17 Historical Sites Dedicated in Nauvoo
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“17 Historical Sites Dedicated in Nauvoo,” Ensign, Oct. 1982, 74–76

17 Historical Sites Dedicated in Nauvoo

“Nauvoo is unique among the cities of America,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley in dedicatory remarks in Nauvoo, Illinois, Saturday August 14. On this date, President Hinckley, Counselor in the First Presidency, dedicated what may well be a record seventeen historical sites, all located in Nauvoo. The dedication was part of the Church’s efforts to restore important historical buildings left by the Saints in Nauvoo when they moved west to Utah.

Nauvoo’s “entire history was a time of great testing in which some failed and walked aside, as it were, while the dross was polished from many others and a great refining occurred,” President Hinckley noted. Nauvoo, he said, was “the crucible of Mormonism—a crucible of vision, a crucible of loyalty, a crucible of integrity, a crucible of leadership, a crucible of faith.”

The sites dedicated include the Nauvoo Temple block, the Masonic Hall, the Scovil Bakery, the Windsor Lyon Drug and Variety Store, the Times and Seasons newspaper offices, the Print Shop, and the Hiram Clark Store. The other ten sites are homes—the William Weeks home, the Joseph W. Coolidge house, the James Ivins home, the Simeon A. Dunn home, the Snow-Ashby duplex, the William A. Gheen home, the Vinson Knight home, the Chauncey G. Webb home, the Winslow Farr home, and the Henry Thomas home. The last seven of these homes and the Clark store are used as living quarters by missionaries assigned to the Nauvoo Mission. The other nine sites are open to the public.

Close to 2,500 persons attended the dedicatory service, which was held on the temple block next to the temple site. Stephen H. Coltrin, director of the New York office of Public Communications for the Church, reported that never before had the Church dedicated so many historic buildings at the same time. Brother Coltrin’s great-grandfather was one of the early residents of Nauvoo.

Nauvoo is familiar to most Latter-day Saints as the city built by the Prophet Joseph Smith and his followers after their expulsion from Missouri in 1838. The area had been the home of a Fox and Sac Indian settlement called Quashquema until the Indians were pushed out by the Indian Treaty of 1824. It was later inhabited by a few farmer-trappers. By 1829 a few families had moved into the area, and by March 1830 a post office was established and given the name Venus. In 1834 a new town called Commerce was laid out on the plot, and speculators prepared to sell land to new settlers. However, the great panic of 1837 ruined their hopes, and Commerce languished. In 1839 it came to the attention of the Prophet Joseph Smith; and, having few alternatives, he purchased the land for the Saints as a gathering place. He renamed the townsite, cradled in the arms of the Mississippi River, Nauvoo, a Hebrew word meaning “beautiful place.”

The name was given more for the potential the Prophet saw in the land than for its then present condition. The flat along the river was swampy and infested with disease-carrying mosquitoes. The Saints eventually drained the swamp, but not before many died of “Miasma,” or swamp fever. The town was then incorporated as a city and granted a charter that made Nauvoo essentially a city-state with its own militia. Seven years later, in 1846, it was the largest city in Illinois, with a population of around 12,000.

Perhaps the most important Nauvoo site dedicated by President Hinckley is the temple block where the Nauvoo Temple stood. Built at great sacrifice during a time of economic depression, the temple was barely finished before the Saints were forced from the city. In fact, it had yet to be dedicated when the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum Smith were martyred in nearby Carthage on 27 July 1844.

The temple measured 128 feet east and west, 88 feet north and south, and 60 feet to the eaves. The tower and spire rose an additional 98 feet. Made of limestone from nearby quarries, it took five years to build. The Saints donated china, glassware, clocks, clothing, furniture, farm products—anything of value—to compensate the artisans who labored full time on the building. Each man and boy was asked to give every tenth day to work on the temple.

At the time of its completion in 1846, the Nauvoo Temple was the largest and most widely known structure north of St. Louis and west of Cincinnati. After the Saints left, the temple was burned by an arsonist in 1848, and in 1850 a windstorm blew down the north wall. The building was so weakened that the east and south walls were razed. In 1865 the west wall was torn down. By then, the site had become a quarry for cut and polished stone. It remained unmarked for a century, until the Church purchased the site and began archaeological excavations in 1962, then again in 1966 through 1969. Improvements were added to the temple block in 1977.

