SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church has announced plans to restore a historic site in northeastern Pennsylvania, with ties to its founding prophet, Joseph Smith, its claim to priesthood authority and two volumes of its scriptural texts.
In an April 15 letter to LDS stake and ward leaders, the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced the project under the title of the "Priesthood Restoration Site," with the 90-acre site in Oakland Township (formerly the town of Harmony) near the present-day town of Susquehanna.
The project will include the restoration of historic buildings and farm settings at Harmony as well as the construction of commemorational monuments. It will join the church's existing two dozen historical sites across the United States and is expected to be similar to LDS historical sites in Palmyra, N.Y; Kirkland, Ohio; and Nauvoo, Illinois that highlight a similar period of early Mormon history.
It is in Harmony where Joseph Smith lived several years with his wife, Emma, and where, according to LDS teachings, that much of the Book of Mormon was translated, where 15 sections or revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants were received and where Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received priesthood ordinations from heavenly messengers.
"The site is sacred ground for Latter-day Saints," said church historian and record Elder Marlin K. Jensen, a member of the church's First Quorum of the Seventy. "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."
Joseph and Emma Smith moved to Harmony in 1827, staying first with her parents — Isaac and Elizabeth Hale — until purchasing a nearby home and 13 1/2 acres from Emma's brother Jesse for $200. They lived in the area until 1830 — the same year the LDS Church was formerly organized. The Smith home burned down in 1919.
Oliver Cowdery, a school teacher, soon arrived after the Smiths and served as a scribe in the translation of the Book of Mormon. The LDS Church teaches that in response to their prayers about scriptural teachings of baptism, John the Baptist came to them on as a resurrected personage, conferred the Aaronic Priesthood on them that day (May 15, 1829) and commanded them to baptize each other in the nearby Susquehanna River.
Latter-day Saints also believe the ancient apostles Peter, James and John similarly appeared to the pair some days later in a nearby area and gave them the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood, which Latter-day Saints consider a higher priesthood.
The site location for the Priesthood Restoration Site currently features a sculpture depicting Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery receiving the Aaronic Priesthood from John the Baptist, a sugar maple grove and a cemetery where the Q&ASmith's infant son Alvin is buried as well as the Hales.
In January of this year, the LDS Church completed the purchase of a 10-acre parcel of property in Oakland Township.
Located on Route 171, the parcel contained an auto salvage, garage, junkyard and used-parts facility. The Scranton, Pa., Times-Tribune reported the purchase price at $2.1 million.
The parcel was adjacent to 147 acres owned by the church, its most-recent previous addition coming in 2005.
Erected five decades ago, a large bronze historic marker located between Route 171 and the Susquehanna River acknowledges the church's historic events of the area, the location of the former Smith home and the proximity of the river.
Church historians have recently completed several archeological digs in the project location, uncovering key information and artifacts they say will be helpful with the restoration project.
The project is still in the design phase, and the church didn't provide any architectural renderings with its announcement. An aerial photo of the project site was available at the church's newsroom.lds.org website.
Also, the church's First Presidency is inviting interested Latter-day Saints to make small, one-time contributions to the restoration project. They can specify "Priesthood Restoration Site" on church-donation slips available from local LDS bishops and branch presidents.