The family of Joseph Smith Jr., the prophet who restored Christ’s Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, moved to Palmyra, New York in 1818. They built a log home two miles south of the village so that they could be close to a 100-acre tract of land that they were in the process of purchasing. The owner of the property allowed them to begin clearing the land before they had signed the contract. By 1825 they had cleared sixty acres of the land. These sixty acres became fields, meadows, a garden, an orchard, a place for a home, and other building lots.During the time, it was suggested that about 1/3 of a family’s property be left with timber on it. About 25 acres were left on the eastern part of the property. Many of the trees were red and white oak. Another 15 acres on the west side of the farm was left as a forest. Most of the trees in this forest were maple trees that the family used to make sugar. Each year they were able to make an average of 1,000 pounds of sugar.
The family used the timber for heat and cooking, they also gathered fruits and nuts from the trees on the land. This was not the only service the forests on the Smith’s land provided; they were also a place for spiritual development. There was one specific spot in the woods where the family often went to hold prayer or where individuals went to pray in secret.
As a young boy Joseph was concerned about religion, but all of his studying and attending meetings did not satisfy him. So he decided to pray about which church he should join. On a spring morning in 1820 he went to a quiet place in the forest. While there, he saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, who told him not to join any of the sects, that the true Church of God was about to be restored. The exact place where he went is not known. Joseph Smith did not give exact locations of holy experiences out of respect. According to those in the area who had been associated with the Smith family, the First Vision occurred in the woods on the western part of the farm.
In 1860, Seth T. Chapman purchased the Smith farm and said that he would never cut down the trees on the west end of the farm, because Joseph had said this was the area where the First Vision had occurred.
The Mormon Church now owns ten acres of this wooded land. Many of the trees in the area are over 250 years old. The Church has been cleaning and trying to preserve the area. It was once nearly gone because of disease and pollution. It is now healthy and very well cared for. The Mormon Church maintains it as a quiet place for contemplation.