Nauvoo is recognized not only as an important part of LDS history, but also as an important part of American history. The U.S. National Park Service, delegated the responsibility by the Historic Sites Act to identify sites throughout the United States which had had the greatest impact on the history and culture of the nation, recommended that Nauvoo be recognized as one of those historical sites. They suggested that steps be taken to preserve the city and designated it as a “place of exceptional value in our national history.”

In its report, the Park Service stressed that “with the Mormon migration [from Nauvoo], not only the motivation of westward movement shifted, but the character of the emigrant also changed. No longer were the migrations composed solely of an agrarian people, but shopkeepers, artisans, mechanics, and skilled persons of all types made the trek. The economic motive, so dominant among the earlier emigrants, gave way to the desire to worship in peace and to live in isolation from those who would deny this right.” (Quoted in Nauvoo Restoration Incorporated pamphlet, What Is Nauvoo Restoration Incorporated?)

The vast majority of these “skilled persons of all types” who first made the trek west came from Nauvoo. Recognizing this aspect of LDS and American history, Nauvoo Restoration Incorporated (NRI), an agency organized in 1962 and sponsored by the Church to facilitate Nauvoo’s preservation and restoration, has furnished many of the restored homes with arts and crafts of the period. Some of the homes are used to demonstrate skills all but lost to many modern Americans.

In the Joseph W. Coolidge house, for example, one can witness the art of pottery-making and see displays on barrel-manufacturing and candle-making. In the Print Shop is a demonstration of nineteenth-century printing. The Times and Seasons office contains a display on weaving, and the Scovil bakery a display on breadmaking. Other exhibits and demonstrations include gunmaking, blacksmithing, and wagon-wheel construction.

The Masonic Hall, used by the Nauvoo Saints as a kind of town hall and cultural center, is the spot for enjoying a play presented in the pioneer tradition. This hall saw frequent performances by famous artists of the day, as well as by local Latter-day Saints.

Presently, over thirty sites have been restored in Nauvoo, most by Nauvoo Restoration Incorporated. NRI is guided by the leadership and enthusiasm of J. LeRoy Kimball, also president of the Nauvoo Mission. Elder Kimball conducted the ten A.M. dedicatory services on August 14 and gave one of the addresses. He received tributes from both President Hinckley and Elder David M. Kennedy, special representative of the First Presidency, for his pioneering efforts in restoring Nauvoo.

Elder Kimball’s son, James C. Kimball, also spoke at the services. Of Nauvoo’s unique character among frontier cities, he said, “Its growth from 0 to 12,000 people in seven years was phenomenal.” He also remarked that restored Nauvoo “offers an unusual opportunity to glimpse and to feel the strong virtues and sterling habits of those who lived here. … Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo shows that man is spiritual as well as physical, that he is motivated by more than the pocketbook or easy chair.”

“Nauvoo is a moving story,” declared Elder Kennedy, following Brother Kimball’s remarks. “It tells of the Saints and their faith, the building of testimony, their strength of character. … Nauvoo was a time of sharing, a study of community government.

“A visit to Nauvoo will give both members and nonmembers alike a better understanding of the industry and strength of our pioneer forefathers. It will give an appreciation of the importance of religion, of faith in God, of home and family.”

Accompanying the dedicatory services was the pageant production “City of Joseph,” first performed in 1971 for the dedication of the Nauvoo Visitors’ Center. The cast is composed of families from a four-state area who donate their time, make their own costumes, and pay all their expenses. Brother Coltrin estimated that 7,000 attended the Friday, August 13, performance, and 8,000 the August 14 performance. The pageant was held August 10–14 in an outdoor theatre just east of the Nauvoo Visitors’ Center.

An inscription that once graced the walls of the Nauvoo Temple perhaps best describes the past and present activity at the city. “You have beheld our sacrifice,” it said; “come after us.” Of their sacrifice and integrity, President Hinckley noted, “The Church today with its strength, with its good name, with its ever-growing membership, is the sweet fruit of the solid character of the men and women who came through the crucible of Nauvoo with honesty of purpose and fidelity to a great cause.”

Photography by Jed A. Clark

President Gordon B. Hinckley addresses a crowd of some 2,500 in Nauvoo. He dedicated sixteen homes and shops and the Nauvoo Temple block.

William Weeks’ home, one of sixteen dedicated August 14. Weeks was architect for the Nauvoo Temple.

Nauvoo Temple plot with dedication crowd in background. In the foreground are remains of the temple foundation and circular stairwell. Left center are remains of baptismal font, with water well to its left.