Origins of Kirtland
After the founding of the United States, northern Ohio was designated as the Western Reserve and was sold to the Connecticut Land Company. The area was first surveyed by Moses Cleaveland and his party in 1796.
Kirtland is named for Turhand Kirtland, a principal of the Connecticut Land Company and judge in Trumbull County, the first political entity in Ohio that included Kirtland township. Kirtland, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War, demonstrated "both breadth of vision and integrity" in his fair dealings with the local Native Americans. He was known for his bravery, resourcefulness, and passion for justice. Dr. Jared Potter Kirtland was the son of the former; he helped to found a medical college in nearby Willoughby, Ohio, and he compiled the first ornithology of Ohio. The bird Kirtland's Warbler is named for Jared Kirtland. This rare species has been documented in the city during migration, but it does not nest in Ohio.
Being less well suited to agriculture, the densely forested, clay soiled, high, hilly, land of Kirtland was settled later than surrounding townships: Mentor in 1798, and Chester in 1802. Kirtland's first European settlers were the John Moore family, soon followed by the Crary family who came to Kirtland in 1811. In 1893 Christopher Crary wrote a memoir of his Kirtland life, which provided a great deal of material for Anne B. Prusha's 1982 history of Kirtland.
Headquarters of the Latter Day Saint movement
From 1831 to 1838 Kirtland was the headquarters for the Latter Day Saint movement. Joseph Smith moved the church to Kirtland in 1831, shortly after its formal organization in April 1830 in Palmyra, New York. Latter Day Saints built their first temple there, a historic landmark that is now owned and operated by the Community of Christ, a group descended from the church founded by Smith. The temple was built with a degree of opulence, considering the underdeveloped nature of the area and the poverty of most early church members. Many attending the Kirtland Temple dedication in 1836 claimed to see multiple heavenly visions and appearances of heavenly beings, including deity. For this and other reasons, Kirtland remains a place of importance to those of all Latter Day Saint denominations. Many sections from the Doctrine and Covenants, considered modern revelations and canonical by most denominations within the Latter Day Saint movement, originated in Kirtland during the 1830s.
Ownership of the Kirtland Temple was in a confused state and disputed for a number of years, but eventually it was declared by court action to be the property of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now Community of Christ). Today, besides giving tours, the Community of Christ church allows others to use the temple for special meetings.
1838 to present
After the majority of the Latter Day Saints departed Kirtland in 1837-38, and during the latter part of the 19th century, Kirtland’s population diminished and life was typical of that of the region. Crary recalls the last rattlesnakes being killed on Gildersleeve Mountain in the 1830s. During this period most of the wooded areas near Kirtland were cleared for agriculture, with corn and apples being the predominant crops.
In the early 20th century, Kirtland School (now Kirtland Elementary) was built to consolidate 3 school houses. One of the old school houses can still be found at the corner of Baldwin and Booth Roads in Kirtland Hills.
Kirtland saw few changes until after World War II when several residential subdivisions were built. In 1957 a high school was built and in 1961, Gildersleeve Elementary was built along Chardon Rd. (US-6). In 1968 a middle school was completed for grades 6–8.
In 1968 the citizens of Kirtland voted in a special election to incorporate the township. James Naughton was the first mayor of the village, which became a city when the 1970 census showed population exceeded 5000. Naughton was succeeded as mayor by Doug Guy, Wesley Phillips, Mario Marcopoli, Edward Podajol, and Mark Tyler.
The 1960s saw an influx and expansion of local businesses. A shopping center was built, which combined the hardware, drug store, grocery, barber shop, plus the local doctor and dentist in one building. By 1965, Interstate 90 was open, allowing a quicker trip into Cleveland, Ohio.
Kirtland continued to grow in population slowly through the 1970s and 1980s.
In April 1989, Jeffrey Lundgren, a religious extremist, coerced some in his cult into murdering a family of five and hiding their bodies in a pit dug inside a barn, on Chardon Road (U.S. 6). Those of Lundgren's cult who participated in the murders were sentenced to life in prison; Lundgren was executed on October 24, 2006.
In 2003, Schupp’s farm and orchard, on Hobart Road, became inactive leaving Rock’s farm on Chillicothe Road, the only active for-profit farm in the city. As of 2006, there are still active cattle and horse farming in the city and some commercial nursery activity. Sugaring still occurs, with at least 2 active sugar bushes other than the large scale Bicknell Sugar Bush at the Holden Arboretum.
Kirtland has been visited by two sitting Presidents of the United States, including the April 2005 visit of President Bush for a speech at the Lake Farm Park. President Bush also visited Kirtland in 2006 as part of emergency efforts associated with the Grand River flooding.