Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Reconnecting with Church History

Anyone that knows me knows I absolutely love to study history. In particular, my absolute favorites are local history (Kent area) and LDS (Mormon) history. The two briefly overlap in the 1830s when the Church was headquartered in northeastern Ohio from 1831-1838. I've documented my adventures photographing and learning about local history pretty well on this blog and every so often have made mention of Church History. Being so close to sites in Hiram and Kirtland, Ohio I'm around them quite frequently. Being in the cast of This is Kirtland! for five of the last six years has given me lots of opportunities to spend in Kirtland and learn more about the finer details of the LDS history there. Leading up to Memorial Day weekend, I was wondering what to do with my time. I had really considered going to the YSA (Young Single Adult) conference in Kirtland called Zion's Camp, but decided against it. Part of it was I just wanted to be alone; another was that I was "Kirtlanded out". Don't get me wrong, I love Church History in Ohio, but I needed to go somewhere else! So, much like a trip I took with Mom and my sisters back in 1999 to the same place, Mom and I did a kind of "spur of the moment" trip up to the Church History sites in western New York in and around the towns and villages of Palmyra, Manchester, and Fayette. It was my first time being there since 2000.

The sites in western New York are where the Church basically began. The farm where the Smiths lived, the cabin where the Church was officially organized, the building where the first Book of Mormon was printed, the hill where Joseph was shown the golden plates, and the very grove of trees where Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ are all in the area. We arrived around 7 PM after traveling less than 5 hours from Kent and getting settled in at our motel in Farmington, NY, just down the road from Manchester. The motel didn't look all that spectacular from the outside, but inside I was pleasantly surprised! It was decent, clean, and comfortable. Anyway, by the time we got in, there really wasn't much time for anything, so we got some dinner and went to the Hill Cumorah, which is where Joseph Smith was shown and eventually given the golden plates, which he would translate to become the Book of Mormon. There's a visitors' center there, but it closed at 7, so we went back to that the next day. Instead, we took our food and drove up to the top of the hill and ate there before taking some pictures around the monument there. We met some nice people who were also visiting from various parts of North America including the Canadian Maritimes, California, Utah, and elsewhere! We also drove in downtown Palmyra to just see where everything was (and to look for somewhere to get ice cream!).

Moroni monument on top of Hill Cumorah

Just me on top of the Hill Cumorah. Left shows the view from the monument; Right is a pic mom took with her camera.

Since the hill closed at dusk, we headed back to our motel and ended up watching Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkeban on TV before going to bed. The next day ended up being quite busy, but thankfully we had GREAT weather! We started off by making the trek to the Peter Whitmer Farm in the town of Fayette, New York (just south of the village of Waterloo, NY), about a 30 minite drive from Manchester. The Whitmer farm is where the Church was formally organized on April 6, 1830. The cabin was rebuilt on the same site as the original and adjacent to the cabin is a church building that also has a small visitors' center. Mom and I had quite the time getting to the Whitmer Farm because Waterloo, NY had scheduled their Memorial Day parade right when we needed to come through and the detour posted directed traffic to a road heading east out of town (SR 5 and US 20) and we needed to go south (SR 96). After a failed attempt to get on the wireless Internet with my iPod Touch at a local McDonalds, I ended up having to trust my inner directional skills and logic and we found another detour south and were back on our way. Turns out Waterloo, NY is the "birthplace of Memorial Day." We had a nice personal tour of the center and the cabin, which was reconstructed and dedicated in 1980, the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Church. When it was chartered in 1830, the Church was officially known as the "Church of Christ". The full name we use today did not come around until 1838 in Missouri.

Left: Fayette Ward building. The left side wing is the visitors' center.
Right: Inside the reconstructed Whitmer cabin, site of the Church organization April 6, 1830.

The Whitmer Cabin

Another view of the Fayette Ward building and visitors' center...the cabin can be seen on the far left.

Our next visit was to the village of Palmyra. There I got a picture of the village's main intersection, which has a church on each corner. I have never seen another intersection like it. Not only are all 4 churches Christian, but they are all Protestant. Just north of those 4 is a Roman Catholic church. We also visited the E.B. Grandin building along Palmyra's East Main Street, which is where the Book of Mormon was first printed in 1830. Next I got a picture of the grave marker for Alvin Smith, the older brother of Joseph Smith. Alvin died in 1823, shortly after much of the very early events which would lead to the organization of the Church occurred. After that we went to a park right on the border between Palmyra and Macedon and I got some pictures of former as well as current Erie Canal structures. The Erie Canal goes right through Palmyra and is still maintained, though the original route has been bypassed in places. The canal did play a role in Church History transporting people as well as allowing Mr Grandin to acquire what was then one of the newest and most advanced printing presses at the time just prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Left: the four churches at Palmyra's main intersection.
Right: Inside the E.B. Grandin building, site of the first printing of the Book of Mormon in 1830

Left: One of the 5,000 original copies of the Book of Mormon
Right: Inside the Grandin Building in Palmyra

Front of the Grandin Building in Palmyra

Left: Thumbs up for the Book of Mormon!
Right: Grave marker of Alvin Smith. On the backside is the original marker, which is more white and weathered.

Left: Historic Erie Canal structure...most likely a former aqueduct and towpath bridge.
Right: Current Erie Canal lock No. 29 right near the previous picture. This section is still maintained and used (though not much anymore). Apparently this was bypassed around the original route to be more direct.

