After the founding of the United States, northern Ohio was designated as the Western Reserve and was sold to the Connecticut Land Company. Turhand Kirtland, the principal of the Connecticut Land Company, is the namesake of the township. Its first settlers came around 1811.
After the arrival of Joseph Smith in February 1831, Kirtland became the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often called the Mormon Church). In the next few months, many of the Saints in New York sold their farms, often at a loss, and joined the Prophet in Kirtland.
During the next seven years, from 1831 to 1838, Church membership in the area grew to about 2,000. But of even greater importance were the many significant spiritual events that occurred in and around Kirtland during this important period in Church history. Among these: almost one-half of the revelations recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants were received here, the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was published, the organization of the Church headed by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was established, the first stake was organized, the School of the Prophets was started (and held each winter from 1833 to 1836), the first temple in this dispensation was built, and many marvelous spiritual manifestations were experienced.
Joseph and Emma Smith had a home near the Kirtland Temple from 1834 to 1838.
The Kirtland period of the Church was also difficult. The Kirtland Safety Society failed, apostasy crippled the Church, and persecution of the Saints continued. Most of the Saints were forced to leave Ohio in early 1838.
Kirtland is designated by the Church Historic Sites as Historic Kirtland, and features six historic structures: a schoolhouse, a sawmill, an ashery, the Newel K. Whitney and Company store, Newel and Ann Whitney's home, and the Johnson Inn. President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated Historic Kirtland on May 18, 2003, and public tours are available year-round. The Kirtland Temple is owned and operated by Community of Christ and tours are offered at a small fee to help maintain and preserve the temple. The Sidney Rigdon home's original structure  is also located in Kirtland.