The Mormon Historic Sites Foundation
Thousands of Latter-day Saints trek to Church history sites all around the United States every year to discover the mystery behind their heritage. From Palmyra, to Kirtland, to Nauvoo, to Salt Lake City, these sites are major travel attractions for Mormon families. Although they recognize the importance and sacredness of Church history sites, they may not realize the work that goes into restoring and maintaining the areas.
The Mormon Historic Sites Foundation is a non-profit organization independent from the Church that raises money to renovate, enhance, and commemorate special Church history sites around the nation. Comprised of eleven hard-working men, the board of trustees spends their time identifying significant sites to highlight.
The Foundation started in 1992 with the erection of a monument and creation of a park at Ensign Peak in Salt Lake City. In the past fourteen years, the Foundation has been hitting up sites such as Kirtland, Nauvoo, Canada, and even Hawaii. By merging culture, religion, history, and brotherhood, the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation has brought the past of our wonderful Church to our current world.
After raising the necessary funds to finance the projects, different members of the board travel to different communities and collaborate with local leaders and other churches to discover and share a bit of history. The commemorative services invite both members and nonmembers from distant locations to celebrate the history of our ancestors.
And it doesn’t stop after the celebration. Community members are constantly maintaining historical sites and searching records and journals for the existence of more. Wards host service projects to clean and keep up statues and markers in their area. The Foundation sponsors events and programs that benefit everyone in the community, rather than just members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Here are a range of projects that the Foundation has overseen.
The Foundation tackled Ensign Peak Park in Salt Lake City as their first project. Two days after the Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young and eight associates climbed the peak. Ensign Peak was the identifying landmark that Brigham Young saw in a vision of the valley. It also inspired the popular hymn, “High on the Mountain Top.”
Now, the park includes a natural area of woods, meadows, trails, vistas, wildlife, and an amphitheater. Thousands visit the park each year, including many youth groups and prospective Eagle Scouts who maintain and improve the area.
In 1852, many Saints were traveling through Lexington on the Missouri River steamboat, Saluda, when it exploded, killing over a hundred lives. Twenty-six Mormon emigrants were killed in the tragedy. A significant Church history site, Lexington is now home to a plaque listing the names of all known victims.
At the dedication ceremony, several descendants of Saluda victims took turns ringing a steamboat bell from the same era in remembrance of their ancestors. In addition to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, other denominations, such as the Community of Christ, joined to hear the inspiring story of the steamboat Saluda.
Nauvoo Temple Artifacts
In 2004, the Foundation was involved with an effort to conserve and catalogue artifacts from the Nauvoo Temple site. A treasure trove of fragments was found from boxes deteriorating in a shed. Shane Baker, an archaeologist who once worked at BYU, cleaned, labeled, and repackaged items.
Recovered items include pieces of the original baptismal font and floor, fragments of moon and sun stones, silverware, medicine bottles, and even children’s dolls. By putting together these puzzle pieces, archaeologists were better able to unfold secrets of this time in history.
Las Vegas Mormon Fort
Just in time for the centennial celebration of the city of Las Vegas, three thousand people gathered at the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort to celebrate the 150th anniversary of its establishment. A new visitors’ center was added in dedication of past and present Nevadan Saints.
The fort was created in 1855 as a way station between Salt Lake City and the Mormon settlement in San Bernardino, California. It also served as a mission home for missionaries proselyting to Native Americans in the Las Vegas Valley. The fort was the oldest standing building in Nevada today.
LDS Hawaii Mission School
In correlation with Brigham Young University-Hawaii’s Golden Jubilee, the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation commemorated two significant buildings in Laie, Hawaii to highlight early history of the Church in Hawaii. A marker was placed at the site of the LDS Mission School, where David O. McKay envisioned the future of the community, eventually leading to the establishment of BYU-Hawaii.
A second marker was placed where the Old Plantation Store once stood. The store, run by Charles Goo, was built by the Church in 1913 as the town center of the community. It had a jukebox and was a happening place for college students to hang out.
Imagine a statue of the Prophet Joseph Smith standing in the middle of Manhattan. On the 200th anniversary of the Prophet’s birth, “The Frontier Prophet Statue” was unveiled by the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation, in conjunction with the City and New York and the New York New York Stake.
The bronze statue was erected in Old Slip Park in Lower Manhattan near where Joseph Smith stayed on an 1832 visit. The Old Slip Park was also the departure point for early Saints who headed west, either by wagon or on the ship, Brooklyn. The famed LDS artist, Dee Jay Bawden, created the eight-foot-tall statue which is now at the Harlem Stake Center.
The Mormon Historic Sites Foundation has preserved what Mormons hold dear to their hearts: their heritage. From coast to coast, communities are recognizing past endeavors and remembering what brought them to their current state. History is being made every day, and hopefully, the Foundation will be around long enough to share it all. To find out more about the Foundation or to make donations, go to their website at mormonhistoricsitesfoundation.org.
Recent and Current Projects
- Knaphus Handcart Sculpture—Coralville, Iowa: the Foundation is gathering donations to place a replica statue of the Torlief Knaphus handcart sculpture that is found on Temple Square.
- Handcart Exhibit—Iowa City, Iowa: the Foundation in correlation with the Johnson County Historical Society created a diorama exhibit about the handcart story that was unveiled at the sesquicentennial commemoration earlier this year.
- Charles Good Monument—Des Moines, Iowa: this statue will honor Charles Good, a resident of Des Moines who lived during the time that the Willie Handcart Company passed through. He donated fifteen pairs of boots to the children of the company.
- Oneida Stake Academy—Preston, Idaho: the Foundation is working to restore and move this beautiful building. After the Brigham Young Academy was established, the Church started a series of academies in the western region of America. The Oneida Stake Academy was one of these buildings.
- Haun’s Mill—Caldwell County, Missouri: after excavating the Haun’s Mill site and discovering the well where several victims’ bodies were buried, the Foundation has been working in cooperation with the Community of Christ to make road and parking improvements in the area, along with a marker and memorial.
- Far West Burial Ground—Far West, Missouri: the Foundation is examining an area of Far West that may have been used as a burial site.
- Historic Monuments—Laie, Hawaii: in July, the Foundation dedicated two markers in Laie, Hawaii: one for the Lanihuli home (a former mission home), and another for the Laie Social Hall, a former chapel in the area.