Smiths lived in log home for 8 years

Consecutive years of poor harvests drove the family of Joseph Smith, Sr., from Vermont to their farm near Palmyra, N.Y., in 1816.

The village was small at the time, with a population of about 600. But with the construction of the Erie Canal, the area held the promise of becoming an important agricultural and commercial center.Family resources were scarce, so members of the family took a variety of employment opportunities. Father Smith, Alvin and Hyrum worked as day laborers -digging and rocking wells, constructing masonry walls and fireplaces, harvesting crops and chopping and selling wood.

By the fall of 1818, a few months after their arrival, they began negotiations to buy 100 acres of land.

The land was located south of Palmyra, along a rutted, ungraded wagon trail. During the winter of 1817-18, the Smiths were able to clear a small area of ground and begin erecting a log home. But during the growing season from spring until fall, they worked for others to provide for themselves and to meet financial obligations.

But by the fall of 1818, the log home was completed.

This log home was the family's home for eight of the 12 years they lived on the farm - from late 1818 until spring 1825; and from spring 1829 to late 1830. From 1825 to 1829 the Smiths lived in the white frame home located nearby on the farm that tourists today visit when they come to the Sacred Grove area.

To construct the log home, the Smiths felled the trees, then spent several days pulling the logs to the site with horse or ox team, and then prepared the logs for raising.

Neighbors undoubtedly helped the Smiths construct their home since house raisings were social occasions.

Though impoverished, the Smiths built their log home with several features not found in log cabins of the times. The little house was a one-and-a-half story structure with two rooms on the ground level, and a stairway leading to two rooms on the upper floor. Its foundation measured 18 feet by 30 feet.

The Smith family continued clearing farmland, and by the spring of 1820, had approximately 30 acres cleared.

It was in this setting of awakening spring and rigorous farm labor that the 14-year-old Joseph Smith found seclusion a short distance from the log home in a wooded spot not far from where his brothers and father had felled trees the day before, according to Donald L. Enders, research senior for the Church Historical Department.

There, in answer to his first vocal prayer, the Father and the Son appeared to the young Joseph, informing him that they had a great work for him to do. (See JS-H 1:14-20.)

During the next two or three years, except for absences when several of the sons were away working, the log home was crowded with this family, which at this time included 10 people.

In September 1823 the Prophet's family was busily involved in the harvest when Joseph was visited by the Angel Moroni in a bedroom in the log home that he shared with others.

"On this night, Joseph probably sat with his family around the fireplace, the chores of the day completed and the family talking of religion," Brother Enders said. "Joseph was reflective on this night, according to his mother's account.

"After all had retired, with his brothers asleep, Joseph prayed, feeling confident that his prayers would be answered. The room filled with light from a personage who introduced himself as a messenger from the presence of God.

"Moroni admonished Joseph to live a disciplined and good life, and comforted him by informing him that God had heard his prayer and had chosen him to help bring to light the knowledge of an ancient record which contained the fulness of the gospel as delivered to former inhabitants of this continent," Brother Enders said. (See JS-H 1:27-47.)

"This experience soon altered the lifestyle of the entire family. Establishing a productive farm and comfortable home and making a place for themselves in the community became less important than honoring the divine commitment asked of them," Brother Enders added.

The sacred experience of September was followed closely by tragedy. In November, Joseph's 25-year-old elder brother, Alvin, died. An exemplary young man, he was described by the attending physician at the time of his death as "one of the loveliest youths that ever trod the streets of Palmyra."

But at least a year before he died, Alvin had begun building a frame home for his family, about 125 yards south of the log home. After the shock of Alvin's passing had subsided, the Smiths hired a neighbor who lived three farms to the south to complete the home, Brother Enders said.

Despite the Smith's efforts to provide a comfortable living, ownership of the farm transferred to Lemuel Durfee on Dec. 20, 1825. It is not clear why the Smiths lost the farm, Brother Enders said.

According to Mother Smith 20 years after the fact, they had been cheated out of it by a "wicked" and "villainous" person.

It was to the frame home that the Prophet Joseph brought Emma shortly after their marriage in January 1827, and it was where Joseph and Emma were living when Moroni entrusted the plates to Joseph in September of that year.

Joseph placed the ancient record under the bricks of the hearth in this home for safekeeping, then later moved them to the loft of the cooper's shop across the street.

But as persecution and harassment increased, Joseph took Emma and the plates to her parent's home in Harmony, Pa., in December 1827.

Father and Mother Smith had known they would be leaving the frame home in the spring of 1829, as they had agreed to do months before, and began making preparations to move back into the log home.

During the summer of 1829 when the translation of the Book of Mormon was nearing completion, Joseph received instruction that eight men were to view the plates. Joseph Sr., Hyrum and Samuel were among those selected.

They gathered on the Smith farm and retired to a favored place where the Prophet's family often went for private prayer. Here they saw and handled the gold plates.

The winter of 1829 and 1830 passed and with the arrival of spring the printing of the Book of Mormon was completed. Joseph arrived from Harmony and preached several times at the log home.

Following the momentous conference on April 6, 1830, in Fayette, N.Y., when the Church was organized, Hyrum and Father Smith returned to the log home.

Autumn 1830 was the last of this beautiful season for the Smiths on their farm. In late September the second conference of the young Church concluded in Fayette. Hyrum received word to take his family to Colesville, N.Y., to help shepherd the Church there, leaving Mother and Father Smith and 9-year-old Lucy alone on the farm.

They, too, planned to go to Waterloo, near Fayette, as instructed by their Prophet son.

Turning east toward Waterloo to gather with the Church, the Smith family bade farewell to their log home.

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