We had an absolutely wonderful tour of the Priesthood Restoration site in Harmony, PA over the weekend!
Today, I'll share with you some pictures of the new buildings and improvements to the site that the church has made recently and share a few stories and a testimony with you.
Previously, all that stood to mark the significance of the spot where the priesthood was restored was one statue, and an old cemetery. Other things that occurred here in addition to the restoration of the Priesthood include the baptism of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and the translation of the majority of the Book of Mormon. This is also where Joseph and Emma were living when the 116 translated pages were lost by Martin Harris.
You can read more about what happened in this special place in the recent Ensign article called "Joseph Smith in Harmony."
Ok, here we go! When you first pull up to the Priesthood restoration site, this is what you see, a beautiful chapel/visitor's center designed to match the style of the area for the time period. The back half is a very nice, interactive visitor's center. The front of the building houses a beautiful chapel with large floor-to-ceiling windows.
As you get out of your car in the parking lot, you're immediately drawn to these beautiful statues--replicas of ones that you can also see in Temple Square--depicting Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery being visited by John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John when they were given the Aaronic Priesthood and then the Melchezidek Priesthood.
Inside the Visitor's Center, you're warmly greeted by the missionaries and brought to a bust of Jesus Christ where the missionaries testify that all of this is done because of Him. It is really all about Christ and all because of Christ.
We watched a 25-minute video, which is a newly-produced movie, all about the events that happened in Harmony. It is extremely well-done and very moving. Although it kind of starts out sad, Guy said he felt the spirit while watching the movie. Scarlett said that it made her happy.
In the lobby area, there is a large 3D map of the area showing what the land looked like when Emma and Joseph Smith (and the Hale Family) lived there. It also shows the homes that were restored, the cemetery, and the chapel.
The tour takes you past the statues and down a wooded path...
If you go right at the fork, you head to the "sugar bush" forest where Joseph Smith often went to pray, where he sometimes hid the golden plates from searches, and where the church now believes is the place where Joseph and Oliver were visited by John the Baptist and where they received the Aaronic Priesthood, which gave them the power and authority to baptize each other in the name of Christ.
The tour, however, takes you first toward the left at the fork in the path, and under the brand-new highway (which was moved by the church) through a tunnel. The views are breath-takingly beautiful.
The first home that you come to is the home of Emma and Joseph.
However, when they first moved to Harmony, they stayed with Emma's parents Isaac and Elizabeth Hale, so you turn right and follow the trail to their home first.
This fence was built by the church, and soon after a bear rubbed his back against it and knocked the whole thing over! So the church had to rebuild and re-enforce it so that didn't happen again.
This trail used to be a very busy main road. The church moved the highway over to restore the site. It is very peaceful now, however there is still a railroad that runs to the left of this trail, which runs a couple times a day (although we didn't hear it when we were there). That's why there's a chain-link fence off to the left of this picture, for safety purposes. Still very beautiful!
Here is the Hale home in all of its glory. I was so impressed with it. If you're used to seeing the restored Smith log cabin up in Palmyra, NY, like I am, this is something very different and very impressive.
The log cabin is very rustic and indicative of the financial status of the Smith family--they were pretty poor. The Hale family, however, were very prosperous and well-off. Their home would have been considered a mansion at the time...and after seeing their home restored, it still looked like a mansion to me! Very beautiful, as the following photos will show.
Oh, and another big difference is that, unlike the restored log cabin and other homes in Palmyra, these homes are air conditioned! Whew! So appreciate that! You enter in the back/side entrance.
This is the "birthing room" off the side of the kitchen. This was Emma and Joseph's bedroom.
Here is a view of the dining room, standing outside of Joseph & Emma's bedroom.
This is the bright, cherry, very nice for the time, kitchen. On the table is a box, which is a replica of the box the plates were kept in. The box, or one like it, would have originally been used to ship window panes used to build the home. It was also the perfect size to house something much more precious!
I loved how interactive the whole experience was for us and for the children. We were encouraged to heft the box of plates to feel for ourselves how heavy they were to carry around. The box weighed 50 lbs, which is what the plates weighed.
We all took turns trying to lift the box.
This is a storage room/pantry off to the right of Emma & Joseph's small bedroom and off of the kitchen.
Here is the dining room, which was so beautifully appointed, it just made my heart sing. I could just imagine this family gathered around this beautiful table, talking, laughing, sharing...So, so pretty. There was definitely a homemaker in this home! Again, through every window was just the prettiest views.
On the wall, above a cabinet, next to the dining room table is one of the first rifles. It goes by a few names, but also is called a Pennsylvania rifle. Guy was excited to see that and imagine how it might have been used by Isaac Hale! And, of course, we love anything with Pennsylvania in the name!
Here's Honor checking out the place settings. The forks they used at the time looked like they could do some real damage!
The next room you enter is the sitting room. You have to cross through the front hall to get there. It was also so stunning.
We noticed all the wallpaper, carpet, drapes and other details that really show what refined tastes the Hales had. No wonder they were none too pleased when their daughter fell in love with a man who had no property and very little education!
