Aaronic Priesthood Restoration Site
The Aaronic Priesthood Restoration Site is a historic site located in Oakland Township, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. Because of its historical significance to Mormonism, the site is owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The site comprises property once owned, and lived on, by Joseph Smith and is the spot where Latter-day Saints believe the resurrected John the Baptist conferred the Aaronic priesthood upon Smith and Oliver Cowdery in May of 1829. In April 2011, the LDS Church announced it would rebuild some historic buildings on the site, which were once part of the Hale Farm, and construct a new monument. The new site will include a visitor center and church building and will open in September of 2015. Nearby on the banks of the same river, ancient church apostles Peter, James and John also came and visited Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and restored the Melchizedek, or Higher, Priesthood in June of the same year.
Backstory and Context
In December 1827, Joseph Smith and his wife, Emma, moved to the area, hoping to escape persecution experienced in Palmyra, New York. After arriving the Smiths purchased 13.5 acres from Emma's father, Issac Hale. In Smith's day, the property was located in the Harmony Township of Susquehanna County; when the Oakland Township was incorporated in 1853, it included the land in question. Emma had been raised in Harmony, and many of her family members lived in the area. Her brother, Jesse Hale, had constructed a three-room frame home which the Smiths purchased and had moved onto their property.
While living in the home the Smith's first child, Alvin, was born and died. Alvin is buried just east of the historic site in the McKune Cemetery. A large portion of the Book of Mormon was translated by Smith while living in the home. According to Smith, the Aaronic priesthood was restored to him and Oliver Cowdery on May 15, 1829, somewhere in the woods near the home. After being given the priesthood by John the Baptist by the laying on of hands, the two men baptized each other in the nearby Susquehanna River. Following the baptisms, they ordained each other to the Aaronic priesthood.
The Smith family left the area and their home, moving to Fayette, New York, in August 1830. In 1919, the home lived in by the Smiths was destroyed by fire.
Because of the site's significance to its early history, the LDS Church purchased the original site and some surrounding property. Between 1947 and 1959, the church purchased the original property and six additional acres. In 1960, a monument was added to the site which commemorates the restoration of the priesthood. The monument includes a sculpture by artist Avard T. Fairbanks, depicting John the Baptist conferring the priesthood on Smith and Cowdery. Since that time additional property has been purchased, expanding the church's holdings in the area to 157 acres. The most recent acquisition occurred in January 2011, which added 10 acres purchased from the Boughton family for $2.1 million.
In a letter dated April 15, 2011, the LDS Church announced to nearby members that the site would be restored. The restoration includes reconstructing the homes lived in by the Smith and Hale families, along with farm out-buildings. A combination visitors' center and meetinghouse is planned, along with a new monument. Pennsylvania Route 171, which splits the historic site in two is being rerouted as part of the project. The site is under construction and is expected to be completed in September of 2015.