I had heard that the Church was restoring some of the historic sites in Harmony Township, Pennsylvania (now Oakland Township), but I hadn’t heard any of the details. Well, yesterday I received my BYU Religious Education Review (Winter 2016), which features two articles that give details on this project.
The first article is “Restoring Harmony, Part I” by Mark Staker, lead curator for the project. Mark details how before the project was publicly announced, they gathered a group of bright BYU interns to scour the Church Archives and published materials to learn what they could from those sources about the site. They would experience weekly presentations at the Church History Museum on significant historical events that occurred at the site; these included Larry Porter, Jack Welch, Royal Skousen, Carol Madsen and Craig Manscill.
The working group learned extensive details about the acquisition of the sites by Wilford C. Wood from 1939 to 1946 as well as additional land purchases in subsequent years. The Church commissioned Hartgen Archaeological Associates Inc. beginning in 2004 to do archaeological work at the sites. Mark and others did extensive archival research in Susquehenna County (including land records, tax records and correspondence from neighbors) to learn everything they could about the site.
I had sort of wondered how they could do a meaningful reconstruction of these homes. Mark writes that “for Joseph and Emma’s home we could reconstruct with confidence small details such as the style of their rain gutter, the style of their baseboards, and even the species of wood used for their floor. We could do this through relying on numerous photographs, letters from individuals who lived in the home and described its detaails, and even a small model of the home built in the late 1950s by an elderly resident who had been inside numerous times before it burned down June 23, 1919.” (The picture at the top is of the Isaac and Elizabeth Hale home; immediately below is the Joseph and Emma Smith home.)
In order to replicate furnishings in the home the team relied on archaeological remains at the site, Isaac Hale’s probate records, Lucy Mack Smith’s account of her visit in which she mentioned various items, supplemented by general information about the belongings of their neighbor sand typical furnishings of the time and place. The staff at Old Sturbridge Village allowed study of their collection of period artifacts. Craftsmen with skills in early America furniture construction, tinsmithing, and textile production, replicated pieces found in local museums, local historical societies and private collections. Their work was supplemented by nationally recognized artisans: Steve Larson replicated 1820s wallpaper, Joel Pardis repaired a lamp for the Hale home, and Ron Raiselis made a number of items for the site in his New Hampshire workshop.
LaJean Carruth (the Church history shorthand guru) volunteered to hand weave the m’s-and o’s patterned tablecloth of Emma’s that Joseph used to wrap the plates. They even reconstructed the same type of quill pens that Oliver Cowdery used as scribe during the dictation process.
The site was dedicated last September by Elder Nelson. Have any of you managed to visit it yet? If so, please share with us your impressions. I certainly hope at some point to make it there.