Restoring Harmony


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.



  1. I visited back in January. We were the only ones there, and got the in-depth tour.

    The woods behind the new chapel/visitor’s center had a Sacred Grove feeling. Very powerful.

    The reconstructions were fascinating. Everything inside felt authentic, or nearly so: the native electrical wiring for lights, AC, and alarms wasn’t obvious, which made it feel very obvious. Likewise, the fresh paint smell took away from the authenticity.

    That said, the experience was very powerful and it became easy to imagine Josep, Emma, and Oliver wandering around and doing their thing. The attention to detail was magnificent. If you’re ever in the middle-of-nowhere PA, definitely make the effort to get there!

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks Matt for this great report.

  3. As one of BYU interns who worked on the project nearly a decade ago, I am eager to go see the final product.

  4. This sounds like a great spot to visit. Last time I saw the place there was little more than a bronze statue. But off the beaten path for sure.

  5. We were there in October and it was very impressive, down to even the type of white hat Joseph used with the seer stone. Shared details of the visit today with my priests quorum and will plan to take them up there soon.

  6. We were just there over Conference weekend. The reconstruction was very well done. The sister missionaries were good tour guides- they obviously knew a lot of information and answered all of our questions. They even pointed to the hat on the table in Joseph and Emma’s home and talked about how Joseph used it with the seer stone, similarly to how you’d shade your iPhone if you were looking at it in direct sunlight. I loved the Susquehanna river property. There’s space for tour bus parking, so I presume the Church anticipates being ready for big tours. That said, the river was left in its natural state. There’s a paved path leading to the river, but nothing at the water’s edge that distracts from nature. My family enjoyed walking along the bank and imagining where Joseph and Oliver might have been baptized.

  7. My profound wish is that we could just stop. Must we restore and adorn every outhouse between New York and Utah used by a church founding father or pioneer? The amount of effort and money could be so much better spent. The time spent visiting could be so much better spent. We have a monument fetish. It’s becoming pathological.

  8. John Mansfield says:

    With 150 temples dotting the land, it seems these historical sites are taking up the need for focal points, places that draw the Latter-day Saints together physically and mentally, across decades and from beyond the greater metro area.

  9. We went in the Fall, just after the dedication. Whats interesting to me, is that according to records, the Priesthood restoration took place in the woods, and not on the banks of the Susquehanna river, which was an impression I had growing up. They have a nice trail into the wooded area where the restoration took place. Like they did in Palmyra, a road was altered for safety. I like that they have a hat on the table, representative of the translation process. Plus, houses were a lot smaller back then. The church building is small, which I think is practical for the number of saints in the area, and the small visitors center is in the back end of the church building.

  10. John Mansfield says:

    One month I shared with a home teaching family a message from the Ensign tailored to their interests:

    “Hale was a mighty hunter,” wrote Rev. George Peck, a Methodist Episcopal minister who frequently visited the Hales because they were of like religious persuasion. “In fact, [Hale] … fixed his home in this new region for the purpose of pursuing game. … He slaughtered about 100 deer annually, most of which he sent to the Philadelphia market. He often killed bears and elks, as well as a great variety of smaller game, of the flesh of which I often partook at his table.”

    The various facets of history that draw different people in.

  11. I was there the day after Easter. It was nice and well-done. Similar to the way they revamped the Palmyra sites 20 or so years ago.

    The film was pretty well-done, but I wish they had shown the stone in the hat in the film. They had the hat out on the table in the reconstructed home, and explained it, but the film in the visitors center did not show him looking into a hat.

  12. Chad: We haven’t restored Far West, Haun’s Mill or any of the other Northwest Missouri sites yet….

  13. BlueRidgeMormon says:

    I’m eager to return to the site this summer. I have four sons, and a tradition of taking each of them on a “priesthood trip” while they are 11 to Harmony/Susquehanna. It’s a great time to reflect and get them thinking about the gravity of what they’re about to take on. I’ve made two of these journeys, in 2012 and 2014, both before the restoration project was conducted/completed (but obviously during the architectural period and info-gathering phase). In 2014 it was clear that the work would get done before I returned with son #3.

