Tourist attraction to grow
OAKLAND TOWNSHIP, Pa. — The Mormon Church plans to build a new meeting house/chapel and visitor center on Route 171 in Oakland Township, where a monument to its Aaronic priesthood already stands.
The chapel and visitor center will be built around a planned reconstruction of the home in which church founder Joseph Smith lived during the early part of the 19th century.
The monument area is a big tourist draw, in a county with few tourist attractions, said Dan Janda, president of the Susquehanna branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Last summer, we had a missionary couple do a census of visitors from May to October,” Janda said. “There were about 12,000 visitors in the summer, and another 4,000 or so from October to Christmas. Including visitors in other parts of the year, it sounds like well over 20,000.”
Janda said the church owns about 150 acres on Route 171. The new buildings are expected to go up about 50 yards west of the existing monument, on the opposite side of the road.
He said Penn State University archaeologists have completed a study of Smith’s home, whose foundation was preserved after it burned in 1919. Janda said old “railroad postcards” show what the house looked like, and the church filled in the foundations of the house to keep them intact.
Dan Janda, president of the Susquehanna branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, stands near a monument to the Aaronic priesthood. The church plans to build a new meeting house, chapel and visitor center at the site on Route 171 in Oakland Township, Pa.
Smith lived there with his wife, Emma Hale, from 1827 to about 1830. The house is on the farm of Smith’s father-in-law, Isaac Hale, in what was then Harmony Township.
The house is where Smith is said to have dictated the Book of Mormon, the basis for his religion, to his wife.
“The church intends to rebuild the house from photos and sketches,” Janda said. “But we want to make sure in the process we are not destroying other artifacts.”
“This is exciting, plain and simple,” Susquehanna County Commissioner Roberta Kelly said. “Visitors of all religions will enjoy it. I know the great historical value the church puts on it, and they have a good reputation. I’m in favor of this kind of growth for our county.”
Janus Crossett, head of the LDS Facilities Management Group in Scranton, Pa., said final plans “have not been solidified,” but he expects construction to begin within two years.
“Many departments of the church are involved,” he said. “Historic Sites, Real Estate, Missionary Department. … Missionaries may be used to staff the welcome center. The church is also working out details with the railroad.”
Norfolk Southern Railroad owns land behind the LDS site, along the Susquehanna River.
Local officials say they’re pleased with plans for the project.