BY ROBERT L. BAKER
The sale last week of 10 acres of land in Oakland Township, 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.
Church spokeswoman Kim Farah in Salt Lake City confirmed the purchase Friday.
The land on Rt. 171 comprises Boughton’s Auto Salvage- a garage, junk yard, used parts type facility- which Jeffrey and Nancy Boughton acquired from his dad, Clyde Boughton, in 2000. Clyde had owned the property since 1965.
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.
Farah said the purchase was important because the parcel is “near a site of historical significance to the founding of the faith.”
The area is home to the religion’s founder, Joseph Smith and his wife, the former Emma Hale, from 1827 to 1830, and it was there that most of the Book of Mormon was written 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 (SOLIDA) for $60,000.
Leonard Kello, who formerly served as president of SOLIDA, said Friday that prior to that 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 Rt. 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.
The church holds that in 1829 Smith received a visit from a heavenly messenger, John the Baptist, who ordained him and Oliver Cowdery, and they in turn baptized one another in the Susquehanna River near the home site made them the first two to restore the Aaronic Priesthood as told in the Book of Mormon.
Kello, 83, a devout member of St. John’s Catholic Church in Susquehanna who saw the LDS 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,” Kello said.
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 would not be held to any timetable or formal plan.
“No decision has been made concerning future development of the site,” she said.
In December 2010, there were more than 13.8 million Mormons worldwide. More than 6 million live in the United States.