LDS Church unveils Restoration site plan

This artist’s rendering depicts LDS church founder’s Joseph and Emma Smith’s Oakland Twp. home which will be reconstructed in a site development over the next few years. Northeast Pennsylvania Stake President Keith Dunford discussed site plans with community leaders and church members at a meeting held Saturday evening. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

BY STACI WILSON

A plot of land in Oakland Twp., once home to Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, holds sacred significance to the church and is also a recognized historical site.

On Saturday, Oct. 13, the LDS Church publicly unveiled its plans for the development of the site – now marked only by a monument – into a visitors’ center focused on the events that occurred at the Oakland Twp. location.

Keith Dunford, Stake President of nine LDS congregations in northeastern Pennsylvania, said, “Some significant events occurred here and the church concluded it was time to do a full restoration of this site for church members and non-members to learn about our church history.”

Plans for the site include the realigning of SR 171 for safety issues; the reconstruction of the Isaac Hale and Joseph Smith homes; and the building of a Visitors’ Center and Chapel. Trails, walkways and access roads will also be constructed, Dunford said.

The work on SR 171 is slated to begin as early as November, Dunford said. But, he added, that work could be delayed until next year.

The roadway cuts through the property which, if left as it is, would make accessing various locations at the site dangerous for visitors.

Dunford said the roadway will be moved to the north for safety. “It’s not possible to leave it where it is,” he said.

The road realignment is expected to take over two years to complete. The church is paying to have the roadway moved.

Archeologists are already at work around the foundation and well at the Isaac Hale home. Hale, and his wife, Elizabeth, were parents to Emma (Hale) Smith, wife of Joseph Smith.

Although there are no photographs of the Hale home, Dunford said the archeologists would be looking for clues about the home’s construction so it could be replicated at the site.

There is, however, a picture of the Joseph and Emma Smith home. Plans include reconstructing the small home where Smith worked at transcribing a large portion of the Book of Mormon in 1828-29.

Walking trails will be constructed in the area of the “Sugarbush,” a grove of maple trees that, according to church doctrine, is where John the Baptist first appeared to Joseph Smith.

A roadway, leading to the Joseph Smith baptismal site along the river, will be put in along with a parking area for visitor convenience but no buildings will be built in that area, Dunford said.

And on Saturday, Dunford unveiled the artist’s rendering of the Visitor’s Center and Chapel. The building will be able to hold about 235 people, he said.

Pennsylvania bluestone will be used on the building façade and on walkways in the garden area outside of the center.

Susquehanna County native daughter, Emma Hale’s home is a “sacred place to the church,” Dunford said. “(The project) will not only be to honor Joseph Smith, but also Emma.”

“We feel strongly about the history of what occurred here,” said Dunford.

Community leaders indicated they thought the development of the site could be a boon to the local economy.

Currently, about 20,000 people visit the site each year.

Dunford said he expects that number to double after the work in completed.

Dunford also shot down rumors that the LDS Church would be building a hotel in the area.

“No hotel is being constructed by the Church,” he said. “But one may be by someone who sees an opportunity.”