Friday, October 22, 2021

How the church is preserving the Hill Cumorah as major anniversaries approach

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The Hill Cumorah in Manchester, New York, the place where members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe an angel delivered to Joseph Smith the ancient record from which he translated the Book of Mormon, will undergo long-term rehabilitation to preserve the site and share its story.

The project will include the removal of 21 buildings and other infrastructure from the now-discontinued Hill Cumorah Pageant. It also will restore the landscape while improving signs and other information for visitors about the history of the hill and the Book of Mormon, said Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., church historian and recorder for the church.

The church announced the end of the Hill Cumorah Pageant in 2018. A final performance, first scheduled in 2020 and rescheduled for 2021, was canceled for good three months ago because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pageant’s end paved the way for the renovation of the hill, said Elder Curtis, who made the announcement during the 2021 Mormon History Association Conference in Park City, Utah. He said the project is patterned after what the church did 4 miles away in Palmyra, New York, in the 1990s, when it refurbished the Sacred Grove, the site of Joseph Smith’s First Vision of Deity.

What will happen to the Hill Cumorah?

The church will remove all of the pageant infrastructure and any other nonhistorical facilities, including:

  • 21 buildings.
  • 400,000 square feet of asphalt and gravel roads, parking areas and pageant walkways.

An aerial view of the Hill Cumorah in Manchester, New York.

An aerial view of the Hill Cumorah in Manchester, New York.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The church will retain:

  • The angel Moroni monument. The statue will be regilded.
  • The visitors center. New exhibits will be added in 2023 to mark the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s first visit to the hill in September 1823. The angel Moroni gave him ancient plates with the record that became the Book of Mormon on the site in 1827.

The church also will upgrade the landscape and the experience of visiting the Hill Cumorah. It will:

  • Reforest the area with thousands of native tree seeds to restore a mature forest resembling what Joseph Smith would have seen in the early 1800s.
  • Create a network of accessible trails at the site leading to the angel Moroni monument at the top of the hill.
  • Add a central kiosk to explain the sacred events that occurred at the Hill Cumorah.
  • Add signs along the way that will provide additional information.

The project will take years to complete.

“It is important to recognize that it took 80 years for all the pageant infrastructure to accumulate on the hill, and it will similarly take many years … for the hill to return to a forested environment,” Elder Curtis said. “This process of reforestation will require patience and a long-term commitment as this transformation occurs, but we are confident that the ultimate goal of reclaiming this sacred setting of the Restoration will be worth the wait.”

Church Historian and Recorder Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr. is shown announcing changes to the Hill Cumorah.

Church Historian and Recorder Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr. spoke to a group at the 2021 Mormon History Association Conference in Park City on June 6, 2021.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Hill Cumorah Visitors’ Center reopened two weeks ago on a limited basis by appointment.

Why was the Hill Cumorah Pageant terminated?

Church leaders closed down the Hill Cumorah Pageant because of its scope, the cost and the wear and tear on the hill.

Presented on the hillside in Manchester, New York, the Hill Cumorah Pageant started with a “missionary mindset” more than 80 years ago. When they announced the pageant’s end, church leaders noted that they planned to restore the area to its natural forested state.

“It is normal to feel a sense of loss when something as long-standing and beloved as the Hill Cumorah Pageant comes to an end,” Elder Curtis said. “It is important, however, to remember that the discontinuation of the pageant and the subsequent project to rehabilitate the Hill Cumorah is only the latest of many changes this sacred site of the Restoration has seen over the years. When one door closes, another one opens, leading to the unique opportunity to recapture and preserve the sacred setting of some of the foundational and spiritually significant events of the Restoration.”

The church also is restoring another grove important to its history as part of a project to create a historic Temple District of Nauvoo, Illinois. The grove, where Joseph Smith and other early church leaders preached to large groups, also will be reforested.



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