Orson Hyde and Samuel H. Smith began missionary work in Connecticut in June 1832 by visiting Litchfield and Hartford counties. The first baptisms came two months later, after Orson Pratt and Lyman Sherman converted 11 in Madison and Killingworth.
During the next quarter century, LDS missionaries crisscrossed the state visiting branches and preaching to all who would hear. Among the elders was Connecticut native Wilford Woodruff, who, in July 1838, held a meeting of which he wrote, “Distress overwhelmed the whole household, and all were tempted to reject the work. . . . Filled with the power of God, I stood in the midst of the congregation and preached unto the people in great plainness the gospel of Jesus Christ.” He afterward baptized his father, stepmother, sister and three others and organized a small branch in Farmington.
Early branches remained small because most Connecticut Latter-day Saints relocated to Kirtland, Nauvoo and later to Utah. As was true elsewhere in the eastern United States, missionary work was sporadic in Connecticut between the Utah War of 1857 and the reopening of the Eastern States Mission in 1893. Even after missionaries were assigned on a regular basis in the early 20th century, Church growth in the state was slow, with only 53 members in 1916, and 154 a decade later. By 1930, the Connecticut District consisted of branches in Hartford and New Haven and nearby Springfield, Mass. With the disruptions to missionary work brought on by the Great Depression and World War II, Church membership in Connecticut rose only to 184 by 1940 and 308 by the end of 1950.
During this era of limited numerical growth, the New England Mission was created in 1937, with headquarters at Cambridge, Mass., and a remodeled home was dedicated at Bridgeport in June 1944 as a branch meetinghouse. In September 1952, the first meetinghouse built by the Church in New England was dedicated for use by the Hartford Branch. By that time there were branches in Hartford, New Haven, New London, and Bridgeport, with another 83 Church members scattered throughout the state not part of any organized branch.
The 1950s saw a quadrupling of Connecticut’s LDS membership, which stood at nearly 1,200 at the end of 1960. Bridgeport became a ward in the nearby New York Stake earlier that year, forging a Church link between the southwestern part of the state and the New York metropolitan area that continues to the present — Connecticut in 2004 was home to eight of the nine wards and branches of the Yorktown New York Stake.
Although Connecticut wards and branches were geographically large and a substantial share of Latter-day Saints had to travel many miles to Church meetings, membership growth continued at a relatively rapid rate during the 1960s. Membership nearly tripled during the decade, rising to 3,368 at the end of 1970, in part because of the increased unity that came as local members built several new meetinghouses, and in part because of the leadership of lifetime Church members from the western United States whose employment brought them to Connecticut.
Such growth made possible the creation of Connecticut’s first stake in September 1966, with wards at Hartford, Manchester, New Haven, New London and Southington, and branches at Madison and Torrington, although three Massachusetts branches were also drawn in to provide sufficient numbers for a stake. By this time there were also wards of the New York Stake in Bridgeport and Danbury, Conn.
LDS membership in Connecticut almost doubled again during the 1970s, rising to 6,300 at the end of 1980. Partly in recognition of such growth, Connecticut’s first mission was established in July 1979 with headquarters in the Hartford suburb of Bloomfield. By 1980 Latter-day Saints in Connecticut were organized into 14 wards and branches, many of them taking in as many as 20 to 25 towns. Church membership in Connecticut doubled again by 2000. Even so, Latter-day Saints continue to represent only a very small share of the state’s population.
A temple was announced for Hartford in October 1992, but three years later President Gordon B. Hinckley announced that a suitable site had not been found and the First Presidency had determined instead that two temples would be built, which were eventually erected in New York City and Boston, Mass.
As of 2004 Connecticut’s wards and branches belonged to the Hartford Connecticut, New Haven Connecticut, Providence Rhode Island and Yorktown New York stakes. Southwestern Connecticut’s Church units include Spanish-speaking branches in Trumbull, Norwalk and Stamford, reflecting the spillover of the New York metropolitan area’s Latino population into the Connecticut commuter towns
Membership was 13,714 in 2003. By 2005, membership reached 14,191.
Sources: Andrew Jenson, “Connecticut Conference,” Encyclopedic History of the Church (1941); Earle L. Stone, “The Mormons in Connecticut, 1832-1952,” master’s thesis, 1980; General mission annual reports and stake and mission statistical recaps, 1940-1970, Church Archives; Directory of General Authorities and Officers, 2004; Telephone conversation with former Hartford Stake president Hugh S. West, May 2004; “Four Chapels Dedicated in New England Mission,” Church News, 22 July 1944; “Chapels Needed in New England Mission,” Church News, 4 October 1952; “New Stake Is Formed; Changes in 3 Others,” Church News, 24 September 1966; “Nine new missions created,” Church News, 10 March 1979; “Plans Are Announced for 3 More Temples,” Church News, 10 October 1992; “2 Temples to Be Built in Eastern U.S.,” Church News, 7 October 1995.