The Joseph Smith Memorial: A 1905 Tribute to the Prophet and His Work


The guide led his three visitors from their buggy up a slight rise to the hilltop. It was a bright autumn morning in 1894, and he was intent on showing them the isolated spot they wished to see.

He kicked through the tall amber grass and brambles until his boot thumped on stone—a slab of gray Vermont granite that had once been a hearthstone. Then he trod down the tall grass to disclose a rectangular outline of granite stones.

This is where the old cabin had stood, Harvey Smith told Junius F. Wells and his traveling companions, Spencer Clawson and his daughter Clara. Joseph Smith, Sr., and Lucy Mack Smith lived in the cabin, and Joseph Smith, Jr., was born here December 23, 1805, nearly ninety years ago, the guide explained. It was coincidental that his name was Smith. It probably would have made no difference to him to know that Sister Clawson was a granddaughter of Brigham Young, and Brother Wells was a son of Daniel H. Wells, a counselor to President Young.

It was apparent, though, that these people felt a spirit of reverence at this spot. It moved Junius Wells to say as they left, “Sometime we ought to mark this place with a monument to the faith of our people in Joseph Smith, the Prophet.”

In that remark was born the idea for a challenging project that Junius Wells would eventually oversee. Its hardships and final, satisfying fruition would lead him later to comment: “I have been favored sometimes almost to the point of direct interposition of providence. The elements have been made propitious; conditions that seemed adverse have been removed; obstacles that appeared insuperable have either been overcome or turned out not to be serious.” (Proceedings at the Dedication of the Joseph Smith Memorial Monument, Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, n.d., p. 52.)

No one who knew Junius Wells doubted that the project would be accomplished. He was an experienced leader, having served as a missionary and a mission president. He was instrumental in organizing, under First Presidency direction, the first Mutual Improvement Association, and he had served for four years as its general president. He was known to his associates as a man who would not quit a project until it was completed.

Securing the Land

It was the spring of 1905 when Junius Wells, on assignment from the First Presidency, arrived in Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont, to pinpoint the site of the Joseph Smith, Sr., farm and to buy the land as agent for the Church.

Through carefully researching land titles and probing the memories of longtime residents, Brother Wells was able to establish the farm’s perimeters and complete the purchase for the Church.

Because 1905, the hundredth anniversary of the Prophet’s birth, seemed a fitting time to act on such an idea, Junius wrote to the First Presidency suggesting that something might be done to erect a monument to the Prophet before his birth date—December 23—“but that it would have to be taken hold of quickly.” In July he received a “carte blanche order to do it.” (Proceedings, p. 10.)

Finding the Stone

Once he had received permission from Church headquarters, Junius Wells lost no time in getting to work on the project. It was already near the end of July. If the monument were to be dedicated on the Prophet’s birthday, the project would have to go forward quickly. Before it was done, artisans and workmen might be facing a formidable obstacle—Vermont’s well-known winter.

Brother Wells set to work with an energy and dedication that quickly won him the respect and friendship of those with whom he worked.

On July 24 he signed a contract with the R. C. Bowers Company of Montpelier, Vermont, for construction and erection of the monument. That same day, the firm of Marr and Gordon, working a quarry at Barre, was instructed to find the necessary granite. The bases, inscription die, and capstone were found without much difficulty, but the shaft was another matter.

Brother Wells wanted as perfect a stone as could be found, “a polished shaft typical of a perfect man.” (Proceedings, p. 10.) It would need to be a single stone that could be cut to measure thirty-eight and one-half feet long—one foot for each year of the Prophet’s life—and four feet square at the base. Granite is not often found in those proportions, and Brother Wells frequented the quarry, overseeing the search.

The quarry foreman and his workers thought they had turned up the proper stone, but Brother Wells, who had some mining experience, was skeptical. Further examination showed that his skepticism was well-founded. He thought the workmen would fare no better when they decided to search the other side of the quarry. “I had not the faith in me,” he said. “I had not the impression. I [had] been going by impressions all the way through. Somehow when I had the right impression it [came] out all right.” (Proceedings, p. 11.) True to his feeling, the other side of the quarry also yielded no stone for the shaft.

Two days before the capstone was discovered, however, the firm of Boutwell, Milne, and Barnum had bought the Barre quarry. In their quarry area, adjoining the quarry worked by Marr and Gordon, was a partly disclosed stone that looked as if it might be big enough for the shaft. Brother Wells “believed at once we were on the right track” (Proceedings, p. 11)—and so they were. Using a temporary railroad track and taking two days to load the sixty-ton block, they were able to move the stone to the site where it was cut and polished.

Transporting the Stones

The supreme test of Brother Wells’ faith, his will, his energies, and his determination was yet to come, however. The huge stones must yet be moved to the erection site. But the anniversary date was drawing close. Winter was coming on; it would complicate and slow the work.

