10 spots in church history to see, experience

Published: Monday, May 9 2011 4:00 a.m. MDT

The interesting stories and events behind them are significant and well-known, yet they aren’t the most popular historic sites visited by Mormons.

Gary Boatright Jr. and Emily Utt, historic site curators for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently compiled a list of 10 significant spots they recommend every church member make an effort to see and experience at least once in their lifetime.

“When I go to a church history site, I go to the visitor’s center and take the tour, but these are the places I make a point to see because they have an impact,” Utt said. “Something else I would say for all these places is we rush too much. As you visit historic sites, stop, sit, look and wander.”

Relish the sense of just being there, Boatright said.

“When you read or hear about something your whole life, then you are actually able to go and stand at the location where it happened, there is something special, almost sacred, about it and you get a better understanding of the event,” Boatright said. “It can be a special experience for families.”

The Witness Trees

Everyone is familiar with the 38-and-a-half-foot granite monument in that marks the Vermont birthplace of the prophet Joseph Smith, but what many miss are the witness trees. One, the “Joseph Tree,” is a massive oak that dates back to 1776. The other, the “Patriarch Tree,” is not quite as old but was also there when Joseph was born. Seeing and touching these age-old trees will help you connect to the place, Boatright said.

“To have these two living parts of the landscape that date back to time the Smiths were there on the Mack farm, for me, is intriguing,” Boatright said.

LDS missionaries at the birthplace visitor’s center can provide directions for hikes to the trees. One hike up Patriarch Hill offers a beautiful panorama of the Vermont landscape.

The Sacred Grove

The serene woods, just west of the Smith family farm in Palmyra, N.Y., are known as the Sacred Grove. This is where 14-year-old Joseph Smith knelt to pray and beheld the First Vision of God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, in the spring of 1820. The Sacred Grove is one of the few tracts of pristine forestland in upstate New York that has remained undisturbed.

While the Sacred Grove is very popular place to visit, people don’t spend enough time there, Boatright said. With a network of trails, visitors should forget their Disneyland itineraries and plan to spend a day at the Smith farm, the curator said.

“This is where one of the most significant moments in the history of the earth occurred, and the Spirit is so strong there. The reason why we are all members of the church is because of what occurred in that grove,” he said. “Take time to enjoy it, soak it in.”

Early morning walks through the grove are strongly encouraged.

Susquehanna River

The Susquehanna River is located in the Oakland Township (formerly the town of Harmony), Penn. This is where Joseph Smith met and married Emma Hale in the late 1820s. He began translating the gold plates in their small home near the river. While translating, Joseph and Oliver Cowdery prayed near the river to learn more about baptism. Their prayer was answered when John the Baptist appeared on May 15, 1829, and conferred the Aaronic Priesthood on the two men. Joseph and Oliver then entered the river and baptized each other. Soon thereafter, Peter, James and John appeared on the banks of the river and conferred on the men the Melchizedek Priesthood.

The LDS Church is in the process of restoring buildings and monuments near the present-day town of Susquehanna, but Boatright and Utt recommend walking the river.

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