“Dedication at Fayette: A Day of Sunshine and Blessings,” Ensign, May 1980, 104–5
It was Easter; it was general conference; it was the Church’s Sesquicentennial. And on this blue-sky, sunny day another prophet had come to Fayette, New York, this time to dedicate new buildings on historic property.
The new Fayette Branch and visitors’ center were filled as the building and reconstructed log farm house were dedicated in a worldwide broadcast as part of general conference. On hand were more than 300 members of the Fayette, New York, Branch, numerous guests, and news media representatives.
President Spencer W. Kimball spoke first from the farmhouse—a reconstruction of the Peter Whitmer home where the Church was organized 150 years before. Elder Gordon B. Hinckley of the Quorum of the Twelve read a proclamation from the farmhouse, then the Church leaders came to the nearby meeting house, where President Kimball gave the dedicatory prayer.
(Before the second session of Sunday conference, Elder Hinckley left for New York City, where he appeared April 7 on the NBC Television Today show with Latter-day Saints businessman J. Willard Marriott, Jr.)
This was the second time the Lord had spoken to the Church and the world through a prophet in Fayette. The first was when Joseph Smith organized the Church “in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month, which is called April.” Once more it was April 6, and once more the faithful assembled as their leaders taught them to “build [the Church] up unto the most Holy Faith” and to “give heed unto all [the Lord’s] words and commandments.” Again the members would receive the Lord’s words from the prophet, “as if from my own mouth” (D&C 21:2–5).
The setting for the sesquicentennial messages was striking and appropriate. The newly constructed Fayette chapel and visitors’ center is Greek Revival style, which matches architecture of the 1830s period. The chapel’s gleaming white trim and white walls are offset by red carpeting, plush red pew seats, and dark wood pews. The interior, including an arch beyond the choir seats and shutters on the windows, is a match for the best Greek Revival architecture of western New York.
And the log house, built where Peter Whitmer’s old farmhouse stood, is furnished with period antiques carefully selected by experts. From feather mattresses to a fireplace crane, from lamps to door latches, the house is authentic. Wood in the frame is from an old area house of the period. The actual Peter Whitmer house is no longer standing, but through written accounts historians and specialists have been able to determine some aspects of the original house’s appearance. The replica is as close as possible to the original.
It was from that reconstructed site that President Kimball first spoke on Easter Sunday and it was from that site that Elder Hinckley read a Sesquicentennial Proclamation to the world, stating the Church’s purposes and defining its role in the future (see pp. 50 and 52 for full accounts of the proceedings).
For many in the Fayette area, the day culminated months of intense, diligent work.
Doug Porschet, for instance, had worked steadily since September to prepare the visitors’ center and farmhouse. A specialist in antique and restoration, he was commissioned by the Church to provide pieces and decorate the building. He found what he needed at antique sales, at junk sales, “by just hunting around.” He worked seventy hours weekly to find, refinish, and furnish.
Volunteering to help him was Merrill Roenke, curator of the Geneva Historical Society and administrator of the Rose Hill Mansion. Though not a member of the church, Mr. Roenke was as excited about the restoration as Brother Porschet. He donated hours and artifacts.
The visitors’ center was readied for its guests, too. A powerful bronze depiction of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood, sculptured by Trevor Southey, was in its place. Artwork by William Whitaker depicting events of the Restoration lined one side of the center.
The Fayette preparation wasn’t limited to antiques and art. Other things were needed for the dedication—like music. The Fayette Branch choir was to be featured, along with the famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Mormon Youth Chorus in the conference broadcast. With a little help from members of another branch, the choir filled the choir seats with strong singers.
Help would also be needed to handle the visitors for the dedication. George Schmidt of Rochester, New York, a member for only a year, volunteered his Scout troop. Brother Schmidt’s young men assisted alongside the adults who wore badges reading “Helper” and “Usher.”
And for weeks before the dedication, workers labored over the electronic equipment that would transmit the Fayette proceedings to Salt Lake, where it would be broadcast to the world.
When members and guests came to the chapel the morning of April 6, everything was ready. A multicolored spray of flowers was in place on the wall behind the choir seats.
The Saints there were ready to meet the prophet. For some, it was their first chance to see him, to sing to him, to hear him in person, and—for the few who had the opportunity—to shake his hand. “I can’t believe the prophet is sitting there and I shook hands with him this morning,” said Sam Weber of Rochester, who assists Public Communications Director Paul Thayne, also of Rochester. Brother Weber has been a member of the Church less than nine months.
Those attending at Fayette listened silently as President Kimball, Elder Hinckley, and Elder Hugh W. Pinnock of the First Quorum of the Seventy, Executive Administrator of the Northeast Area, spoke from the pulpit. Nor was there noise from the congregation as a satellite transmitted the singing of the choir, or as Elder Eldred G. Smith, patriarch emeritus, offered the benediction to the conference.