In the same revelation where the Lord called Nauvoo a “cornerstone of Zion,” He also commanded the Latter-day Saints to build a temple so that He could restore “the fulness of the priesthood” (see Doctrine and Covenants 124:2, 26–28). Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, God then revealed temple ordinances in Nauvoo, including baptisms for the dead, the endowment ceremony, and marriage sealings. These ordinances were eventually performed inside the Nauvoo Temple, the spiritual centerpiece of the city.
Historic Nauvoo’s Temple City is a group of buildings and landscapes that provide an overview of the revelations, design, construction, and religious practices of the original Nauvoo Temple. It features properties that belonged to an architect, a stone carver, a bishop, and a farmer located to the west and north of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple, a 2002 reconstruction of the 1846 temple that once stood in the same place. Together these restored sites help tell the story of the house of the Lord—the Latter-day Saints’ crowning achievement from the 1840s.
William and Caroline Weeks were among thousands of Saints who gathered to build up Nauvoo as a temple city. William Weeks, a relatively young designer and builder from Massachusetts, discovered the restored gospel as a student and moved to Nauvoo in 1839, where he met and married Caroline. They constructed their home in Nauvoo by 1841, which included an office adjacent to the parlor.
Following the January 19, 1841, revelation (Doctrine and Covenants 124) that called for a house of the Lord to be built in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith requested design submissions for the Nauvoo Temple. Upon reviewing William’s proposals, Joseph said, “You are the man I want.”1 Here in the Weeks’s home studio, William and Joseph worked out the designs for the temple. The process took nearly two years and numerous revisions before William’s proposed Greek revival design finally fit Joseph Smith’s vision for the temple.
While design work for the temple took place in this home, Caroline Weeks lost two young children to illnesses, including Laura, who died three months before her first birthday. Of her eventual 10 children, only 3 survived past infancy. These tragic life events may have been somewhat softened by the emerging doctrine of temple sealings and eternal families.
One of Caroline’s neighbors wrote of these hopeful doctrines concerning the afterlife amid her own personal loss of family members. In 1844, Eliza R. Snow moved in with Stephen and Hannah Markham just west of the Weeks home. In October of that same year, Eliza wrote a poem entitled “To My Heavenly Father” to mourn the passing of her father. The poem has since become a beloved hymn titled “O My Father” that speaks of eternal families and gives the assurance that death isn’t the end of our existence.
Even before William Weeks and Joseph Smith had finalized plans, Latter-day Saints began building the temple. A modern Temple Stones Pavilion now stands on the former property of William and Elizabeth Jones. Text and tools demonstrate the labor-intensive process of excavating, shaping, and setting stone to construct the Nauvoo Temple. As a skilled stonecutter, William Jones shaped the first moonstone for the Nauvoo Temple. His wife, Elizabeth Jones, was a founding member of the Nauvoo Female Relief Society. She traveled to outlying cities to raise funds for the temple’s construction.
The following illustrated slides walk you through the intensive labor involved in processing raw stone before placing it along the temple walls. Excavating, hauling, splitting, cutting, carving, finishing, and setting are explained as they related to temple construction, including illustrations of the tools used.
Edward and Ann Hunter were converts from Chester County, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia. After they joined the Church, they sold their prosperous farm and helped most of their Church branch, including the Gheen family, who we will encounter later, relocate to Nauvoo. The Hunters contracted to have a nice, large home constructed before moving their family to Illinois.
In the Hunter Home in the summer of 1842, Joseph Smith went into hiding to avoid marshals who had entered Nauvoo with the intent to arrest him and take him back to Missouri.2 It was while he was temporarily living here that Joseph wrote down some additional instructions about the doctrine and practice of baptisms for the dead. Those instructions were put into two letters to the Latter-day Saints. They now appear in the Doctrine and Covenants as sections 127 and 128.
In 1844, Edward Hunter was called to serve as bishop of the Nauvoo 5th Ward.3 As a bishop, Edward held responsibilities to accept tithing donations and care for those in need by gathering and redistributing fast offerings. Some of these donations were specifically for the temple. As the people anticipated the dedication of the temple, many brought their fine carpets, ceramics, tables, and chairs to help furnish the building.
Bishop Hunter also helped organize labor tithing. Labor tithing was where workers donated one working day of every ten for temple construction. Joseph Smith taught the people that those who contributed their time and means would be recommended to enter the temple first. In the Church today, bishops still help certify recommends for individuals to enter the temple. Back in 1846, the tithing record was one way that people obtained a recommend to enter the Nauvoo Temple.
Like many others in Nauvoo, William and Esther Gheen immediately set their sights on the temple when they arrived in Nauvoo. By the time they arrived in 1842, temple plans and construction were well underway. They purchased an acre of land from Joseph Smith just down the hill from the temple site and built their home facing where the temple was rising. William Gheen assisted in building the temple with labor and liberal donations. In fact, tithing records show that in December 1844, William Gheen paid his tithing by dividing his one acre of land in half and donating the western half to the Church.
While the temple was still under construction, a baptistry was dedicated for the work of baptisms for the dead. In 1843, William and Esther Gheen went twice to this baptistry and were baptized on behalf of family members who had died before they could receive the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
William Gheen arrived home from a mission in the spring of 1845 and became ill shortly thereafter. On July 15, 1845, William Gheen died in his own home. At his funeral, William was remembered as a man who “sustained the reputation of a faithful saint until death.”4 Esther Gheen remained faithful. On February 2, 1846, about six months after her husband, William, died, Esther was sealed to William by proxy in the Nauvoo Temple. Through this sealing, she looked past temporal death and saw a future with her husband in eternity. This and other like ordinances fulfilled the purpose of building the temple—the Gheens became a family sealed together forever.
The Weeks, Jones, Hunter, and Gheen families represent the many faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who contributed to transforming Nauvoo into a temple city and a “cornerstone of Zion.” The temple blessings revealed as part of this cornerstone of Zion continue to unite families through the present day and throughout the world.
1. Earl Arrington, “William Weeks, Architect of the Nauvoo Temple,” BYU Studies, vol. 19, no. 3 (1979), 340.
2. See Church History Topics, “Missouri Extradition Attempts,” ChurchofJesusChrist.org/study/history/topics.
3. There were 10 wards in Nauvoo at that time. An 11th ward was added in 1845.
4. Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, July 16, 1845, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.