SHARON, Vt. — Joseph Smith was less than a year old when his family moved from the log home where he was born. He would have no recollection of the steep road leading to his home on Dairy Hill, nor the rocky ground where his parents struggled to eke out an existence.
In those early years of Joseph's young life, the Smith family moved several more times in the general area before moving to Palmyra.
Today, the site of the Prophet's birth is a place of peace. A granite monument standing 38 1/2-feet tall is the centerpiece of the site with an adjacent visitors center. The grounds are well manicured and surrounded by a lush forest of maple trees.
It is a scene of serenity commemorating what some here like to say is the site of the second most sacred birth.
Remote and somewhat obscure among the Church's many historical sites, the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial requires a concerted effort to visit. But in this year of celebration, nearly 3,000 more visitors have visited the site in 2005 than to date in 2004.
According to Elder Grant Williams, director of the site, of the 19,000 visitors this year, nearly 8,000 came in July.
The increase in visitors caught the attention of Vermont Public Radio that noted recently how, in a state where there are relatively few members of the Church, "the anniversary of the (Prophet's) birth is attracting Church members from around the world," including Russia and Australia.
The radio broadcast described the "long paved driveway (leading) into the Joseph Smith memorial (that) is lined with old maples that give way to a wide expanse of carefully manicured lawns and flagstone walkways rimmed with flowers," and then contrasted how "the spot looks today is a far cry from the hardscrabble farm in the hills above Sharon where (Joseph's) parents struggled to make a living."
Only the hearthstone, now set into the floor of the visitors center, remains from the house where Joseph was born.
It was in this area, in nearby Tunbridge, that the Prophet's parents, Lucy Mack and Joseph Smith Sr., met and married.
The Smith parents eventually moved to Sharon and lived in a small log home on Dairy Hill on the homestead of Solomon Mack, Lucy's parents.
The young Smith family had gone from prosperity to poverty after a swindler cheated the Smiths out of money owed them for a shipment of ginseng root sent to China.
Joseph Smith Sr. planned to pay his debts from profits earned in the sale of ginseng. But after losing the money, he sold his farm in Tunbridge, Vt., for $800, about half its value, and Lucy contributed $1,000, a wedding gift from her brother and his business partner.
That wedding gift was a very substantial sacrifice, said Elder Ken Johnson, serving with his wife, Sister Bonnie Johnson, as a missionary couple at the birthplace memorial. The same size farm that $1,000 could have purchased then would be about $500,000 today.
It was in these conditions — in a home of love and integrity but struggling for the necessities of life — that the Prophet of this dispensation was born on the cold, wintry day of Dec. 23, 1805.
One hundred years later, in 1905, President Joseph F. Smith commissioned Junius F. Wells to create a memorial at the site.
Brother Wells, son of Daniel H. Wells who had served as second counselor to Brigham Young, purchased 283 acres of property, including the Mack homestead, and began working on a granite monument.
"He had a great and marvelous dream of what to do," said President Gordon B. Hinckley during a ceremony honoring him May 11 by the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation. (See Church News, May 21, 2005).
Brother Wells traveled over Vermont until he found a quarry with a very choice piece of granite. It was cut and finished in an obelisk shape 38 1/2 feet long, one foot for each year of the Prophet's life.
It was a "tremendous task," continued President Hinckley, of moving the monument from the South Royalton railroad station up the hill 300 feet on dirt roads to what was then known as Dairy Hill of the old Solomon Mack farm.
"They built a wagon with steel rims 20 inches wide and an 8-inch axle and loaded this huge piece of granite weighing 40 tons, and began to move it, first with six horses, then 12 horses, then 20, and finally 22 horses pulled that load up the hill," he said.
"Visitors today," said Elder Williams, "feel the special spirit of peace promised by President Joseph F. Smith in his dedicatory prayer given Dec. 23, 1905, when he said: 'May thy blessing abide upon it, that it may be a blessed place, where thy people may visit from time to time and rejoice in contemplating thy goodness.' "
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