Joseph Smith Family Farm
Palmyra, New York - February 2011
Our son wanted to do a campus tour of a community college he’s interested in so we drove to the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York. From our home in Middletown, the drive was four hours long in mostly local roads -- first through the Catskills and then through the plains and open farmlands of upstate New York.

After the campus tour, Vi and I decided to look for local attractions. There were many in the area -- lakes, waterfalls, and wine trails among others -- but because the day was windy we thought it wasn’t ideal for landscape photography. So when we learned that the spot where Jesus appeared to Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the Mormon Church, was nearby, the decision came easy. We went to the Joseph Smith Family Farm in the town of Palmyra.

At the farm's visitor center we were met by a woman. She was of slender build and was dressed in black slacks and knit sweater, if I remember right. I remember seeing people inside with children among them. Coupled with the stately interior of the visitor center and the well-dressed woman opening the door as soon as she perhaps saw my silhouette approaching past the glass door, I felt like we were intruding on a family gathering on Christmas day. Still, the woman seemed pleased to see us and expecting of our arrival.

I explained we were in the area to do a college campus tour. A cousin of mine who was a member of the Mormon religion mentioned the place to us. Since my wife and I were serious photography hobbyists, we were wondering if we could take pictures of the farm. We need not go on a tour, I added.

“But you won’t see the inside of the homes. And you won’t hear the story,” the woman said.

When eventually I said, yes, we’ll do the tour, she excused herself then came back pointing to a house in the back at the farm where she said she called her husband who was expecting us.

Her husband was also of slender build. He was wearing a dress shirt and tie, slacks, and a tan overcoat. He invited us inside what is called the “Frame Home”. He began telling the story right away.

The Frame Home was the second house that Joseph Smith, Jr. lived in. The first house, just a few paces away and also part of the museum, was known as the “Log Home”. Joseph Smith’s family moved to Palmyra, New York from Vermont in 1816. Joseph Smith, Jr. was 8 years old at the time.

As a young child, Joseph wanted to know what Christian church to join. At age 14, after having read, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God,” in James 1:5, he walked into a grove of trees beside their farm and prayed. There he saw above the sun a bright light which he knew to be Jesus. In response to his prayer, Jesus and God the Father told Joseph to join no church and instead wait for direction in the restoration of Christ’s Church.

Four years later, at age 18, an angel appeared to Joseph in the upstairs bedroom of the Log Home. The angel, Moroni, once lived in the Americas in A.D. 421. As the last survivor of his civilization, Moroni buried golden plates that recorded his people’s history. Moroni returned as an angel to deliver the golden plates to Joseph, fulfilling the prophecy told upon Joseph at the grove of trees. Joseph translated the contents of the golden plates and the manuscript he wrote became known as, “The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.”

Before the tour began, I asked Vi if she had bills that we can make a donation. I thought it was only fair since we’d be taking pictures of a historic place that they maintain for free. But the guide didn’t give us time for that. At the tour’s end, he simply said he’d now head over to the Frame House and we’re free to take all the pictures we want. So in lieu of a donation, as I often do in other places we visit, I offered to share the pictures we took should the museum find them useful.

“You mean, we can use the pictures?” the man asked.

“Yes,” I said. “If you like them.”

“And then make you famous?” he asked, a smile on his face.

“That’s not the intent,” I said. “But, sure,” I added, “why not?”

He said goodbye and after a moment’s pause added, “Maybe we’ll see you again.”

It was then I remembered that when I was a young child, my family avoided Mormons. They came to our neighborhood knocking on people’s doors hoping to spread their religion. It wasn’t so much as we were annoyed by them -- they were well-mannered and presentably dressed, role models if there ever were such -- but we were already established spiritually and saying “no” to guests -- foreigners at that -- felt terribly awkward especially when you’re raised in a tradition of always-say-yes hospitality.

Yet here we were walking into the lair of Mormons. For all we knew we could have been unwittingly cornered. We could have been pressured to convert. We could have been told we were lost and they knew the way.

But none of that happened. Instead we were taken back in time at a leisurely pace with the man showing off neatly arranged artifacts of the period and the renovators’ skills in rebuilding the antique homes, his pride matching if not exceeding any museum curator’s we’ve met in the past. The museum was free and walk-ins were welcome. It was fun and, in my view, established purely for educational purposes. The man was there to teach history and not, as far as we could tell, sell his faith.

Still, if you do visit, you might find yourself wanting to become a member especially after hearing the man’s emotional retelling of the Church’s history. Gaining converts may not be the museum’s intent, but should a visitor express a desire to do so on the spot, the Church’s response may well turn out to be similar to mine -- “Sure, why not?”

Click on a picture to enlarge.
Visitor center at Joseph Smith Family Farm. This was where we met the woman. Vi took this picture.
Path to the Log Home and Frame Home. Vi took this picture.
Frame Home. This is the second home that Joseph Smith, Jr. lived in. This was where we met the man who would be our tour guide.
Me and our son, Cody, at the Frame Home. Vi took this picture.
Kitchen and dining room in the Frame Home.
Our guide. Vi took this picture.
Upstairs room in the Frame Home. Vi took this picture.
Another upstairs room in the Frame Home. Vi took this picture.
Dining room in the Frame Home. Vi took this picture.
Barn near the Frame Home.
Our tour guide with Cody and Vi on the way to the Log Home. He was showing us the Temple in the distance.
The Palmyra New York Temple of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) is visible from the farm.
Temple in Palmyra. The statue on top is of the angel Moroni. Vi took this picture.
Dining room in the Log Home.
Dining room. Vi took this picture.
Bedroom in the Log Home. Vi took this picture.
Upstairs bedroom of the Log Home. Vi took this picture.
Attic window. Vi took this picture.
The Log Home with historical information. Vi took this picture.
Front of the Log Home. Vi took this picture.
Back of the Log Home.
This is an accurate recreation of the Log Home that Joseph Smith, Sr. built.
The family farm. When the guide said the fences, like the Log Home, were also recreations, I mentioned they looked similar to the ones we saw at the Civil War memorial in Maryland. The guide said, yes, they’re identical, but the farm’s fencing came before the Civil War.
“The Sacred Grove” where Joseph Smith, Jr. prayed.

“In the spring of 1820, Joseph Smith entered this remnant of an ancient forest to kneel in prayer.

“The vision he beheld of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ initiated the restoration to the earth of the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Winding path in the Sacred Grove.
One thing I noticed was the proliferation of benches at the farm. Whereas some museums we've been to seem to abhor benches and want the crowd to keep moving (perhaps benches attract people to hang out, open packed lunches, and spread litter), the Joseph Smith Family farm has plenty of them. I can imagine an old couple making a pilgrimage and sitting down on this bench in the Sacred Grove to both rest and reflect.
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