More of the historic Erie Canal structures. The waterfall disappears when the nearby lock needs to be filled. The bridge today carries a hike and bike trail.

We next went to the Smith farm, which is located on the border between the towns of Palmyra and Manchester, which is also the border between Wayne and Ontario counties. In Joseph Smith History, Joseph Smith describes the family's "removal to Manchester." In reality, they moved about 2,000 feet down the road from their original log cabin (which was rebuilt on site in 1997 and sits on the Palmyra side of the line) to a frame house. The majority of what was their land is in Manchester. Anyway, there's a small visitors center there and then you tour the rebuilt log cabin. Not only was the cabin built on the same site as the original, but it was built using similar wood and using 1820s building techniques, so it has a very authentic feel to it. Next, we walked down to what is known as the "frame home" which is the original building. It was restored in 1999 and 2000. When we came in 1999 the restoration had just begun inside, so the walls had been stripped and the furniture removed. It was pretty cool to see. Part of that restoration included rerouting Stafford Road around the back of the house so no one needs to cross or walk along a live road to go to the other sites. An operating temple opened just north of the frame home in 2000. There is also a rebuilt barn and cooper house across the street from the frame home. The biggest site there, though, is the grove of trees opposite the frame home. This area is known to members of the Church as the "Sacred Grove" and is where Joseph Smith had was it referred to as the First Vision around the Spring of 1820. There he prayed out loud for the first time in his life and was visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ in what ushered in the Restoration of the Gospel. For Latter-day Saints it is quite the site and to me is probably one of the most significant sites in not only LDS history, but human history.

Left: Smith log cabin; authentically rebuilt in 1998. The Smiths lived here twice.
Right: Inside the log cabin

Left: This is my "removed to Manchester" photo. The cabin on the right is in the town of Palmyra (Wayne County); the house just to the left of center in the distance, known as the frame home, is in the town of Manchester (Ontario County). The border is the fence in the center of the picture.
Right: View of Palmyra Temple (which is actually just inside Manchester) from the road connecting the log cabin to the frame home.

The frame home. The Smiths lived here in the late 1820s. It was originally started by Alvin Smith before he died and lay incomplete for a few years after his death. The "incomplete" look inside is trying to hold true to how it may have looked while the Smith's were there as they moved in before the interior was completed. This house looks a LOT different than it did just 10 years ago before the restoration.

Inside the frame home. The bricks in front of the fireplace on the left is one of the places where the Smiths hid the golden plates from mobs in the late 1820s.

Left: Inside the barn across the street from the frame home.
Right: Inside the Sacred Grove!

Two pictures of Mom and Me in the Sacred Grove. The one on the left was all my camera could do (no flash) and I doctored it a little; on the right is with Mom's camera and flash.

Thumbs up for the Sacred Grove!

After that I got a few pictures at the Palmyra Temple, which is on land that was part of the original Smith farm, as well as the Palmyra chapel across the street before heading back to the Hill Cumorah. There we went through the visitors' center, which opened in 2005 I believe. It replaced a smaller center on the same site, so I hadn't seen the new one. Well, come to discover it's designed more to be a starting point for people visiting the area as it has info and small displays on all the various sites along with videos. Oh well. So, if you ever go to the sites in New York, make sure you go to the Hill Cumorah visitors' center first!

Palmyra Temple. It's a typical "small" temple design (our temple in Columbus is the exact same layout reversed) but this temple has unique stained-glass windows.

Left: Main doors to the Palmyra Temple showing the stained glass made to resemble the woods of the Sacred Grove just down the hill.
Right: Palmyra New York Stake Center. It's a typical LDS meetinghouse built these days but I liked the columns and portico, which usually isn't seen on other buildings of this layout. The building also seems longer than a typical LDS Stake Center as it has to regularly accommodate lots of visitors!

Hill Cumorah Visitors' Center. It opened in 2005 replacing a smaller center on the same site.

Inside the Hill Cumorah Visitors' Center with the beautiful Christus statue on the left (it's in that room with the rounded windows) and a Book of Mormon display on the right.

Left: Interior of the Hill Cumorah Visitors' Center
Right: Looking up the Hill Cumorah. In June and July this area will be covered with a large, multi-level stage to host the annual Hill Cumorah Pageant. If you haven't seen it, take a trip!

It was a great trip. I'll admit Saturday was a bit rushed and I was totally exhausted on Sunday after we got back, but it was totally worth it. I'm glad we not only did it, but were able to do it. Being able to visit Church History sites makes it so much more real and adds to my testimony that it's all true. This was the 4th time I've been there: twice for the Hill Cumorah Pageant (1997, 2000) and twice now at non-pageant times (1999, 2010). While I highly recommend seeing the pageant when you can, make sure to visit another time too when the pageant isn't going on to really experience the sites. The pageant draws tons of tourists from all over the country, so the sites are crowded and tours are much faster. You'll get to see the sites for sure, but not long enough to really get a feel for what happened there in my opinion. When you visit during less busy times (usually before the Summer rush...my favorite time was a visit in early Spring) you get much more personalized tours and attention from the guides (who are all full-time missionaries) and all the time you want to visit and enjoy the sites.


Jacqueline Auna and family said...

What beautiful pictures! It looks like you picked a perfect time to visit upstate NY. I am so envious of your trip - thanks for sharing.

Granny J said...

Thanks Jon...that brought back some good memories. I was able to visit there with Sherral and Cadie early in the Spring of 2001. The new visitors center is huge!