Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
President Gordon B. Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has worked hard to preserve historic sites important to his faith, an effort honored by the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation.
"I feel more like a piece of history than a conservator of history," President Hinckley said after receiving the first Junius F. Wells Award. "I am grateful to see this day."
Members of the LDS Church know President Hinckley has long been interested in the faith's early history. During his tenure as church president since 1995, he has led efforts to restore and upgrade a variety of LDS historic sites, particularly in the East.
President Hinckley on Wednesday spoke about Wells, who under the direction of President Joseph F. Smith in 1905, purchased 283 acres in Sharon, Vt., including the Soloman Mack farm where Joseph Smith was born Dec. 23, 1805. Wells erected a granite marker there, 38 1/2 feet high, President Hinckley said: one foot for each year of the LDS prophet's life.
President Hinckley said the crew couldn't transport the 40-ton monument across a swampy field to the site. He said when Wells was asked what he was going to do, he responded, "I'm going to pray."
That night, Hinckley said the temperature dropped enough that the field froze and the horses could cross.
"Today it stands there as pristine and beautiful as ever before," President Hinckley said of the monument.
In closing he remarked, "To preserve the memory of the past is my humble prayer."
Kim Wilson, chairman of the board of the independent nonprofit Mormon Historic Sites Foundation, said President Hinckley has perhaps done more to preserve LDS Church history than anyone before him.
"We've felt for some time that we'd like to take this moment to honor President Hinckley for his singular effort," Wilson said. "We're delighted, President Hinckley, at your vigor."
Wilson said he hoped the award would become an annual way to honor those who work to preserve church history.
Under Hinckley's direction, a temple was dedicated in Palmyra, N.Y., on April 6, 2000 the 170th anniversary of the church's formal organization in nearby Fayette. The temple is close to the boyhood home of church founder Joseph Smith and the grove of trees where he said he saw God the Father and his son, Jesus Christ, in vision.
During the temple construction, major upgrading was done to the church-owned Smith home and farm, as well as to a visitors center and pageant facilities at the nearby Hill Cumorah, where Smith said an angel directed him to a set of gold plates containing an ancient record now known as the Book of Mormon.
Shortly thereafter he announced the Palmyra Temple would be built, and expanding on dreams his own father, Bryant S. Hinckley, had for Nauvoo, Ill., President Hinckley stunned Latter-day Saints with an announcement during his closing address at LDS General Conference on April 4, 1999, that the Nauvoo Temple would be reconstructed.
First built by poverty-stricken Latter-day Saints in the early 1840s, it was dedicated in 1846 just as the bulk of church membership began a major exodus from Nauvoo and migrated west to the Salt Lake Valley. It was destroyed when an arsonist set fire to it in 1848.
The reconstructed temple was dedicated in June 2002 amid crowds in the hundreds of thousands, and the building, along with a major church reconstruction project of early homes and businesses in the tiny town, continues to draw tens of thousands of visitors annually.
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