Nauvoo, Illinos, 1839-1846
The small city of Nauvoo, Illinois is shown as it was in the 1800s on the postcard above. Like Kirtland, Ohio it is one of the Mormon historic sites that have a part of the old city restored and a visitor center so that it is possible to see what it was life was like at that time. Jacque Baker is the artist who painted the picture on the card. The postcard was issued for the official Utah Pioneer Sesquicentennial Celebration in 1997. We visited Nauvoo in 2000 when the reconstruction of the temple, at the highest point of the city, was in process. There was a model of what the finished temple would look like near the construction site. Today the temple has been completed and the city with the immediate surrounding area are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Nauvoo Temple reconstruction in progress
Model of the completed reconstruction
Flying Angel Moroni
One of the more interesting items was this Sunstone pictured below. It is from the original Nauvoo Temple and now housed in a case in front of the visitor center. Two other Sunstones from the original Temple still exist, one at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and one at the Community of Christ Joseph Smith Historic Center.
Small replicas of the Sunstone can be purchased at the gift shop. A nice curiosity that occasionally doubles as a bookend.
The Temple was designed in a Greek Revival style by William Weeks a Mormon architect. There were originally Starstones found at the top of the Temple like a crown of 12 stars, the Sunstones in the middle representing “clothed with the sun,” and Moonstones at the bottom (“moon under her feet”) see Revelation 12:1. The temple was only half completed when Joseph Smith was assassinated in 1844. Brigham Young encouraged the members to complete the Temple, which was accomplished by 1846. It was used for sacred ordinances for less than 3 months before vigilantes drove out the remaining Mormons and the Temple was vandalized. In 1848 an arsonist set it on fire and although an attempt was made to save the building it was gutted. By 1865 the Nauvoo City Council ordered a final demolition of the remains and all evidence of the Temple disappeared except a hand pump for a well that supplied water to the font. The reconstructed Temple was built on the original site and dedicated as the Nauvoo Temple on 27 June 2002, 158 years after the deaths of Joseph and Hiram Smith.
The city is situated on a bend of the Mississippi River with the lower flat lands barely above the water line. It was swampy and mosquito infested when the early Saints moved here to escape religious persecution in Missouri. First called Quashsquema by the native population the name changed to Venus when a post office was established in 1832. By 1834 it was known as Commerce and it wasn’t until the Mormons arrived in 1839 that it was renamed once again in 1840 this time to Nauvoo (to be beautiful) from Isaiah 52:7 “How beautiful upon the mountains . . .”
The population of Nauvoo in 1844 was 12,000 about the same size as Chicago at the time. Following the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and his brother Hiram in 1844 there was increased violence from non-Mormons that forced most Latter-Day Saints to leave Nauvoo. Most followed Brigham Young to the Great Salt Lake Valley in Utah.
Here are some photos from our visit in 2000 showing a few of the restored buildings and homes. We arrived late in the afternoon when many of the exhibits were closed or closing and did not have an opportunity to tour the interiors except for the visitor center. All the buildings are beautifully restored with great attention to detail. Docents and missionaries dressed in period costumes help explain what life was like in the mid 1800s. A brickyard has demonstrations of how bricks were made, a blacksmith shop shows how to make horseshoes and iron implements, and other interesting and informative exhibits can be found in the restored Nauvoo.
Visitors to the Brickyard can get a brick!
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