Building Zion: the controversial plan for a Mormon-inspired city in Vermont
A Mormon businessman is buying up land to build master-planned towns from scratch, based on the church founders idea for a plat of Zion
The roads through rural Vermont wind past rolling forested hills and quaint small towns, including South Royalton used as the quintessential New England village in the opening sequence of the TV series Gilmore Girls.
A short drive away, the Tunbridge Worlds Fair has run almost continuously since 1867, with games, contests for best pig or pumpkin, and displays of old-time printing presses and candle making.
And not far from there, one stop on the areas low-key tourist trail dotted with maple syrup farms, pottery workshops and picturesque covered bridges, is the birthplace of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church.
The site now hosts a museum, run by the church and staffed by cheerful missionaries. Outside, a giant granite obelisk rises towards the sky. Calming music flows from speakers located high up in the trees. It is a peaceful place, designed to inspire reflection.
But, over the last year, it has also found itself at the centre of a controversy. In front of many houses and shops, signs exclaim: Save our communities. Stop NewVistas.
NewVistas is the name of an unusual, indeed, one-of-a-kind project led by a Mormon businessman named David Hall to build new, master-planned towns from scratch inspired by notes written by Joseph Smith himself in 1833.
Hall says these designs, which described how ideal Mormon settlements should be laid out and were drafted almost 200 years ago, offer answers to modern-day challenges of sustainable living. And to make it happen, he has been buying land lots of it.
The first goal is to build a NewVista community near Smiths birthplace in Vermont, which would be home to about 20,000 people. The next step: to build more. Ultimately, Halls vision describes a new city of connected communities, with a total population of up to one million.
The fantastic story first came to light last spring, thanks to the careful eye and diligent research of a librarian in the small town of Sharon, who uncovered a series of local land purchases that she traced to the businessman and his plans.
Reflecting on that time, Nicole Antal, 30, says shed found it all hard to believe particularly the scale.