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Reunion Remembers Those Who Built Smith Memorial

  • Scenes from the construction of the Joseph Smith Memorial Birthplace in 1905. (Courtesy of Joseph Smith Memorial Birthplace)

  • Lilah Miller, 6, of Merimack, N.H., takes a closer look at a scale model of the land Joseph Smith was born on during a tour of the visitors center at the Joseph Smith Memorial Birthplace Reunion Picnic in South Royalton, Vt., on Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. The picnic celebrated those whose ancestors played a role in construction of the monument in 1905. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Bill and Katrina Sleeper, of South Royalton, Vt., take a closer look at the location of the home where Joseph Smith was born during the Joseph Smith Birthplace Reunion Picnic in South Royalton, Vt., on Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. Katrina Sleeper has been to the monument multiple times since childhood and her grandfather helped move the monument during construction in 1905. It is "quite a moving thing to know," Sleeper said. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Elder Kay Godfrey reads the story of the construction of the Joseph Smith Monument during the Joseph Smith Birthplace Reunion Picnic in South Royalton, Vt., on Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. The picnic celebrated those whose ancestors played a role in construction of the 50-foot tall monument in 1905. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Oliver McKnight, 6, of Barre, Vt., receives a balloon giraffe from Elder Isaac Dayley, of Rutland, Vt., during the Joseph Smith Birthplace Reunion Picnic in South Royalton, Vt., on Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. Attendants were able to hear the story of the Joseph Smith monument, see a steer pulling demonstration, and partake in a barbecue lunch. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, August 04, 2018

South Royalton — Good thing that Carolyn Frary Boone brought just her daughter Cretia Waldie up Dairy Hill on Saturday for the reunion of descendants of the White River valley residents who helped build the monument to the founder-prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1905.

Had Boone, who grew up on a farm on the other side of the river valley and now lives in Randolph, led a procession of all of her descendants, the missionaries who run the Joseph Smith Memorial Birthplace would have needed at least one more parking lot, several more golf-cart shuttles and dozens more chairs for the historical presentation in the memorial cottage.

And more tents, more tables, more hot dogs, more hamburgers, more buns, more salad and more cold drinks for the subsequent picnic.

“I have six children and I never remember the exact number of grandchildren and the exact number of great-grandchildren,” Boone said between the presentation and the picnic. “I just know that all together, there are 51 of them.”

Before the picnic, nearly that many people on Saturday morning squeezed into the memorial cottage, built over what’s believed to be the cellar hole of the house where Smith was born on Dec. 23, 1805.

There, Elder Kay M. Godfrey read his history of the, well, monumental effort it took to:

Find and confirm the site of the birthplace, and acquire the land;

Find and quarry the stones and move them by train to Royalton village; and

Move the 38½-foot-long, 40-ton granite pillar and another 60 tons of support stones from Royalton village over and along the White River and, finally, 800 feet in elevation up the two-mile, then-dirt Dairy Hill Road for workers to install it in time for Mormon leaders to dedicate on the 100th anniversary of Smith’s birth.

“We would have had no idea what went into all this if we weren’t working here,” said Sparks, Nev., resident Mark Coates, who is on a “facilities management mission” with his wife, Colleen. “How they did all that, with the little they had for resources, is just amazing to me.

“I was a construction worker before I retired, and the more I learn about this, I ask myself, ‘Who are those guys?’ ”

From research he did in his work as a senior missionary at the memorial, Godfrey said he documented 100 area residents — none of them members of the LDS church — whom the project’s mastermind, Utah Mormon Junius Wells, enlisted in the effort.

They ranged from town clerks Daniel Parkhurst, of Sharon, and Edgar Parkhurst, of Royalton, to Carolyn Boone’s grandfather Sidney Frary.

“When we saw the list we saw that we had four other family names also in our background, including the Parkhursts,” Cretia Waldie said. “We thought we knew a lot, but we learned more today.”

Boone and Waldie did know that in addition to guiding the team of oxen that pushed the granite monument’s pillar while 22 horses pulled it up Dairy Hill, Frary supplied some horses and nearly lost a finger while laying planks ahead of the procession to give the wagon and the animals better traction.

While Frary’s son, Adrian, was nine years old at the time, he recalled enough to regale his four children and his grandchildren with stories for decades.

“He had a memory that never quit,” said Boone, now in her early 80s.

And that memory extended well into the early growth of the memorial.

“He’d tell us about how as a kid growing up nearby, he went over and played with the missionaries’ kids,” said Waldie, now a resident of Brandon, Vt. “He thought of it as a big park.”

The park, on 68 acres connected to Dairy Hill Road by a long, tree-lined driveway, now includes a visitor center, a network of trails, a large LDS church and a family history center.

The scope of the project, and the extent of the contribution of local laborers and planners, is as much of a revelation to the retired Mormons who serve two-year missions as volunteers caring for the 68-acre historic site as for many of the descendants.

“I knew the basic story, but I’ve learned tons of stuff from working here,” said Clint Hobbs, a Salmon, Idaho, resident who with his wife Jean guides visitors through the buildings and the property surrounding the monument. “When I take LDS members around, they don’t know a lot of the details, either.”

Hobbs said that 2,600 visitors toured the grounds this past July, compared with maybe 500 in April. In addition to Mormons from around the country, he meets many Vermonters on their own short voyages of discovery about the secular part of the memorial’s history.

“I often get someone who’ll say, ‘I’ve been driving by here for 40 years and never stopped,’ ” said Hobbs, who crushed stone for a concrete company before retiring. ” ‘Well, today I decided to stop.’ I’ve found that Vermonters are very history-minded. And like the people who helped out here, they’ve very dedicated to completing a project.”

While the missionaries who began coming to the Smith memorial in the early 20th century didn’t always find fertile ground for converts to their faith, today about 2,400 Vermonters belong to the nine LDS churches around the state, regional spokeswoman Sally W. Cochran said on Saturday.

Sidney Frary’s descendants account for many of them.

“The missionaries were always walking around, and sometimes they stayed overnight at our place,” Carolyn Boone said. “I was the first of my grandfather’s descendants to join the church. My parents joined in about 1973. We had four missionaries in the family.”

Since arriving for their mission to Vermont in April 2017 and setting up housekeeping, the Coateses have fallen big-time for the place, while Mark landscapes and keeps the buildings repaired and Colleen tends the gardens surrounding the monument itself.

“There’s a sweet, peaceful feeling that surrounds it,” Mark Coates said while watching a demonstration of ox teams. “The whole spirit of this place is very peaceful.”

And tempting, with so many trees and abundant water compared with the high desert where so many wildfires are raging again this summer.

“It’s a true privilege and honor to be here,” Colleen Coates said. “It almost makes us want to move here.

“We love this.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.