It was no easy task to transport the cut and polished stones to the farm, where the monument would be erected. The method seemed simple enough—put the stones, one load at a time, onto a large wagon, use many teams of horses, and haul each piece of the monument the six miles from the railhead to the site. For the last two miles, which rose more than eight hundred feet, the horses would be aided with block and tackle.

But Brother Wells and those who helped him had not taken into account the new bridge over the White River. It was not strong enough to support such heavy loads. They were forced to use an old wood bridge across the Tunbridge Branch, after gathering timbers from around the state to strengthen the bridge. The first load moved to the monument site included the twelve-foot-square base stone, carried on a wagon weighing eight tons, with tires twenty inches wide and axles eight inches in diameter. It was thought that twelve horses could pull the load if block and tackle were used on the last two miles of steep incline. When a Mr. Ellis of the Bethel quarries sent Junius twenty of his finest horses, completion of the task seemed assured.

It was not. Even with two additional animals, the horses stopped at the first incline. Three times the men tried to get the teams to move—with no success.

For the first time, energetic Junius Wells tasted discouragement. He said later, “I felt almost like telegraphing to the President of the Church, asking permission to put the monument on the railroad and have it sent to Salt Lake City and put up there in the temple block, and to put something else not so heavy here. Indeed I went so far as to write a telegram to that effect, but I did not send it. … I thought I would wait over Sunday, and see what Monday morning would bring forth.” (Proceedings, p. 12.) Brother Wells did not concede.

Monday morning brought success. With the aid block and tackle even on the level areas, the horses were able to move the load. But the going was slow. Because the ground was soft, causing the wheels to sink, two three-inch by ten-inch hardwood planks were placed beneath each wheel. Every few feet of the six-mile route the crew had to stop, remove the back planks, and place them in front of the wheels.

Curves in the road caused problems in using the block and tackle. The tackle had been used before in cities, where it could be anchored to buildings. But on the Royalton road there were only trees, some of them without strong root systems, By the time all the stones for the monument had been moved, the road was strewn with uprooted trees.

Yet, in spite of difficulties, the stones were moved. The first load took thirteen days to cover the six miles; the second took twenty days.

On the last trip, the capstone was carried on a small, six-inch-tire quarry wagon. The foreman told Brother Wells that when the horses came to one particular hill, if they could go up it without stopping, they would make it in one pull. It fell to Junius Wells to “cheer on” four horses that were pushing the load from behind, with a well-rigged battering ram. “I had the most singular feeling come over me at the way the near horse acted,” Brother Wells said. “He did not simply get down to an ordinary pull at the last; he seemed to be inspired. That horse went at it with his nostrils wide distended and his eyes bulging from his head, and he simply plowed his way, as though he had to lift that load up the hill, and he did it. I just believe there was a little inspiration in it. That was our last stone, and it was brought up in six hours from the railroad station.” (Proceedings, p. 15.)

The Weather

The hauling took place during the early winter months in an area known for its long, snowy winters. In fact, residents of the area told Brother Wells two feet of snow had fallen on November 13 the previous year and had stayed through the spring equinox. Many predicted that his work would be blocked by heavy winter storms. “Where has winter been while we have been running this race with it?” he asked later, at the dedication of the monument. “It has been out of our way and we have beaten it.” (Proceedings, p. 14.) The weather was so cooperative that the citizens of Royalton began to call it “Mr. Wells’s weather.” But Brother Wells knew the mild weather was controlled by a higher power; he called it “providential.”

There was, for example, the incident of the mud hole at the foot of Haines’s hill. The day before the crew planned to pull one of the loads across the mud hole, it rained. An empty hay press tried to cross the hole, and its wheels sank out of sight; four horses were needed to pull it out. Then, to make the situation worse, snow began to fall. There seemed to be no way a wagon loaded with tons of stone could cross.

But then the thermometer began to drop, falling thirty-five degrees Fahrenheit in three hours, and the north wind blew the storm down to the sea. Brother Wells’s crews had been prepared to use nine inches of planking under their wagon wheels to cross the mud hole, but by the next morning, when it was time for the crossing, they only needed three inches of planking. The ground was frozen so solid that the groaning wagons “split the planks into kindling wood.” The weather would not be so cold again for the duration of the project. “I called that providence,” Brother Wells commented.

At Last—the Monument

With the blocks all at the monument site, putting them together still presented challenges. The rigging that would be used to lift the stones into place had been lost during the shipment by rail. But after a ten-day delay, it finally arrived just in time to get the monument up. On December 8 the polished shaft was raised into its place, and Junius Wells finally relaxed, ever so slightly, for the first time in many months.

