About in the middle, from top to bottom, of the small New England state of Vermont are the little towns of Sharon and South Royalton. Most cars and trucks on the freeway whiz by these small towns. But every year groups of tourists, intent on learning more about events in Church history, get off Highway 89 on Exit 2 and drive slowly through the town of Sharon, past the country store, where authentic maple syrup is sold, following the river, until they come to an intersection with a brass sign. The sign tells these travelers where to turn to go up Dairy Hill, past little farms on wooded hills, until they come to a lane lined with sugar maple trees. Another sign announces that this is the place where the Prophet Joseph Smith was born. It’s the entrance to a memorial that was built nearly a hundred years ago to a great event and a great man.
After visitors turn onto the lane, the first thing they see is a beautiful white Latter-day Saint chapel with a sloping meadow of grass in front. But as they drive up the lane, between the sugar maples, they notice a change. There comes a great feeling of calm and peace.
They won’t be the first or the last to notice this change. Kevin Burkholder of the Middlebury Branch remembers his family bringing his aunt to visit the birthplace. As soon as their car pulled onto the property, Kevin remembers her asking, “What happened here? Why does this place feel like this?” Kevin says they tried to explain: “It’s not any different in appearance than any other place, but it really has a special spirit. If you have any doubt about the Church, it will be erased. It seems your thoughts are so much clearer here.”
Teens like Caitlin Shamp of the Essex Ward, Montpelier Vermont Stake, get to go often to the Joseph Smith Memorial Birthplace. She also comments on the feeling of the place: “I feel it is holy. It is so peaceful and calm.”
As visitors drive past the chapel, the lane dips a little and approaches two low brick buildings with porches that are mirror images of each other. One is the visitors’ center, and the other houses the offices for the missionaries who serve at the birthplace. The buildings are on both sides of the stairway leading to the monument.
The monument is set upon a small hill. It is a polished granite shaft, 38 1/2 feet (11.7 m) high, each foot representing a year of Joseph’s life. The shaft is mounted on a large square block. When it was cut in 1905, it was the largest spire in America cut from a single piece of rock, the unblemished stone representing the outstanding qualities of the man it honors. Kristin Simmons of the Burlington Ward says: “I thought it was a very good symbol of what the Prophet Joseph stood for. The monument is pure stone, a foundation. It’s an example of who he was.” Allishia Adams of the South Royalton Ward explains in a similar way, “I think the memorial is a symbol of the Church being grounded.”
In the afternoon the sun hits the front of the shaft and makes it blaze, as if a spotlight has suddenly been turned on. In the summer the monument is surrounded by flowers and gardens, but in the winter the hill is covered in bright, white snow, appropriate to the time of year, 23 December, in which the Prophet Joseph was born. Each December the Montpelier Vermont Stake presents a live nativity at the birthplace, participating with the community in the celebration of the Savior’s birth. The site is decorated with thousands of lights.
Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith lived on this farm owned by Solomon Mack, Lucy’s father, for only a couple of years. Their son, Joseph Jr., was the only one of their nine children born here. The farmland has remained pristine, with more than 300 acres (120 ha) of land and beautiful trees surrounding the memorial.
It is not difficult to imagine what it must have looked like that chilly December day when Joseph was born. The original cabin collapsed long ago and is now rubble, but the front step and the hearthstone have been saved.
The stone that was used as the cabin’s front step is outside by a bench, to the side of the memorial, approximately where the cabin originally stood. The hearthstone is inside the visitors’ center, set in front of a fireplace. It is easy to picture a mother holding her newborn boy close to the warmth of the fire while sitting on the hearthstone. Christal Collette and Stephani Wright, both of the Essex Ward, have had similar thoughts. Stephani says, “I like sitting by the hearthstone and just thinking.” And Christal says: “He was born right here. His mother must have dressed and changed him right here.”
Carved around the base of the monument is the scripture that meant so much to the Prophet Joseph at age 14. The verse reads, “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). The Prophet said, “Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did … to mine” (JS—H 1:12). The teens who live in Vermont and have the chance to go often to the birthplace value what Joseph’s example has taught them. They have come to know that if they lack wisdom, they can ask for help.
Stephen Brown of the Essex Ward says: “The only way you’re going to know for yourself that the Church is true is by asking. It comes only through personal revelation. The way you find out is by praying and listening.”
Andrew Lords, also from the Essex Ward, had an experience with asking to know the truth: “I had never really read the Book of Mormon on a regular basis. I picked it up and prayed, ‘Please tell me if this is true.’ Then I started reading the introduction. I was overwhelmed with the Spirit. I thought, ‘Wow, and that’s only the introduction.’ That was definitely my answer.”
Just as Joseph’s search led him to wonderful answers, the teens in the Essex Ward in Vermont have been led to understand answers to their prayers by searching in ways similar to what Joseph did. Dawn Doney says: “Joseph’s parents supported him in his search for the true Church. If I have a question or something is on my mind, I discuss it with my parents.” Dawn also turns to the scriptures just as Joseph did.
“If something comes to my mind,” Kristen Brown says, “I get a burning feeling. It’s like a key fitting into a lock. I know that it’s the answer to my prayer.”
Caitlin Shamp says, “You should make time, when no one’s around and you don’t have anything else to do, to just think and really pray.”
Autumn Doney adds: “At 14, you’re worrying about if a guy likes you or if you’re popular. Joseph Smith cared about finding the truth and the true gospel. I wish I had that much faith. We need to get down on our knees and pray every morning and night.”
Some teens, like those in the South Royalton Ward, come to the birthplace every Sunday for church and every Wednesday for Mutual. Meghan Tracy says: “I’ve taken it for granted living here my whole life. Now that I’ve realized how sacred it is, I can feel the presence of the Spirit of the Lord. It’s comforting to have it this close to where I live.”
Kevin Burkholder has a suggestion for those who visit the Joseph Smith Memorial Birthplace: “Walk around in the woods. Take the trail up the hill that we’ve nicknamed Mount Patriarch. From there, you can look down on the monument. You can sit up there for hours and think about things. A smile will spread across your face. You can’t help it.”
Lucy Mack Smith, the Prophet’s mother, was born in New Hampshire. When Lucy was still in her teens, her sister Lovina died, which caused Lucy great grief. Her brother Stephen came for a visit and asked their father if Lucy could come to the town of Tunbridge, Vermont, and stay with his family for a while. They thought it would help Lucy recover from the grief over her beloved sister.
While visiting in Tunbridge, Lucy met a young man named Joseph Smith and married him. The marriage took place on 24 January 1796. Lucy was 20 years old and Joseph was 24 at the time. Together they would be the parents of Joseph Smith Jr., the man destined to restore the gospel of Jesus Christ, the very truth Lucy had been searching for most of her life.
The young couple, Lucy and Joseph Sr., had a small farm and ran the country store (illustrated above) in Tunbridge, a store that, although repaired and expanded, is still there today. While the Smiths lived in Tunbridge, the oldest children, Alvin and Hyrum, were born. The young family moved to a farm owned by Lucy’s father, outside Sharon, Vermont. The small cabin they built on that property sat on the boundary line between the towns of Sharon and South Royalton. The day after his son Joseph was born on 23 December 1805, Joseph Sr. walked into town and registered his birth in the town of Sharon. (See Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, ed. Preston Nibley .)
“I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else. … Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty.”
The Prophet Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:401.
For a map to the birthplace and more information, go to www.lds.org. Click on “Church History,” then “Historic Sites.” Click on “Places to Visit,” then “Northeastern USA.” Then select “Joseph Smith Memorial Birthplace.”