    I would say that ultimately I have mixed feelings about the “sprucing up” of these sites. On one hand, it makes them very accessible and makes it easier to envision the events that took place there. On the other hand, I’m a bit of a traditionalist in that I really like the Kirtland Temple and other sites that are real and not replicas, versus much of what’s been done in Palmyra and Nauvoo etc. (For instance, I always want to know from the missionary tour guides if the site is original or a replica… and they often don’t know the answer themselves.) So there’s a traditionalist feeling in me that often rises to the surface in the face of the “Disney-fying” of these sites.

    And, candidly, this makes me feel especially poignant about this site in particular. Perhaps it’s because my testimony, as it were, of the restored gospel is largely a testimony about the priesthood. And also because we’ve loved this tradition of going to this site in particular, which becomes especially important given this particular formulation of one’s testimony. And: I’d also honestly say that I’ve loved the undeveloped nature of the site. There’s something about it that seemed… wild. Untrammeled. And I’ve loved those early Sunday mornings, getting up with my son and going to the Joseph/Emma homesite (which used to just be foundation stones in the outline of the cottage, with a large flagstone at the entrance), sitting there, IN the home, sharing our favorite passages from the Book of Mormon. And then pointing out that that son: look, this spot, where we’re sitting right now, is where the bulk of the Book was translated. Right here! I mean, it might have been 10 feet in one direction or the other, since I don’t know where their kitchen table was, but it was RIGHT HERE. (The highway used to run right in front of the site, dividing it from the Hale farm across the street, but I believe the Church and PDOT have actually moved the entire highway. We’ve always gone over a Fri-Sun weekend that includes a fast Sunday, and that’s provided a terrific opportunity for my sons (if so moved, which both were) to share their testimony with the local congregation… which used to meet in an old Protestant church up near the New York state border. When I returned in 2014 many of the congregants remembered me and were thrilled to meet my second son. I told them I looked forward to seeing them in 2016 with son #3. I used to love crossing the railroad tracks and making our way down to the riverside, and talking about the Restoration events themselves, of course not knowing exactly where they took place.

    All that said, it was enlightening to go in 2014 when some of the site restoration and prep had begun, and (in light of new Church historical scholarship) walk up into the “sugarbush” area where we now know the Priesthood Restoration actually took place, rather than down on the river banks. Hooray for Mormon schoarship! It’s an example of how better attention, restoration, and analysis can lead to a better understanding of the events themselves. So.. that’s fantastic. Progress isn’t all bad! :)

    Nevertheless there’s still a part of me that will miss the old undeveloped site. I’ll see firsthand how things have changed this July. Either way, it’s a special place!

  14. Leonard R says:

    We were able to take our family a week before the dedication. I was generally impressed with the site. As others noted, the woods were nice, and having recently read about the sugar-bushing, it was a nice, humanizing angle. They had a replica gold plates, wrapped in cloth in the house, which the kids particularly enjoyed handling and feeling the weight of.

    I was also struck by the disconnect between the tangible site, including the aforementioned hat, and the complete absence of any such representation in the film.

    The kids also enjoyed some of the hands-on aspects inside the visitors center, which gave it more of a museum feel than a “testimony bearing” feel.

    Finally, while the route to it was less than direct for driving, I really appreciated the lack of development by the river. Very natural, and the highpoint of the visit for me. My wife and I stood in silence for a good while contemplating what happened there, in all its potential complexity.

    Oh, and I should note the cemetery right next to it was also worthwhile. Not connected to the church site, but easily accessible, and the missionaries pointed out that there were graves worth seeing, including that of a child of Joseph and Emma (which is also in the film, and allowed a tangible connection, especially for my kids).