The dedicatory service was held on schedule, December 23, in a small cottage erected at the site, over the hearthstone of what once had been the Joseph Smith, Sr., home. (The cottage was torn down in the 1960s when today’s two modern buildings were erected at the monument site.) Attending the dedication was a party of Church leaders who had traveled by special train from Salt Lake City. In addition to President Joseph F. Smith, the party included President Anthon H. Lund, then his Second Counselor; five members of the Council of the Twelve; and several other Church officers.

During his introduction of Brother Wells’s remarks, President Smith commented: “I have never had an adequate idea of the amount of work and the number of difficulties that [Brother Wells] has had to contend with. It is a revelation to me. When I pass over the roads over which he has brought these immense blocks of granite successfully, and erected them on the spot where they are destined to remain by the providence of God, it is something marvelous in my eyes. I am astonished at it.” (Proceedings, p. 9.)

In his address, Brother Wells spoke of the incident at the mud hole. After passing over the obstacle on frozen ground, Brother Wells recalled, “I asked the man who was riding with me, one who does not believe much in anything, if it was too hard to believe in providence now. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I almost believe it.’ That is the nearest to a convert I have made here.”

His comment drew laughter from the group. But that evening, at a meeting in South Royalton for Church dignitaries and area residents, Brother Wells spoke more seriously of his mission.

He expressed “my thankfulness and gratitude to the people of this village and the adjoining ones for their treatment during the time I have been engaged here in building the Joseph Smith Monument. I have had nothing but kindness, goodwill, intelligent help, and a willingness to assist manifested toward me by the people here. I have not felt it was my mission to attempt to proselyte, to preach Mormonism,” he said, but “I preferred to let the work of my people bear its own testimony.”

Then he left his own witness: “I wish to bear my testimony that we have built this monument because we know that Joseph Smith was a prophet.” (Proceedings, p. 52.)

In the prayer he offered during the service at the site, President Joseph F. Smith dedicated the monument “with hearts full of gratitude to Thee for the light and truth of Thy Gospel, the authority of the Holy Priesthood, and the ordinances of salvation for the living and for the dead, revealed through thy servant Joseph Smith.” The monument was dedicated “in loving remembrance of him.” (Proceedings, p. 22.)

The significance of the monument is perhaps best expressed in a blessing President Smith left as he closed the dedicatory service. “Peace be with you, and unto this place, unto this monument, and unto all who come to visit it with feelings of respect in their hearts; and those who come without feelings of respect, may it have the effect of softening their hearts, opening their eyes, and causing them to reflect soberly upon this great problem of human life and redemption that has been opened up to the world through the instrumentality of the Prophet Joseph Smith.” (Proceedings, p. 26.)

The Inscription on the Monument

Upon the southerly side in sunken letters—the largest three inches long, the smallest two inches:

SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF JOSEPH SMITH, THE PROPHET. BORN HERE 23d DECEMBER, 1805; MARTYRED, CARTHAGE, ILLINOIS, 27TH JUNE, 1844.

On the opposite or northerly side in letters, the largest three inches, the smallest one and three-quarters inches:

TESTIMONY OF JOSEPH SMITH.

“In the spring of the year of our Lord, 1820, The Father and The Son appeared to him in a glorious vision, called him by name and instructed him.

“Thereafter heavenly angels visited him and revealed the principles of the Gospel, restored the authority of the Holy Priesthood, and the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ in its fulness and perfection.

“The engraved plates of the Book of Mormon were given him by the angel Moroni. These he translated by the gift and power of God.

“He organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the sixth day of April, 1830, with six members.

“He devoted his life to the establishment of this Church, and sealed his testimony with his blood.

“In his ministry he was constantly supported by his brother Hyrum Smith, who suffered martyrdom with him.

“Over a million converts to this testimony have been made throughout the world; and this monument has been erected in his honor, to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of his birth, by members of the Church which he organized.

“They love and revere him as a Prophet of God, and call his name blessed forever and ever, Amen.”

Around the capstone just above the die, in letters three inches long, is the following quotation from the Bible, which led Joseph to seek the Lord:

“‘If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.’ (James 1:5.)”

[photo] Junius F. Wells

[photo] A few days before the dedication, workers used a wooden derrick to lift the monument into place.

[photo] Portraits of Joseph Smith, left, his brother Hyrum, and their mother, Lucy, hung in the cottage at the memorial. The hearthstone was from the cabin where the Prophet was born.

[photos] (Left) Horse-drawn wagons transported sections of the monument over dirt roads in winter. (Below) Dedication ceremonies were held in this cottage, which for decades served as a visitors’ center at the memorial.

[photo] Photography by Darel P. Bartschi

Darel P. Bartschi, a retired certified public accountant and a free-lance writer, is a home teacher in the East Millcreek Fourth Ward, Salt Lake East Millcreek Stake. He and his wife, Mabel, served a mission to the visitors’ center at Sharon, Vermont, in 1984.