Harmony Pennsylvania—Past and Present

A Visit to Harmony—A Cradle of the Restoration

By Larry and Nancy Harlacher
Happy Days on the Susquehanna by Nancy Harlacher

Happy Days on the Susquehanna, by Nancy Harlacher

This painting depicts Joseph Smith greeting Emma as she approaches him in her canoe on the Susquehanna River. Joseph and Emma's homesite is located just a few hundred feet directly north of this view of the Susquehanna River.

During our years together, we have developed a great love for Church history. Because of this love we have been privileged to visit and explore many of the Church's historical properties. In the summer of 1995, we had the opportunity to travel east to one of the cradles of the Restoration—Harmony, Pennsylvania. We were not sure that circumstances were right at that time for us to make such a trip, but for years we had discussed our desire to visit Harmony, and knowing we might never have such a chance again, we could not afford to pass up this opportunity.

Each location in Church history we have visited has had its own uniqueness and beauty, but the feelings we experienced as we stood on the banks of the Susquehanna River at Harmony, surrounded by green hills and heavily wooded mountains, made us know the specialness of that place and we were eager to treasure every moment of our visit. Surely no artist, photographer, nor writer could ever adequately capture the beauty and special spirit of this place without actually having been there under the touch and guidance of the Holy Spirit. And to think we almost didn't make the trip!

Harmony, Pennsylvania, no longer exists. However, its former location can still be found approximately three miles south of the New York state line in northeast Pennsylvania. When visiting the area, one needs to travel on Interstate 81 which goes from Syracuse, New York, to Scranton, Pennsylvania; and at a point two miles south of the New York border, turn east on State Highway 171. Then you travel eastward toward Oakland, which is eight miles. Just before arriving at Oakland, one comes to the place where Harmony once stood. On both sides of the highway are parcels of land which were very important in the early history of the Church. Emma Hale Smith was born and raised in this beautiful setting. She grew to be a lovely, strong, and capable young lady. She loved canoeing on the nearby Susquehanna and horseback riding in the picturesque countryside.

Joseph Smith came to the area to work for Josiah Stowell in October 1825. Joseph boarded at the home of Isaac and Elizabeth Hale in Harmony. It was there that he met their daughter, Emma, and soon fell in love with the beautiful brown-eyed young lady. It was in Harmony that their courtship took place.

Joseph and Emma were married January 18, 1827, at South Bainbridge, New York (now known as Afton), located on the Susquehanna River about twenty-five or thirty miles north of Harmony. After their marriage they went to Palmyra and lived with Joseph's parents for a season. While there, on September 22, 1827, Joseph obtained the Book of Mormon plates. Then they returned to Harmony where they stayed with the Hales until they could purchase a home. It was during this time (1827-1829) that the translation of the Book of Mormon began. It was also at this location that Joseph received several very important revelations, which were later included in the Doctrine and Covenants.

Today the Isaac Hale homesite consists solely of a foundation, surrounded by a split rail fence, located on the north side of Highway 171. Across the highway and about a city block to the east is located the Joseph Smith, Jr., homesite, on property now owned and maintained by the Utah Mormon Church. Nothing remains of the original home, but a marker can be found at its former location. Joseph and Emma purchased thirteen and one-half acres of land from Isaac Hale, and a small uncompleted house from Emma's brother, Jesse. It was at this site that the translation of the first 116 pages of the Book of Mormon took place—the same 116 pages that Martin Harris allowed to be lost. It was to this home in Harmony that Oliver Cowdery came in April 1829 and began assisting Joseph in the translation of the Book of Mormon, relieving Emma, who had been assisting him up until that time.

Only a few hundred feet directly south of Joseph and Emma's homesite is located a beautiful spot on the banks of the Susquehanna River. We became thrilled as a path leading to it was discovered. Our excitement heightened as we approached the breathtaking sight of the river flowing westward past the dark green mountains located on the south side of the river. Here it formed a deep, quiet cove before us on the north side. As we surveyed this location, it took very little imagination to picture Joseph standing at the edge of the river while awaiting the coming of Emma's canoe as it might have glided gently toward him.

More importantly, we felt strongly that this could have been the place where John the Baptist conferred upon Joseph and Oliver the Aaronic Priesthood, and instructed them to enter the waters of the Susquehanna and baptize one another. When John testified to them, "I am thy fellow servant," what joy and peace they must have felt! What a glorious sight they beheld! Oliver later testified that he could not paint the feelings of his heart nor the beauty which surrounded them at that time. We stood at this site, so beautiful with its quiet, shaded pool of water eddying before us, and the sparkling Susquehanna flowing peacefully by in the June sunlight, and wondered if it could in fact be the actual location of the restoring of the Aaronic Priesthood and the first baptisms of the Church. Certainly there is no way we can know for sure that this was the exact location where either of these important events happened, but we felt the Spirit strongly as we stood there—a feeling that we will never forget. It's that same Spirit that causes us to believe deeply within our hearts that we did indeed have the privilege of standing where those wonderful events took place.

Just a few feet east of the Smith's homesite, on the same side of Highway 171, is located a small cemetery called the McCune Cemetery. In the northeast corner of this cemetery are the graves of Emma's parents, Isaac and Elizabeth Hale; and nearby is the grave of Joseph and Emma's firstborn son, delivered after a long and exhausting labor which almost cost Emma her life. They named the baby Alva, after one of Emma's older brothers. Unfortunately baby Alva was born and died on the same day, June 15, 1828. As we stood there viewing the marker of the infant's grave, we were moved by deep feelings that flooded over us. This child, who would have been the oldest son of Emma and Joseph, never lived to be a part of the Restoration. We wondered what sorrow Emma must have felt as she visited her infant son's grave for the last time, before leaving the place of her childhood and youth. She knew not what the future might hold or whether she would ever be able to return, which she never did. For us too, it was not easy to leave this beautiful and peaceful valley.

Sometimes when we look at the photographs we took, we begin to recapture a portion of that same Spirit we felt while visiting this beautiful and important site in Church history. Almost immediately we become excited with desires to explore more thoroughly the Harmony area and surrounding region. It is then that we turn to one another and vow, "Someday soon we must return!"

(Vision 22:12–14)

Prints of this painting are available in various sizes for purchase at the Restoration Bookstore or from our online store.