Jail
Liberty, MO, Old Mormon Jail
TitleLiberty, MO, Old Mormon Jail
DescriptionPostcard view of the site of the old Liberty, MO Jail, commonly known as the old Mormon Jail
Historical ArticleOld Mormon Jail: Parts and site of the old Liberty Jail, commonly known as the old Mormon Jail is the caption on the reverse side of a postcard published by W.C. Pine Co., Raytown, Mo.

The Victorian house at the corner of Mississippi and Main streets in Liberty was built on the lot formerly occupied by Liberty's first jail. The jail was built in 1833 and used until abandoned in 1853. Part of the old stone jail was left in place for the foundation of the new residence.

Joseph Smith had chosen Independence, Missouri as the land beautiful, described in the book of Mormons as the permanent site of Missouri Zion, to be operated on a collective plan rather than the usual individual basis used by the pioneers.

The economic success in Jackson County combined with the ability of the Mormons to control elections aroused the hostility of their Independence neighbors. In 1833 they were forced to give up their Zion and leave Jackson County. Many fled across the Missouri River to Clay County. Some newspapers of the day condemned the persecution, but the crusade against them increased in violence and in 1839 the Mormons were driven into Illinois. Much later the branch of their church, now known as the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was organized and their temple built in Independence.

On the porch of the house is a large sign giving details of tours available through the cellar, where parts of the jail's stone walls could still be seen. Joseph Smith and his brother, Byrum, had been incarcerated here during the winter of 1838-39 on a charge of treason.

Dan Bortko, today a photographer located on the Liberty Square, remembers visiting the site and taking the tour in the late '50s, with other members of his Cub Scout troop. The entrance was through the back of the house. The guide informed the boys that the Mormons owned the house and hoped someday to buy adjoining land so a large museum honoring Joseph Smith could be built on the site.

Today this has been accomplished. The house is gone and daily tours are held at a block-long museum and parking lot. A speaker and guide tell the historic Mormon story and of the imprisonment of the Smith brothers during the bleak winter of 1838-39.

Kansas City Star
March 30, 1990

KCPL Notes:

The statement "Joseph Smith had chosen Independence, Missouri as "the land beautiful," described in the book of Mormons…." is not correct. It seems likely that the author has confused The Book of Mormon with the book called the Doctrine and Covenants. It designates Jackson County as the place for Zion, but it does not use the phrase "land beautiful."

Joseph Smith's brother was Hyrum, not Byrum.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has not built a temple in Independence. The Community of Christ, formerly called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, built the Auditorium in Independence in the early 1900s and completed their Temple in 1992.

AuthorRay, Mrs. Sam (Mildred)
Item TypePostcard
CollectionMrs. Sam Ray Postcard Collection (SC58)
See finding aid: http://localhistory.kclibrary.org/u?/Local,36981
Local SubjectJails
Liberty, Missouri
Digital FormatJPEG
RepositoryMissouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri
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