The sale this week of 10 acres of land in Oakland Twp., Susquehanna County, to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for $2.1 million has rekindled discussion about plans to develop a site that has sacred importance.
The land on Route 171 comprises Boughton's Auto Salvage - a garage, junk yard and used-parts facility - that Jeffrey and Nancy Boughton acquired from his father, Clyde Boughton, in 2000. Clyde had owned the property since 1965.
Church spokeswoman Kim Farah in Salt Lake City confirmed the purchase Friday.
In addition to the purchase price, the Boughtons also reserved gas and oil rights on the property if the church ever decides to lease it.
Ms. Farah said the purchase was important because the parcel is "near a site of historical significance to the founding of the faith."
The area was home to the religion's founder, Joseph Smith, and his wife, the former Emma Hale, from 1827 to 1830. The church believes it was there that most of the Book of Mormon was translated in 1829.
The Boughton parcel is adjacent to 147 acres already owned by the church, with its most recent acquisition in 2005 of 24 acres from the Susquehanna/Oakland/Lanesboro Industrial Development Authority, or SOLIDA, for $60,000.
Leonard Kello, who formerly served as president of SOLIDA, said Friday that before the purchase, church officials from Salt Lake City had visited on numerous occasions and indicated their desire to build a replica of the Smith home, which burned in 1919, as an interpretive center that could speak to the origins of the faith.
He said that officials had also spoken of an additional building that could serve as a 'change center' where persons visiting the site along the banks of the Susquehanna River could be baptized in the water and could change into a dry set of clothes after the experience.
A large bronze historic marker, just west of Route 171, was erected in 1960 that explains that the site, more than just being Smith's home, has sacred importance because of its proximity to water.
Mr. Kello, 83, a devout member of St. John's Catholic Church in Susquehanna who saw the marker go up 50 years ago, said that he also has personally seen busloads of Mormons arrive at the site during the summer months to be baptized in the river.
He said he was surprised that the church had not developed the site five years ago because officials seemed so eager then to share their faith experience with the world.
"I can't help but believe that when they do decide to develop the site, it will be a very big asset to the community," Mr. Kello said.
Ms. Farah said: "The church is committed to preserving the beauty of the site and is conducting ongoing archeological and environmental research in the vicinity."
But she gave no timetable or formal plan.
"No decision has been made concerning future development of the site," she said.
In December, there were more than 13.8 million Mormons worldwide. More than 6 million live in the United States.
- Joseph Smith and his wife, the former Emma Hale, lived in Oakland Twp., Susquehanna County, from 1827 to 1830, and it was there that most of the Book of Mormon was translated in 1829.
- A detailed bronze plaque and monument, left, there describe Smith's baptism in the Susquehanna River after an angel, John the Baptist, appeared to him and another man, who baptized each other in the river.
- Smith first came to the region as a member of a digging crew from New York in search of a purported silver mine.
- Smith's house in Oakland Twp. was destroyed in a fire in 1919.