After decades of researching, purchasing land and preparations, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has at last shared its plan for the priesthood restoration site in Oakland Township, Penn.
“It is extremely historic from our standpoint because this is the last site of the restoration that has not yet been fully restored,” said Stephen B. Allen, managing director of the LDS Missionary Department. “All of the other sites — the sacred grove, the sites around Palmyra, New York, Kirtland and Nauvoo — have been restored. The priesthood restoration site is under development to be restored.”
The new LDS historic site will focus on the restoration of the priesthood, including signs for the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood and the baptismal site of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. They will also be rebuilding Joseph and Emma Smith’s house as well as Isaac and Elizabeth Hale’s (Emma’s parents) on the original foundations.
“We are trying to be as authentic as possible,” said Reid Nielson, managing director of the Church History Department. “Our team does painstaking work to make sure these are accurate representations and restorations of these structures as best as we can get them.”
In an effort to restore the site, the LDS Church has encountered two major problems: a railroad track and Highway 171 separated the historical sites located over their multiple acres of land. However, the past year they have realigned the road and created an underpass that will allow visitors a safe walk from the visitors center to the baptism location along the Susquehanna River.
The entire site is about a one-fourth mile walk, keeping the walk from the visitors center to the baptismal site on the Susquehanna River a short distance.
What will be at the Priesthood Restoration site?
- Restored home of Joseph and Emma Smith
- Restored home of Isaac and Elizabeth Hale
- Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery’s baptism site
- Aaronic Priesthood Restoration site
- 22-minute feature film
The two other LDS Church history sites within 300 miles of the Susquehanna River site are meant to compliment each other since the Church predicts families will travel through Oakland Township up to Fayette, N.Y. and Palmyra, N.Y.
“We try and make all the sites work well together,” Nielson said. “We want to tell similar stories but at the same time since most families will be coming to Harmony on their way to Palmyra we want to make sure that they’re being told complimentary stories, but so children especially don’t think, ‘Wait, we just hear that. We don’t want to listen anymore.’
“So in this particular site, we are focusing on The Book of Mormon. We’re focusing on Priesthood restoration. We’re focusing on revelations received. Then as you go up to Fayette, which is as you go north toward Palmyra, you’re focused on priesthood restoration for the importance of the restoration of the church in 1830. We’re talking about the foundations of a gospel kingdom. Something that is actually going to be organized as a church structure. And then as you go up to Palymra you’re talking about the First Vision. We’re focusing on the events including the importance of the Smith family. In other words, as families go through these sites, we believe it’s a complimentary message nothing contradicts, but it is a nice way to get different pieces of information that are all tied together.”
Along with restoring the historic site, the LDS Church is also producing a 22-minute feature film, which was filmed in Provo at the LDS Motion Picture Studio, that will only be shown at the visitor’s center in Pennsylvania.
The movie is shared through Oliver Cowdery’s experience as he learns about Joseph Smith, takes a two-week journey to meet him and transcribes for the translation of The Book of Mormon.
“All of the events that transpired here are of a tremendous significance to Latter-day Saints,” Nielson said. “The covenants that we believe that we can make by baptism, the priesthood which keeps us together as families, the ability to continue to progress in the gospel and to have The Book of Mormon, the additional witness of Jesus Christ, these things all came out of the Harmony area.”
The Church hopes to have the site open by fall 2015.