The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a global religion with more than 14 million members worldwide. But its humble beginnings can be traced to the birth of a farmer’s son on a cold, snow-swept 23 December 1805 near Sharon, Vermont.
The birth of Joseph Smith Jr. took place on the 100-acre farm of his grandfather Solomon Mack. At this treasured place in Church history, there now stands a memorial to the Mormon prophet, a man esteemed by Latter-day Saints as a prophet of God responsible for restoring the church that was originally established by Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry.
It’s easy to imagine, looking at the tree-lined, rolling hills of the property, how it might have appeared at the time of Joseph’s birth more than 200 years ago. Walking the historic grounds instills a better understanding of Joseph Smith Jr., his family and the Mormon story.
Gary Boatright, a curator for the Church History Department, has made that walk. “If you really take time to just ponder and walk the site and get a sense of the place, the place will speak to you,” Boatright said. “It’s not just important for its historical value, but also for the sacredness which it holds.”
Solomon Mack was the father of Joseph’s mother, Lucy. Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy came to live and work on Solomon’s farm shortly after being married. Crop failures forced the Smiths to leave the area when their son Joseph was three years old. Boatright suggests that it was this type of rugged frontier life that helped shape the character of the future Latter-day Saint prophet.
“[Joseph Smith] loved and appreciated his ancestry. He was a hard worker, and a part of that came from his parents and his grandparents pioneering the Vermont landscape,” said Boatright.
The Vermont farm may have been but a footnote in Church history except for the tenacity of a young man with a desire to erect a memorial to the founder and first president of the Church. In 1905, Junius F. Wells approached Church leaders with his vision and was given authorization to purchase the old Solomon Mack farm that had long since been sold to other owners. The purchase marked the beginning of procuring other sites in the United States that hold historic significance for the Church, including eventually acquiring nearly 200 acres of adjoining farmland to the original 100-acre farm.
With a nod from the Church, Wells began building a memorial cottage on the site where the Joseph Smith birthplace home once stood. He also commissioned a quarry 35 miles from the memorial site to sculpt a 38½-foot-high obelisk, each foot representing a year of Joseph Smith’s life. At the time, it was reported to be the largest spire in America to be cut from a single piece of granite.
The obelisk and its base were transported to the site in November 1905. It took seven weeks to make the 35-mile trek from the quarry to the old Mack farm because of wet weather and muddy roads. The final few yards were impassable until the ground froze, which Wells believed happened through divine intervention.
According to site director Brian Schuck, the story is told that Wells asked the workers to go home after a difficult day of attempting to get the obelisk across a soggy bog that had impeded progress. Wells assured the workers they would take the massive stone across the bog in the morning, even as a storm approached that promised to dump more rain.
“Junius went home and prayed and had an answer to his prayers,” said Schuck. “The wind came and blew the rainstorm through the area quickly. Then the temperature dropped 35 degrees in three and a half hours.” By morning the bog was frozen solid and the workers were able to transport the granite monument across.
The monument was completed just four days before its dedication by Joseph F. Smith, then president of the Church and a nephew of Joseph Smith. The dedication commemorated the 100th anniversary of Joseph’s birth.
“[President Joseph F. Smith] dedicated the property to be a place of peace and tranquility,” said Schuck. “When people come on the site they feel that calm, peaceful spirit.”
People of other faiths, such as Kate Bradshaw visiting from Colfax, Louisiana, have felt that soothing effect. “I was very impressed by the calm, serene setting at the memorial. The hymns in the background invited the Spirit, and I found the displays to be informative and thought-provoking.”
Korint and Michael Schulze from Burgdort, Germany, said of their visit, “It is a deep spiritual experience to hear and see some portion of the life of Joseph. [He] was called by God to do something great for mankind.”
What to See and Do
Today, this historic and sacred site is open year-round and free to the public. Volunteer Church missionaries are available to answer questions and conduct guided tours. On display in the site’s visitors’ center are portrait paintings of the Prophet Joseph Smith Jr., his mother, Lucy Mack Smith, and his father, Joseph Smith Sr. and a history describing their family’s life while in Vermont. Other popular attractions at the visitors’ center include a short film and timeline display that show the significant events and accomplishments of the Mormon prophet’s life.
Copies of the books that Joseph Smith received divine revelation in composing are also on display, including the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, which Latter-day Saints consider to be scripture that accompanies the Holy Bible.
The original Solomon Mack farmhouse is no longer standing, but its hearthstone has been preserved and is now part of the fireplace at the visitors’ center. The home’s original doorstep also exists, marking its approximate location on the property not far from the solid granite memorial that commemorates Joseph Smith.
The Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial offers picnic areas, hiking trails and ample space set aside for contemplation and reflection. The memorial site is also a winter destination. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, a spectacular array of thousands of Christmas lights ornament the entire site. The Christmas season is highlighted by a living Nativity.
All combined, the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial fosters peace and serenity through its surroundings while promoting a better understanding of Joseph Smith, his family and the Mormon story.
Monday-Saturday: 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Sunday: 1:30 p.m.-5:00 p.m.
Monday-Saturday: 9:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m.
Sunday: 1:30 p.m.-7:00 p.m.
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