“Palmyra: Birthplace of the Restoration,” New Era, May 2005, 10
Some of the most important events in Church history happened in western New York. The Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ began there.
The Church history sites near Palmyra and Fayette, New York, include:
A replica of the log home where Joseph Smith lived as a teenager.
The Sacred Grove, site of the First Vision.
The Hill Cumorah, where Joseph received the gold plates.
The E. B. Grandin Building, where the Book of Mormon was printed.
A replica of the Peter Whitmer home, where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized.
Today, youth who live nearby enjoy visiting the Church history sites and feeling the Spirit there, which strengthens their testimonies. But they know that you don’t have to live in Palmyra to have a testimony of Prophet Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon. They gained their testimonies by study, prayer, and the witness of the Holy Ghost. They feel blessed to live in the birthplace of the Restoration.
Joseph Smith and his family lived for a few years in a log home like this one (right), two miles south of Palmyra. The home in the photograph is a replica that stands on the foundation of the original. The Smiths, known for their hard work, cleared the trees around the home, started an apple orchard, and prepared the land for planting.
Joseph was living in the log home when he experienced the First Vision in a nearby grove of trees. Three years later he was visited by the angel Moroni in the small upstairs bedroom (inset, above).
A short distance down the road from the log home, Joseph’s older brother Alvin planned to build a larger frame home for his parents, but he died before it was completed. The Smiths finished this home and moved into it in 1825. Near that home, they built a barn and a cooper’s shop, where Joseph’s father built and repaired wooden tubs and casks.
Nicholi Ludlow, of the Palmyra stake, likes to visit the Smith’s frame home near the Sacred Grove. “I like to walk through the Sacred Grove and then hear the couple missionaries tell where Joseph hid the plates and hear how much work the Smiths went through to build the home, and they had to leave it,” he says. “I remember feeling the Spirit in that place the first time I went there with my family.
“The faith of Joseph Smith is amazing to me—the faith to ask about something as big as which church to join. I try to have the faith that Joseph Smith had. I try to pray about decisions that are important to my life. Joseph’s story shows how important prayer is.”
After Joseph received the gold plates in 1827, many people began to try to steal them. Joseph had to hide them every day. He often hid them under the bricks of this fireplace (right) and in the cooper’s shop near the home.
As youth from the Palmyra stake walk through the Sacred Grove, the lyrics of “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer” (Hymns, no. 26) describe the morning of their visit. “Oh, how lovely was the morning! Radiant beamed the sun above. Bees were humming, sweet birds singing, Music ringing thru the grove.” They walk “within the shady woodland,” where “Joseph sought the God of love.”
These teens—Ted Tuttle, Thane Clark, Melissa Green, and Shannon Clawson—and many others in their stake often visit the Sacred Grove. They go alone to pray, ponder, and read scriptures. They also go with their friends and families.
Of the several Church history sites near Palmyra, the Sacred Grove is a favorite for many of the local youth. Shannon says the Sacred Grove is “the most beautiful place on earth. It’s gorgeous in there.” She goes there when she is seeking comfort or answers to questions. “One thing I really like to do is go there to read my patriarchal blessing,” she says. “There’s such a sweet spirit there.”
Thane likes to go to the grove alone. “It’s one place where there’s peace and answers to the problems of life,” he says. “In the Sacred Grove I feel the Spirit and have questions answered. I read my scriptures there. Sometimes I pray. I ponder things.”
Those who go to the grove to ponder and pray follow in the Prophet Joseph’s footsteps. Fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith came to this grove of trees near his home when he needed answers. He didn’t know which church to join, so he decided to “ask of God” (James 1:5).
From the top of the Hill Cumorah (left), you can see for miles over the green, tree-filled land below. On this hill, on September 22, 1827, Joseph was allowed to take the gold plates from the stone box where Moroni had buried them. The Prophet Joseph translated them in 1829 and published them as the Book of Mormon in 1830.
Sarah Thomas, a recent convert, enjoyed visiting the Hill Cumorah before she was a member of the Church. She often went to the hill to watch the sunset, and she felt the influence of the Holy Ghost there, without knowing what she was feeling. “I loved being there, even though I didn’t know why,” she says.
