Celebrating Beginnings in the Eastern States
Whether it’s learning to appreciate the creation of the Earth, the building of our nation, or the blessings of the restoration, seeing these monumental places in New York and Pennsylvania is sure to bring a great sense of gratitude and a whole lot of fun!
Visiting Palmyra is an incredible opportunity to experience the power of the restoration of the gospel. While the original Smith home is no longer standing, archaeologists recovered its location along with over 2,000 artifacts that date back to the time that the Smiths were living there. Today, tours of the Smith Farm guided by missionaries allow an inside look of an authentic replica of the building, along with a replica of the cooper shop where Joseph Smith hid the golden plates to protect them from mobs and others intending harm. Other sites close by include the Peter Whitmer Farm, the Book of Mormon Publication Site, and the Martin Harris Farm.
The Smith family farm. Image from lds.org.
A short walk away from the Smith Farm is the Sacred Grove, which consists of 10 acres of protected forestland. Few locations in the world can compare to the significance of this place; it was here in 1820 that 14-year-old Joseph experienced the First Vision. Overlooking the Sacred Grove is the Palmyra New York Temple, which was dedicated in 2000. Of this temple, President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “I regard this temple as perhaps the most significant, in one respect, in the entire Church. It was right here in the Sacred Grove where it all began.”
The Hill Cumorah is also an essential place to visit. This location marks the spot where the angel Moroni led Joseph Smith to find the golden plates Moroni buried, which would later be translated as the Book of Mormon. The Hill Cumorah Pageant, which runs in July each year, features a cast of over 600 people in an unforgettable outdoor presentation of the story of the Book of Mormon.
The Hill Cumorah Pageant. Photo from lds.org.
One of nature’s most thrilling wonders, Niagara Falls is just short of a two-hour drive from Palmyra and is sure to bring a renewed sense of awe for God’s creations. On the border between New York and Canada, the Falls has cliffs that span almost 300 feet across and a gorge that drops 200 feet. On average, 6 million cubic feet of water plunge over the edge every sixty seconds.
The Niagara Falls State Park on the New York side provides the opportunity to see the Falls without needing a passport. Additionally, the park provides a discovery center, hiking trails, and other tour packages to enhance your experience. Visiting the Hurricane Deck also allows a closer view of the Falls. Just remember to bring a rain poncho—you’re sure to get wet!
Niagara Falls. Image from niagarafallsstatepark.com.
Though not as well-known as Nauvoo and Palmyra, Harmony, Pennsylvania is an important church history site that is definitely worth the trip. (If you are driving from Palmyra, it will take a little over four hours). Dedicated by President Russell M. Nelson in 2015, the Priesthood Restoration site provides great insight into the early days of the Restoration. Here you can see the farm along the Susquehanna River where Emma Hale Smith grew up, in addition to visiting the place where the Aaronic Priesthood was restored to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.
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After hearing of the golden plates and the miracles Joseph had experienced, Oliver Cowdery followed a prompting to travel across the state of New York to meet Joseph in Harmony. This was an answer to Joseph’s prayers, and Oliver began helping Joseph in the translation process of the Book of Mormon almost immediately. When Oliver and Joseph reached 3 Nephi, they were touched by the Spirit and had a strong desire to be baptized. They did not, however, know how the Lord wanted them to go about baptizing. The two retreated to a quiet grove just beyond the farm and prayed out loud to seek the Lord’s direction. In answer to their prayer, John the Baptist appeared and conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon them by the laying on of hands. That same day, both Joseph and Oliver were baptized in the Susquehanna River. These were the first of thousands to enter the waters of baptism in the latter days.
The Susquehanna River, near the place where Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were baptized. Photo from lds.org.
Today, a visitor’s center with guided missionary tours and a short film can help you experience the Priesthood Restoration Site to the fullest. The dedicated grounds also include a quiet trail that leads from the visitor’s center to a shaded grove of Maples near the spot where Joseph and Oliver prayed.
Celebrate the history of the American Revolution and the birth of our nation by visiting Philadelphia, located about five hours away from Palmyra and Harmony. In the heart of the city is Independence Hall, where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed. In a sense, this too is a sacred place, for it was here that many of the freedoms we have today were penned. While entrance to Independence Hall is admitted by tour only, tickets for tours are free, with the exception of a small handling fee if tickets are reserved in advance.
Independence Hall. Image from visitphilly.com.
Another opportunity to experience the spirit of the American Revolution can be found at the Betsy Ross House. It was Betsy Ross who, in 1776, stitched the first stars and stripes of the American flag. Located in Philadelphia’s historic district, the Betsy Ross House is a great mix of history and fun. Guided audio tours designed for both children and adults are available as you make your way through the house. Kids will also love meeting Betsy Ross herself in her upholstery room, where they can ask questions and learn more in an engaging, interactive experience.
The Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple is also conveniently located right downtown. Dedicated by President Henry B. Eyring in 2016, the temple and its beautiful neoclassical architecture are absolutely stunning.
Of course, a trip to Philadelphia would not be complete without trying some Philly cheesesteak! Other fun vacation ideas include exploring the riverfront to see Boathouse Row, touring the museums on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and snapping some photos in front of Robert Indiana’s famous “LOVE” statue.