Ultimate Church History Tour Shows Everything                    
By Kathryn H. Kidd

If you are the kind of person who wants to go everywhere and see everything that is related to the founding of the Church, you will finally have the opportunity to do so this summer.  The Ultimate Church History Tour, hosted by Scot and Maurine Proctor, will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Smith by retracing the steps of the Prophet Joseph – from his birth in Sharon, Vermont, all the way to his martyrdom in Carthage, Illinois.  This is the panoramic view of the Restoration like no other.

For full details of the tour, go to Ultimate Trip

This 15-day trip will begin in Boston to give you a view of some of the historical sites of the early days of America.  You will be able to actually smell the musket powder as you visit Battle Road between Lexington and Concord, and your brief tour of the Boston area will give you a background of the founding of the nation that is the birthplace of the restored gospel.

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A musket demonstration at the Hartwell Tavern on Battle Road is standard fare on this trip.

The history of New England ran through the Prophet Joseph’s veins.  He would have been very familiar with the story of Paul Revere, as well as the saga of the Boston Tea Party.  Visitors to Boston can get a feel for that history even today, because Boston is a city that has taken great care to preserve its heritage.  Even the streets of this historic city are laid out over the cow paths that were etched into the mud in the early days of America.  Your two nights in Concord in a hotel not far from the Old North Bridge will truly capture your imagination and fire your feelings of the founding of the nation.

From Concord, the tour will take you north through New England’s pastoral countryside, to the birthplace of Joseph Smith in Sharon, Vermont.  Some of the covered bridges in Vermont were standing when Joseph’s parents, Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack, were courting in the closing days of the 18th Century.  As you bask in the rolling hills and the groves of trees, you will be able to experience the warm summer days and cool nights Joseph’s parents experienced in the early years of their marriage.  Your visit to the birthplace of the Prophet Joseph during this bicentennial year celebrating his birth will be unforgettable.

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Sunbeams stream through the Sacred Grove filling it with light.

The ultimate tour will take you from Vermont to Palmyra, New York.  The journey of one day in an air-conditioned coach will be a stark contrast to what the Smiths experienced when they carried their children and all their worldly positions from one place to another when Joseph was a young boy.  Palmyra and Manchester (the location of the Smith Farm and the Sacred Grove) are, for many, not only a highlight of the tour, but one of the most spiritual experiences of their lives.  The tour will take you to the Sacred Grove at 5:30 a.m., before the daily tour buses drop people off to the area to visit.  Although the morning will begin early, your time in the Sacred Grove may be the spiritual highlight of the tour.  Comfortable benches strategically placed throughout the area will allow you a private opportunity for meditation and prayer.

After being spiritually invigorated in the Sacred Grove, you will spend the day seeing the sites that surrounded the Prophet Joseph when he was a boy in the Palmyra area.  You will tour the Smith Farm House and see the Smith Log Cabin, where the Angel Moroni visited the young prophet one sleepless night.  You will love a thorough visit to the Grandin Print Shop where the Book of Mormon was first printed and you will also make a tender stop at the Swift Cemetery in downtown Palmyra to visit a very special grave.

If the day couldn’t already be full enough, that evening you will be able to see and experience the world-famous Hill Cumorah Pageant, America’s Witness of Christ.  Considered the largest outdoor pageant in the nation, this pageant will move you and set deep in your heart the events of the Book of Mormon and the coming forth of the ancient golden plates to the Prophet Joseph from this very hill.

Although most visitors to Palmyra make a stop at the Sacred Grove, few will have the opportunity that you will have to visit the banks of the Susquehanna River.  After a sacrament meeting in the Fayette Ward (Fayette was the place where the Church was organized, and where 20 revelations that are contained in the Doctrine and Covenants were received), you will go south to see where the first baptisms were performed in this dispensation.

If you have never seen the Finger Lakes region of New York, you are in for a treat.  This is a New York you may never have dreamed existed.  Indeed, the Finger Lakes are a secret hidden from most of the world even in the 21st Century.  Once you see the Finger Lakes, you may never want to go home.  Your drive through the Finger Lakes is an experience for the eyes, but your next experience will be a balm for the soul.

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The banks of the Susquehanna River offer solace and feelings of awe as tour participants contemplate what happened here.

