In 1804, Solomon Mack invited his daughter Lucy and her husband, Joseph Smith, to live on his 100-acre farm on the border between Royalton and Sharon Townships in rural Vermont. They accepted and stayed until the winter of 1807–8. While living there, Lucy gave birth to Joseph Smith Jr. on December 23, 1805.
In 1894, years after Solomon Mack had sold his farm, Junius Wells visited Vermont to learn where Joseph Smith was born.
Junius Wells photographed the farm and interviewed longtime residents to learn where the home had stood.
As the centennial of Joseph Smith’s birth approached in 1905, Wells presented an idea to Church leaders for a monument in Vermont. Weeks later, he received approval to purchase land and build a monument by December 23, 1905. Wells chose an impressive design and worked with local Vermont companies to accomplish the task.
Although the stone quarry was just 40 miles (64 km) away, moving large stone blocks to the Mack farm was an ambitious undertaking. Railroads covered much of the route, but the final six miles were over narrow country roads that turned to mud in bad weather. Facing Vermont’s winter, some doubted the blocks could arrive in time for a December dedication.
By keeping wood planks constantly under the wagon as it moved forward, men kept it from sinking into the mud. After crossing the White River, the wagon faced “Mr. Button’s Mudhole,” a low-lying patch of road that turned to mud after a rainstorm. A sudden overnight freeze helped the wagon across the next day.
After seven weeks, the monument was assembled in time to mark the 100th anniversary of the Prophet’s birth. Although some people in the area disliked Mormons and wanted to forget Joseph Smith’s Vermont roots, others supported the building project and worked hard to make the deadline.
Joseph F. Smith dedicated the site as “a blessed place” where visitors could “rejoice in contemplating Thy goodness in that Thou hast restored the fulness of the Gospel of Thy Son.” Weeks before the dedication, President Smith encouraged the entire Church to mark the anniversary occasion in local celebrations throughout the world.
Junius Wells first imagined the monument and memorial cottage set in a park-like summer resort for missionaries and other travelers. As plans changed over the years, ideas tested at the birthplace memorial were used at other Church historic sites. A 1961 landscaping redesign set the tone for today’s site experience.
Wells built the memorial cottage on top of the Smith home foundation. Inside he kept a small library of books about Joseph Smith and Church history, not as missionary literature, but because they gave the cottage “a memorial character” and a “delightful influence and spirit” for those visiting.
Wells added hundreds of flowers and trees to the site. He also invited visitors to plant their own trees in certain areas.
Redesigns in 1961 helped the site serve more visitors and downplayed Wells’s resort atmosphere.
Despite changes to the landscape in the mid-20th century, some features of the early 1900s are still present today.
The original hearthstone from the Smith home was moved from the memorial cottage to today’s visitors’ center.
A walking trail behind the monument leads to archaeological sites of homes dating from the Mack family’s occupation.
These foundation sites have been largely undisturbed since Junius Wells saw them in 1894.
In 1906 Junius Wells made a stone gateway and planted 100 maple trees along the road leading up to the monument. The road was divided in the 1960s, and more trees were planted. Today visitors pass through a distinctive allée of mature trees, some more than 100 years old.
A hike to the top of Patriarch Hill—named for Hyrum Smith—reveals a favorite picnic spot from the early 1900s. At that time, visitors could clearly see the monument and memorial cottage on the neighboring hilltop. Today the forests have grown back, but the top of the monument still shows through the trees.
Richard L. Anderson, Joseph Smith's New England Heritage , rev. ed. (2000).
Darel P. Bartschi, “ The Joseph Smith Memorial: A 1905 Tribute to the Prophet and His Work ,” Ensign, Feb. 1988, 7–11.
Curtis Ashton, “ Early Struggles of the Smith Family ,” (1 Aug 2014)
Lucy Mack Smith, “ Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845 ,” josephsmithpapers.org
Keith A. Erekson, “ From Missionary Resort to Memorial Farm: Commemoration and Capitalism at the Birthplace of Joseph Smith, 1905–1925 ,” Mormon Historical Studies, vol. 6, no. 2 (Fall 2005), 69–100.
Jacob W. Olmstead, " Joseph Smith Jr. Birthplace in Sharon, Vermont ," (30 April 2015)
Curtis Ashton, " Smith Family in New England ," (11 June 2015)