“Sacred Grove and Smith Family Farm,” Church History Topics
“Sacred Grove and Smith Family Farm”
The Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith family farm served as backdrop for many of the earliest events of the Restoration. The Smiths moved to Palmyra, New York, between 1816 and 1817, with the intent of growing wheat. After saving for two years, the family made the first payment on a 100-acre lot of densely forested land in Manchester, a few miles south of Palmyra. During the winter of 1818 to 1819, the 10 members of the Smith family moved into a 1,000-square-foot log home built by Joseph Smith Sr. and his sons Alvin and Hyrum. The home was situated north of the farm, in Palmyra Township.1
Developing a farm took years of work. The entire family labored to clear the land, plant and harvest crops, dig wells, build fences and rock walls, and construct a barn and other outbuildings. The family even harvested sap from the numerous maple trees on the farm to realize some early income.
Amid these efforts to establish a productive farm, Joseph Smith Jr., the third son, had a number of spiritual experiences. The Smiths had cleared trees from about 30 acres of land by 1820, the year of Joseph Smith’s First Vision. The vision occurred somewhere on the still-wooded part of the farm, probably near an area that the Smiths were clearing for future crops. Known today as the Sacred Grove, this wooded area was likely composed of large, old-growth trees, some as tall as 100 feet and as wide as 4 to 6 feet at the base. The dense forestation offered Joseph a secluded place to pray. In September 1823, Joseph had another spiritual encounter during the family’s fall harvest of wheat, corn, oats, and beans. The angel Moroni visited him as he and his brothers slept in the log home.2
The family soon built a larger, frame home on the farm. Before his untimely death in November 1823, Alvin had begun construction on the frame home to provide greater comfort and more respectability for his aging parents. About twice the size of the log home, the frame home featured multiple rooms for receiving guests and included a large kitchen. In September 1827, Joseph and his wife, Emma, were living with the Smith family in the frame home when Joseph retrieved the golden plates from the Hill Cumorah. Joseph then hid the plates in various spots around the home and on the farm to protect them from theft. It was also here, in 1828, that Joseph learned that Martin Harris had lost 116 manuscript pages of the translation of the Book of Mormon.3
Due to Alvin Smith’s death, the expense of the frame home, and the unscrupulous dealings of a local land agent, the financially strapped Smith family was unable to make the second payment on the farm and lost the title to it in 1826. By the time the Book of Mormon was published in 1830, the Smiths had moved back into the log home and were working as tenant farmers on the land they had cleared and developed.4 The family left the area permanently in 1831, when they moved to Ohio.
In 1905, Church President Joseph F. Smith visited the farm, which sparked an initiative to purchase the land. Two years later, the Church purchased the farm and later hired Willard and Rebecca Bean and then others to manage the property. The number of visitors to the farm and the Sacred Grove increased throughout the 20th century. The Church maintained the property as a working farm until the 1980s, when efforts began to restore the farm.5
Today the Smith Family Farm and Sacred Grove are open to the public for guided tours. Much of the original farm has been restored to its 1820s appearance, including the reconstruction of the log home and restoration of the frame home. The ecology in the Sacred Grove is managed to provide visitors with an atmosphere like the one Joseph would have experienced in 1820.