|The picture shows Pittsburgh as seen from Mount Washington (or “Coal Hill” as it was then known) in the early 1850s. It is the cover illustration for the book From These Hills and Valleys.|
Hello, friends. My name is Rush David, and I am the Stake Historian for the Pittsburgh Stake. In this blog post, I will discuss the earliest history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here in southwestern Pennsylvania.
The Church was organized on April 6, 1830, in Fayette, New York. During the next twenty years, the center of Church activity moved from Fayette to Kirtland, Ohio; Jackson County, Missouri; and Nauvoo, Illinois, before ultimately moving to the Salt Lake Valley in what later came to be known as Utah.
The Church did not leave Pittsburgh (which was then a small town with a population of around 15,000) untouched in its earliest years. A number of prominent early missionaries of the Church served in the area in the 1830s, including Hyrum Smith, Samuel H. Smith, William Smith, Orson Pratt, Jedediah M. Grant, Brigham Young, and Erastus Snow. In addition, one of the original members of the First Presidency, Sidney Rigdon, was a native of the town now known as Library.
A branch of the Church existed in Pittsburgh from 1830 until approximately 1840. The branch had 169 members and 7 elders in its membership during that period; there were 830 members and 29 elders in all of Pennsylvania. The area was within the boundaries of what was later known as the Eastern States Mission, which was headquartered in New York City and held semiannual conferences in Philadelphia for a few years in the early 1840s.
In time, however, the severe persecution that the Church faced in Missouri and Illinois, as well as the difficulty of communicating across long distances and the Church’s center moving to Utah, led to most of its members who lived east of the Mississippi River migrating to the Salt Lake Valley. Missionaries were withdrawn from the East in 1857, and the Civil War (1861-1865) put a damper on Church activity in both the North and South.
The book From These Hills and Valleys notes that “Church records pertaining to growth and activity for this area are practically non-existent from 1840 until approximately 1885.” However, there was at least one branch in the area in 1885.
For organizational purposes, the modern history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in southwestern Pennsylvania is considered to have begun in 1886, when a conference was convened at the New England Branch (near the present-day location of the Pittsburgh Second Ward) on May 16-17. The members of the branch had asked to be re-baptized into the Church the year before.
This is how the Church began here, but there’s so much more to tell beyond this. Until next time . . .
Pittsburgh Stake Historian