N.J. man seeks to have Vermont land used as Mormon center

Published: Sunday, Feb. 12 2012 11:36 p.m. MST

As the Joseph Smith Sr. family continued to move from place to place, they came to settle on the farm of Lucy Mack Smith's father, Solomon Mack. They apparently stayed in his home after he moved to a different one on the same property. Joseph and Lucy Smith were the parents of three living children when they moved to that rented home on Dairy Hill. The Prophet Joseph Smith himself likely had no personal recollection of the site because his family moved to another home when he was very young. But his nephew, President Joseph F. Smith, authorized Junius F. Wells to purchase what was once the Mack farm, including the birth site of the Prophet. In 1905, a memorial cottage and impressive monument were then erected at the site. Both were dedicated by President Smith on Dec. 23, 1905, the 100th anniversary of Joseph’s birth. (Photo by, Kenneth Mays)

Kenneth Mays, Deseret News Archives

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SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt. — A man who tried for seven years to build a gift shop and delicatessen near the Vermont birthplace of Joseph Smith now wants to sell the land to a Mormon historical society that would build a museum and hospitality center.

John Lefgren said his unsuccessful effort to open the business on his land in Royalton went through several government agencies and courts, a dozen lawyers and tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. He's now told the Royalton Planning Commission he wants to sell his land to the Joseph Smith and Emma Hale Smith Historical Society.

Lefgren, who lives in New Jersey, told the Valley News he was financially drained and frustrated by the lengthy process, and hopes the historical society will be able to carry out his long-sought development.

"I'm not able to do what I think needs to be done by myself," said Lefgren. "It needs other resources, and I think this historical society will be able to tap into the funding and to realize what I would like to be done. That's my motivation to sell."

Lefgren said the historical society facility would be almost identical to the plan that he has pushed for years. It would have historical pieces and artwork and sell food and refreshments to the estimated 40,000 people who visit the birthplace of the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Over the years Lefgren was denied a permit under Act 250, Vermont's land-use law.

Lefgren now plans to submit a new Act 250 application, outlining the facility that the historical society would hope to open inside existing buildings. He's hoping for a smoother road this time around.

Lefgren said the historical society will only buy the property if he can first secure the appropriate permit.

The land marking the Joseph Smith birthplace is controlled by the LDS Church.

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