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Picturing history: The ashery in historic Kirtland

An important component in the economic mix for Latter-day Saints in Kirtland, Ohio, was the ashery. This facility was constructed in 1823-24 by Newel K. Whitney, second bishop of the LDS Church (see Doctrine and Covenant 72:2, 8 and "Thou Art the Man,” by Mark Staker, Ensign, April 2005).

Interior view of the rebuilt ashery in Kirtland, Ohio. | Kenneth Mays

Staker wrote that “Frontier settlers brought wood to the Whitney ashery for money or credit. (Whitney) used the wood to heat huge cauldrons of water that had been alkalinized by running it through wood ashes gathered from farmers’ fields and his own operations. The remains after the water boiled away made potash or the more refined pearl ash, used in making glass, in cleaning wool, and in other industrial processes. Newel K. Whitney shipped most of these chemicals in large barrels to factories in the East or Great Britain.”

The ashery was consecrated to and operated as part of the United Firm (see Doctrine and Covenants 104:39-40). Benjamin Pykles noted in a BYU Studies article that the ashery was likely simple at first but became more complex over time (see "An Introduction to the Kirtland Flats Ashery," BYU Studies, Vol. 41, No. 1, 2002). Bishop Whitney sold the ashery in 1837 and, through the years, it completely disappeared.

The rebuilt ashery in Kirtland, Ohio. The sawmill can be seen in the background at the far left. | Kenneth Mays

The ashery in Kirtland was rebuilt along with several other structures. All were dedicated in 2003 by President Gordon B. Hinckley. The ashery may be the only such rebuilt structure in the United States, Staker wrote in "Historic Kirtland Restoration Completed" in Mormon Historical Studies in the spring 2004 edition.