Here is the outside of the Hale homestead...again, very picturesque!
Next, we moved to the home that Joseph and Emma Smith later occupied, where much of the translation of the Book of Mormon took place.
As we waited outside for another small tour group to finish, our tour guides talked about Emma Smith...how she often had the task of moving the plates about when visitors showed up, but because she was not given permission to view the plates from the Lord, she could not uncover them and look at them herself. And our tour guide followed that up with, "And that, we know, is by design."
Suddenly, my thoughts returned to the video we watched in the visitor's center before our tour began, in which Olivery Cowdery asks Joseph for reassurance of the work they were doing. Joseph asked the Lord on behalf of Oliver and received a revelation meant just for him. The revelation is section 6 of the Doctrine and Covenants. In it, the Lord tells Oliver: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?" Oliver was satisfied with this answer, because that experience was known only to God and himself...
My thoughts turned back to Emma's great faith, to the fact that God "designed" it to be this way, that she...and we...would walk by faith, which would lead us to rely on the spirit to teach and guide us and to be a basis of our faith. And that we could receive no greater witness than the witness that comes to us through the Holy Ghost.
How many times have I, as a saint living in Pennsylvania, wished and yearned for those physical reassurances? How many times have I wished to see? There is so much that I don't see with my mortal eyes, yet the strongest assurances have come to me, like Oliver, through the confirmation of the Holy Ghost...and this too is "by design."
What a powerful witness this was to me...I am so grateful, that I could be in this place and hear these stories with new ears and a new understanding.
Even the buildings themselves, as beautifully restored as they are, are not enough upon which to base a testimony. They are mode or means through which we can experience some of what Joseph and others might had experienced, but it is only through the spirit that we can receive an actual witness, a powerful witness, and a lasting testimony that the things that occurred here really did occur--that the priesthood has been restored, that the Book of Mormon is a record of Jesus Christ, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is His true church on the earth today.
This was a powerful moment for me personally.
On with the tour: Inside the Smith home you find a kitchen much more simply laid out and with a lot less frills. In the kitchen is a table laid out with translated pages of the Book of Mormon, writing materials, a hat, and replicas of the gold plates covered in cloth as they would have been while translating.
This red box, also in the kitchen, is a replica of the box where Emma placed the plates away from view whenever visitors arrived.
We were encouraged to feel the plates through the cloth, to feel the pages, etc.
Then we actually pulled the cloth back to see what the replica looked like. Again, it was really fun for the kids and helped to bring these church history stories to life!
To the left of the Smith home is the statue which has marked the priesthood restoration site for a long time, showing Oliver, Joseph, and John the Baptist.
My little reader was excited that she could tell me what the back of the statue said! :)
At this point, the sun was beating down on us and the kids were getting restless!
Further down the trail, we came to the McKune Cemetery, where Isaac and Elizabeth Hale were buried.
This is also where the infant son of Joseph and Emma Smith is buried. The church has restored their headstones with new ones, but if you look on the back-side of the new headstones, you can see the old ones too.
If you go there, you can easily locate the three graves, because they're close together, closest to the road on the left.
After visiting the cemetery, we made our way back to the visitor's center past the other homes and under the tunnel.
Because the kids were tired, we did not stop at the "sugar bush," but here are pictures of the signs marking the trail leading to that spot.
Inside the Visitor's Center, there were lots of interactive exhibits to explore. In this one, you turn the big wagon wheel and watch the wagon proceed through a bridge and snow storm.
Right next to that display is a barrel full of beans. Most people are unaware that you can actually pull the barrel away from the wall to discover how Joseph hid the plates in the bean barrel to transport them to Harmony. (You have to really pull hard, but it's worth it!)
Near the bean barrel is a whole section where kids can "practice being a scribe!" There's a large screen where you can "write with a feather" (or your finger) the words being dictated to you.
Behind that, you can type your reactions to touring the site. You can scroll through and read what others have written.
Everywhere there are the most beautiful views. The back of the visitor's center is a peaceful spot to read and look out the window at the surrounding forests. It's really nicely laid out and there are a lot more exhibits than the ones I've written about here.
After we said good-bye to the missionaries at the visitor's center, we stopped just a down the road (it's so close!) at the historic baptism site (which is marked with a sign.)
This is the place in the river where the baptism of Joseph and Oliver most likely occurred. You can park your car in a small lot and walk about 2/10ths of a mile down to the river bank. It is, again, so beautiful and very calm and peaceful.
The kids suddenly caught a second wind and really wanted to explore the river, which we did as reverently and briefly as possible. While there, we saw 3-4 deer crossing at a shallow point in the river (they haven't gotten much rain recently!)
All-in-all, it was just a beautiful day and a wonderful experience for me personally and for the children. The priesthood restoration site is really family and kid-friendly and the church has done such a nice job of making it accessible to everyone.
I'm so excited to watch the dedication of this site online in the coming weeks.
You can read more about the Priesthood Restoration site in Harmony here.