The Susquehanna River is quiet and peaceful.  The area is almost unchanged today from when Joseph and Oliver were baptized in the calm waters of the river.  Here in the township of Harmony, you will see the site of Joseph and Emma’s home.  This is where much of The Book of Mormon was translated, and even today if you stop and get a sense of where you are standing, you may feel the immensity of the history that happened here.  This site is soon to be restored to its original (including the rebuilding of Joseph and Emma’s cabin).

After tracing the missionary journeys of Samuel Smith, Parley Pratt and their companions, your tour will take you to the beautiful town of Kirtland, Ohio.  Kirtland is another place you may never want to leave once you get there.  The center of the old town is so full of Church history that there is probably a story behind every nail in the old buildings.  When you visit the Newel K. Whitney store you may still feel the spirit that surrounded the men who attended the School of the Prophets.  You will also get a graphic understanding of why Emma Smith made a complaint that resulted in the Word of Wisdom.

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The Revelation Room in the Newel K. Whitney Store is a place where 17 sections of the Doctrine and Covenants were received.

While in the Kirtland area you will learn in detail where each of the sixty-five revelations was received from that Ohio period of Church History.  You will mark your scriptures in the very rooms where the Prophet first wrote the revelations.

Following your experiences in the Kirtland Temple, the Newel K. Whitney Home and Store and the John Johnson Farm you will spend the late afternoon in Amish Country (Holmes County, Ohio).  Here is the largest concentration of Amish in the United States and after a tour among the breathtaking farms and small towns, you will have an unforgettable dinner prepared by them. 

Off you will go for the long bus ride to St. Louis, Missouri.  Even travel days are not wasted in the Ultimate Church History Tour, however.  Along the way there will be time for a discussion about Zion’s Camp, and you’ll be able to see a movie or two as you travel across the country.  After a long day on the bus, tour participants will take a dinner boat ride down the Mississippi River, which was the nation’s superhighway during the days of Joseph Smith.  Dinner and dancing on the Tom Sawyer or the Becky Thatcher boats will create an evening of sweet memories.

St. Louis is only a brief stop, because the next day you will be on your way to Independence – the area of many significant events in early Church history, and home to a modern visitors’ center on the original, sacred temple site.  As the Proctors always say, “Missouri is the place where you see less and feel more than any other area of Church History.”

In the evening you will visit The Liberty Jail and there recount Joseph Smith’s experiences in the dark days of 1838-39.  You will see first-hand why the Prophet Joseph was so discouraged during his imprisonment that the Lord gave him the revelations that became Sections 121, 122 and 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

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The trail to the ‘Valley Overlook’ at Adam-ondi-Ahman leads to one of the most surprising and spiritual times of the tour.

The next day of the tour is another spiritual highlight, as you will visit Adam-ondi-Ahman and learn what the future holds for this sacred site.  This is an area where many of the early Saints suffered great afflictions, and you will hear many heart-rending stories as you visit the temple lot at Far West, Missouri.

As you make your way across northern Missouri, on a similar path as the early Saints did when they were driven from the state, you will have a treat like none other you have ever experienced:  now will be the first time (for many) that your eyes will see the Nauvoo Temple.  As you see it for this first time (at night) it will bring a rush of the Spirit and almost overwhelming feelings of joy.

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The Nauvoo Temple once again crowns the hill overlooking the horseshoe bend of the Mississippi River.

These next days will be ones of great joy.  You will see the “city beautiful” – Nauvoo – which has been restored to much of its original splendor.  The Nauvoo Temple is one of the most beautiful temples in the Church, and you will learn about this temple, and have the great opportunity to attend a session here.  For many this is the highlight of the two-week tour.  You will spend two days in Nauvoo, experiencing life as it was lived in the days of Joseph, and learning what happened in Joseph’s life as he lived in this, his last home save the Carthage Jail.

The tour will end at the Carthage Jail, the site of the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum.  The Carthage Jail is a place of infamous history and strong emotion.  You will end your tour with a testimony meeting that will strengthen your feelings about Joseph and Hyrum, and how their lives and their sacrifices have changed us and our descendants forever.

If you have long wanted to know more about Joseph Smith, or if you have studied his life for years but simply want to walk in his footsteps, the Ultimate Church History Tour is one you won’t want to miss. 

2005 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.