Now as a member of the Church she knows why: “The Spirit there is so great. It’s where Moroni buried the Book of Mormon. I had no idea how incredible and important these Church-history places are. I feel very blessed to live in an area where I can visit them.”
The Hill Cumorah Pageant is the largest staged production in the world about the Book of Mormon. Each summer, thousands of people see the free pageant, which shows 10 scenes from the Book of Mormon and its coming forth. More than 600 costumed cast members act out the scenes, which include real fire and water, on seven levels of stages on the Hill Cumorah.
Maren Dickens, 17, of the Palmyra stake, has been in the pageant four times. She says the pageant “has affected my testimony tremendously. It’s really spiritual.”
Visit www.hillcumorah.org for the pageant schedule or to apply to be a cast or crew member. Cast and crew members pay their own way and must be at least 18 to particiipate, but younger Church members are eligible if they attend with their families.
As you head down Main Street in Palmyra, New York, you see several little restaurants and bookstores and a red-brick building with a sign that says “Book of Mormon Historic Publication Site.” In this building the first copies of the Book of Mormon were printed. Joseph Smith paid Egbert B. Grandin U.S. $3,000 to print 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon, which was a lot of copies in that day.
Step inside the three-story building. Enthusiastic missionaries will show you around. You will see the old book shop, the bindery, and the black metal printing press, which was run by hand.
Eight men and boys worked 12-hour days, six days a week, for about eight months to print those first 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon. Having this press in Palmyra is a good example of the Lord preparing the way to move His work along.
April 6, 1830, was the day the Lord designated in revelation as the day the Church should be organized (see D&C 20). That day as many as 60 people met at the small log home of Peter Whitmer Sr. in Fayette, New York (below). New York law required a church to have at least six members to be organized. So Joseph, Hyrum, and Samuel Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Peter Whitmer Jr. became the first official members of the Church. All these young men had been baptized and had seen the gold plates.
Four important events in Church history happened at or near the Whitmer’s log home:
Joseph completed the translation of the Book of Mormon there in 1829.
The Three Witnesses saw the gold plates near this home (see D&C 17).
In Fayette the Prophet Joseph received 20 revelations that are recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants.
Thomas Cleere’s favorite Church-history site in western New York is the replica of the Peter Whitmer home. “Something special happened here,” says Thomas, 16, of the Palmyra stake. “As you go inside you can almost picture Joseph Smith. You can read Church history and feel the Spirit when you read that, but you can also stand where it happened and feel the Spirit.”
What’s it like to be a member of the Church in western New York? Melissa Green, 18, of the Palmyra stake, explains: “Because of the sites, members of the Church are recognized more. We’re asked a lot of questions. It’s the biggest missionary opportunity that can be given to us as a stake. It’s easier to talk about the Church.”
It may be easier to talk about the Church because of all the Church history sites there, but “it’s not easy to be a member of the Church here,” says Shannon Clawson, 18. “If you’re going to be a member of the Church, you have to be serious about it. You have to get up at six in the morning to go to early-morning seminary. I’m one of three members my age at school.”
“This is the Sacred Grove [opposite page]. … Here is where it all began, the miracle of this great work which has spread over the earth. This is the scene of the First Vision. It was here that God, the Eternal Father, appeared with His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the resurrected Lord.”
—President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Special Witnesses of Christ,” Ensign, Apr. 2001, 20.
“The Lord brought forth the Book of Mormon at a period of time when printing methods would enhance its distribution far and wide. Modern-day printing presses now enable the Church to print and distribute millions of copies of the Book of Mormon each year.
“… It is my personal testimony that the Book of Mormon changes human lives. It is indeed another testament of Jesus Christ.”
—President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, “Special Witnesses of Christ,” Ensign, Apr. 2001, 19.
Joseph Smith Jr. is born in Vermont.
The Smith family moves to Palmyra, New York.
Fourteen-year-old Joseph prays and sees Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
Moroni visits Joseph four times on September 21–22 (and once a year each September for the next four years).
Joseph takes the gold plates from the Hill Cumorah, near Palmyra.
The Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods are restored in Pennsylvania.
The Book of Mormon is printed at E. B. Grandin’s print shop in Palmyra.
On April 6 the Church is organized in the log home of Peter Whitmer Sr. at Fayette, New York.