Those who restored the Joseph Smith Sr. farm home near Palmyra, N.Y., learned about the Smith family as well as the home.
The extensive efforts to return the home to its original state have been appreciated by local historians. The home received the Preservation League of New York State's Award of Excellence in Historic Preservation. The award, honoring the preservation of New York's diverse architectural heritage, was presented May 1 at a Park Avenue ceremony in New York City.
The small, rural farmhouse stands in sharp contrast to the large, often well-known urban buildings normally cited by the league. Attending the ceremony for the Church were Don Enders, curator of historical sites, and Steve Olson, operations director for the Museum of Church History and Art.
The Smith home project began with a thorough study that proved it to be structurally sound, said Brother Olsen. Next came a "full historic structure report," an architectural analysis made by Crawford & Stearns Architects with Ted Bartlett, site manager. They peeled away of all later additions to the home. Other restoration experts approved and applauded the detail with which they worked. The contractor was Frank J. Marianacci, the same company that did the nearby Grandin Building.
Brother Enders said that 85 percent of the home remained intact, including most of the interior doors, all of the windows and glass, a considerable amount of wall planks and the superstructure.
What emerged was not only a simple building, but also a picture of a determined, hardworking family of the early 19th century, said Brother Enders.
"It was the last-built heritage of the Joseph Smith Sr. family," he said. "It was their labor, their wood, their nails, their paint, their glass. It stands as a monument to their commitment to be acceptable in society, and to be good and kindly people. It is a wonderful place where sacred aspects of the gospel were carried out, such as bringing the gold plates home and placing them there."
The home is a typical New England farmhouse, with the same plan as thousands of others including, for example, the John Johnson home in Hiram, Ohio. The Smith home had a parlor on one side and sitting room on the other side, with a kitchen in the rear.
The Smiths moved to the area before 1818, the year they put money down on 100 acres then located in the township of Farmington. For about the next 10 years, the family "fenced the land, cleared 60 acres, built a barn, a cooper's shop and animal shelters, planted a garden, started a large apple orchard, and developed meadows and fields," wrote Brother Enders in "Palmrya, New York," Historical Atlas of Mormonism, p. 10.
When the township was divided in 1822, the Smith farm was in the new township of Manchester. That same year Alvin Smith, then 23, the eldest son of Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith, was determined to provide a comfortable place for his parents and started the farmhouse.
While building their new farm home, the Smiths were living nearby in a small log house they previously had built where, late in the evening of Sunday, Sept. 21, 1823, Joseph, then 17, received a visit from the Angel Moroni who revealed the existence of a sacred record written on gold plates. (JSH 1:30-34.)
Alvin became seriously ill and died on Nov. 19 of that year. After Alvin's death, the family continued to suffer economic hardships. However, in 1825 the family moved into the partly finished one-and-one-half-story frame farmhouse. Later that year they lost title to the 100-acre farm, but remained as tenants. Evidence of the grieving family's poverty was found in the home.
"The Smith family moved into the unfinished home in October and November when winter was approaching," said Brother Enders. "They built a makeshift room in the southwest corner of the kitchen and later removed it. We found the doorway that was filled in.
"The home did not have interior lathe and plaster when they moved in," he said. Instead, the Smith family whitewashed the wall planks. This whitewash provided a key to what was original. A microanalysis showed that it had two coats possibly three coats in places whitewashed again instead of having lathe and plaster.
Also, "we found remnants of Lucy's drying rack. It hung in the kitchen from the ceiling near the fireplace." It was likely well-used, drying items from herbs to meat to laundry. The historians also found the place where a stone sink with lead drain pipes had been installed.
The family's remaining in the home allowed Joseph to visit the site of the gold plates annually and confer with the Angel Moroni each year until Sept. 22, 1827, when he was permitted to remove the plates, the Urim and Thummim and breastplate. (JSH 1:51-54.)
As antagonists began to seek the gold plates, Joseph hid them in a fireplace hearth and later in the cooper shop loft. Once he hid them between his younger sisters who were in bed. (See "Cradle of the Restoration," Ensign, January 2001, p. 44.)
"Based on sources, we found the fireplace from which the bricks had been taken up to hide the gold plates," said Brother Enders. "We didn't find the exact bricks; those had been re-used."
He explained that the home first had a central chimney for all the fireplaces, but later owners removed it and built chimneys on the sides of the home. "We rebuilt the central chimney with Smith brick."
Later occupants also replaced the exterior clapboard, making lathe of the original, and moving planking to various other places as they remodeled. "It was an interesting challenge to figure out where the planks went originally. Nail holes and paint lines helped determine that."
A paint analysis showed that all the woodwork was painted a reddish maroon color.
Other intriguing things emerged. Even before Lucy Smith married Joseph Sr., she "had learned the art form of designing and painting oil cloth coverings for chests and also for floor coverings," said Brother Enders. "Historical sources suggest she did this upstairs in the frame home. We found little hand prints [in paint] on the stairwell going down from that space. We do not know, of course, but they look about the size of their little daughter Lucy."
In the spring of 1829, the Smith family returned to their log home, and later that year, moved farther west. The home they had erected with such hope and effort was left to others. It is fitting tribute to them, as well as to the historians and architects, that it was their farm home honored this week in New York City in a Park Avenue ceremony.
John L. Hart
E-mail: [email protected]