The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will restore a historic site in Pennsylvania that played a significant role in the growth of the Church from humble beginnings to a worldwide faith with 14 million members.
Formerly known as the town of Harmony, the site is in Oakland Township in Pennsylvania near the present-day town of Susquehanna. This site is important to Latter-day Saints as the location where Joseph Smith received the Aaronic Priesthood at the hands of John the Baptist and, in a nearby location, received the Melchizedek Priesthood from Peter, James and John in 1829. These men appeared as angels to restore to the earth the same authority they had received from Jesus Christ. The site is also significant as the place where Joseph Smith translated much of the Book of Mormon. These events laid the foundation for the restoration of the original Church established by Christ Himself.
In a letter to Church leaders dated 15 April 2011, the Church’s First Presidency said the new project will include reconstruction of historic buildings and construction of monuments commemorating the restoration of the priesthood.
“This site is sacred ground for Latter-day Saints,” Church historian and recorder Elder Marlin K. Jensen said. “Our hope is that by restoring the historic buildings and making the area more accessible, visitors of all faiths will be able to enjoy the beauty of the site and learn more about the restoration of the priesthood and the translation of the Book of Mormon.”
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The Church maintains about two dozen historic sites around the world, all of which are free and open to the public.
“Our historic sites help us tell the unique story of the Latter-day Saints,” Elder Jensen said. “Each site is filled with historically accurate details and engaging exhibits to help people better understand who we are and what is important to us.”
Joseph and Emma Smith moved to Harmony in December 1827 to escape persecution for their religious beliefs. They lived with Emma’s parents, Isaac and Elizabeth Hale, until they purchased a nearby home with 13 ½ acres from Emma’s brother Jesse for $200. In early April 1829, schoolteacher Oliver Cowdery came to meet Joseph and soon became his scribe. During the translation process of the Book of Mormon, Joseph and Oliver went into the woods and prayed for guidance on the subject of baptism. In reply, the resurrected John the Baptist visited them on 15 May 1829 and ordained them to the Aaronic Priesthood. He then commanded Joseph and Oliver to baptize each other in the nearby Susquehanna River. A little later in a nearby area, the two men received the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood from Peter, James and John, three of Jesus Christ’s original apostles.
Also in Harmony, Joseph received 15 divine revelations that were later included in the Doctrine and Covenants, which Latter-day Saints consider to be scripture. Joseph and Emma Smith moved from Harmony in August 1830. The home they lived in burned down in 1919.
Currently, the 90-acre site contains a sculpture depicting Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery receiving the Aaronic Priesthood from John the Baptist. There is also a sugar maple grove and a cemetery where Joseph and Emma’s infant son Alvin is buried, as well as Emma’s parents.
“We are excited about the plans for the area and are grateful for the support of local officials,” Elder Jensen said. “A complex project like this simply does not happen without many people coming together.”
Church historians have conducted several archeological digs in the area and have found key information and artifacts that will help in restoring the site. Currently, the project is in the design phase. More details about the groundbreaking and other milestones will be announced in the future.
The announcement letter from the First Presidency invites interested Church members to make a small, one-time contribution to the restoration project by specifying “Priesthood Restoration Site” on the Tithing and Other Offerings slip that is available from bishops and branch presidents.