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Church historic sites around the country close for coronavirus concerns

A sister missionary leads a tour of the Grandin Building in Palmyra on Saturday, before it closed ( where the Book of Mormon was first published in 1830) (Photo Mary Richards | KSL NewsRadio)

PALMYRA, New York — Besides temples and church services, historic sites for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have also closed because of coronavirus.

Visitors can still go walk or drive around many sites by themselves, but visitors centers and facilities are closed.

Senior couple missionaries got the word on Saturday as they were leading families on tours around the sites in Upstate New York.

They were saddened, but understood the reasons behind the closure. They are in the age group that has been hardest hit by the virus. Therefore they need to have limited exposure to visitors and crowds.

The sites around Palmyra were getting busier with the start of spring break visitors.

Riley Cooney from Seattle was visiting the Sacred Grove with his family.

“There’s so much confusion right now,” he said, but he added that he felt peace in the woods behind the Smith Family Farm.

“I came in feeling a lot of stress, I haven’t slept well the last week. But I left with less of those doubts and more surety God will lead us through his leaders, and personal revelation. Everything is going to be ok,” he said.

His brother Sean Cooney, on break from law school in Virginia, was glad to be able to go on the trip.

“We were thinking of the opposition Joseph Smith faced in the Sacred Grove, before he saw God the Father and the Son,” said Sean.

Others pointed out how Church leaders for years have asked members to prepare for emergencies, and how President Nelson prepared members for home-centered Church.

This is also supposed to be the last year of the Hill Cumorah Pageant. So far it is still scheduled to happen in July.

Pageant President Neil Pitts understands why the large event is ending.

“The number one reason President Nelson gave, was, we want people working in their home, studying with their families. And look at what’s happening, isn’t this prophetic,” he said.

The Palmyra Temple was crowded on Friday and Saturday before it closed, but with lots of hand washing.

A news report from Illinois, talked about the site closures there as well, in and around Nauvoo and Carthage.

“Our volunteer missionaries are primarily retired couples who serve full-time for one to two years here,” current sites president John Stephen Rizley told WGEM.

“They are healthy now and we want to keep them healthy. We also want to do our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by limiting large gatherings.”

Rizley said leaders at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City would announce when the sites would open again.