Originally, the second temple built by the Mormons – the first being in Kirtland, Ohio – it was really the first temple to offer the fully ‘revealed’ rites that developed during the Nauvoo period of the Church by Joseph Smith. The building began in 1841, serving as a public works project for many of the poor members of the Church. About 1200 men worked either on the temple site or in the limestone quarries. The temple was not finished until almost a year after Joseph Smith’s murder - May 1846 - and served the Mormon Faithful for only a very short time. Temples fill a very important role in the latter Mormon theology. Inside, members of good standing - so-determined by their local bishop – can be married for time and eternity; have their families sealed to them for perpetuity, as well; be baptized for the dead – an after death opportunity to become Mormon. Knowing that they were leaving for the Far West where there would be no temple, the Faithful took the opportunity to utilize the House of the Lord before moving into the unknown.
After the Mormon exodus, the interior of the temple was gutted by arson in 1848. A tornado toppled the ruins in 1850 with the stone being used by locals as building material thereafter.
Early in the 1960’s, both the LDS and RLDS – now Community of Christ – churches moved to buy up lands and historic buildings in Nauvoo in an effort to restore the historical heritages of their roots. With the groundbreaking for a restored temple in October 1999, the historical preservation took on a more concerted religious bent. At 54000 square feet, the 15 story limestone structure is by far Nauvoo’s largest building. It is modeled after the original and no expense was spared. The result – the 113th LDS temple – is history recreated on a grand and dramatic scale. The temple is an emotional building – even more so at night with the dramatic lighting – and to the Faithful, I can only imagine the meaning taken on.
As with all LDS temples, entry is only permitted to members of good standing.
With the murder of Joseph Smith in June of 1844, the stage was set for a bottle royale over the leadership of the Mormon Church. Smith had not laid down a clear method of succession though evidence shows he may have favored his son, Joseph III, when he became older – he was only 12 at the time of his father’s death. Most in Nauvoo eventually came to accept Brigham Young, who was the leader of the Quorum of the Twelve, the highest council in the Church under the Prophet. Young took most of the Mormon Faithful to Utah in 1846, but there was still a sizable minority that elected to stay in the Midwest. They were scattered across Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. In 1860, many of these groups came together to form the Re-Organized LDS Church under Joseph Smith III’s leadership.
That church has a long and interesting history not unlike the Utah church. Property of the Smith family remains with this church – now the Community of Christ – so while the Utah LDS church owns many of the old Mormon historic sites, as well as the restored temple, some of the most important sites are outside their orb. Both churches maintain large visitor centers complete with audiovisual programs presenting history with a slight slant.
Here at the Community of Christ center, walking tours are given to the nearby sites pertaining to Smith and his family and are led by well-versed church volunteers. The tours are very recommended. It is also interesting to watch the interplay between members of the Mormon schismata. There is also an informative bookshop and gift shop at the center.
This is the log cabin, which served as the first home for Joseph Smith Jr. and his family in Nauvoo – 1839. The original house was a simple blockhouse dating back to very early in the 19th century. One room, on the ground floor and another, above, in which to sleep. A dining area was added shortly after the family moved in to accommodate the many guests who wanted a bit of Joseph’s time. There is also a summer kitchen that served as a home for Joseph’s parents. Joseph’s son, Joseph III, made further additions in his days.
It was common for pioneer families to set aside some ground near their houses to bury family members and so it was with Joseph Smith’s family. Gravestone markers were not always used – maybe a lilac bush or a tree. In the Smith family cemetery, 28 family members and friends have been interred. Joseph and his brother Hyrum were buried secretly underneath the foundation of an old springhouse – reconstructed, today. Along with Joseph’s wife, Emma, they now lie in a triple tomb next to the Homestead. The graves of Joseph’s father and mother are marked, as well as are some of the children of Joseph’s son, Joseph III, and Joseph III’s first wife.
Church members, in 1841, were told they needed to build both a ‘House of God’ – the temple - and a ‘House of Man’ – a hotel. Neither was completed in Joseph’s lifetime. Only the foundation and first floor bricks were completed on the Nauvoo House before the 1846 exodus. Joseph’s wife, Emma, was remarried later to Thomas Bidamon who finished a smaller-scale hotel on the foundations in place. The hotel also served as the Bidamon home in their latter days.
John Taylor was an early English convert. The conversion of English members was very important to the huge influx of Mormons in to Nauvoo. This brick house, one of the earliest brick homes in Nauvoo, was occupied by Taylor and his family, in 1845, when he served in the attached Printing Office as editor for Church periodicals. The woodwork and floors are original and some of the furnishings were actually owned by the Taylor family. John Taylor moved to Utah where he was to become the third President of the LDS Church - probably much to Brigham Young's chagrin, but that is another story.
Reconstructed in 1980 by the RLDS church – now Community of Christ – this general store was owned and operated by Joseph Smith Jr.. The first floor is a general store with goods representative of items that might have been for sale in 1842-44. The second floor housed Smith’s office and in front there was a large room, which served many church meetings. It was also in this room where the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge met until they built their own building in 1844.
Wilford Woodruff finished this fine brick house in time to live within for about 100 days before joining the exodus to Utah. The house was continuously occupied afterwards until restoration began in 1962. Willford Woodruff, a main mover in the Mormon’s very successful mission in the Midlands of England, became the Church’s fourth President and officially ended polygamy in 1890 – as sanctioned by the official Church.
Temple visitor centers are there to explain the role of temples within the Mormon belief system – baptism for the dead, eternal marriage, for example, can only take place within a temple. The Nauvoo Visitors Center is built as part of the contiguous Joseph Smith Academy – which serves as the headquarters for the LDS restoration efforts in Nauvoo and houses many of the volunteers who come to take part in the huge summer productions that are put on by the Church. The Academy used to be a Catholic girls’ school.
Hours of operation: May-Aug M-Sa 9-6, Su 11-5 Sep-Apr M-Sa 9-5, Su 12:30-5
Begun in 1842, the Mansion House served as the new Smith home and it was expanded with a hotel wing in 1843. The original house has been restored, but not the hotel section. After their murder, it was in this house that the Mormon Faithful filed through to pay their last tributes to the two Smith brothers as the lay in state. Following the exodus of 1846, the home continued to be both a home for the Smith family – who elected not to follow Brigham Young to Utah – and a hotel which provided a living for the family.
Within the Mormon Church, the group of men responsible for the missionary effort of the Church, are the Seventies. Proselytizing has always been a major effort of the Church and remains so today. This building, built in 1844, served as their headquarters. It was also a lecture hall, place for worship services and a library.
Jonathan Browning bought this house in 1843, building on a gun and blacksmith shop. From these humble beginnings, Browning went on to for one of the larger firearm companies of the World. Period guns are on display within. He and his family left in 1846 with the Brigham Young led move to Utah, ending up in Ogden, Utah.
For more on the gun company history: http://www.media.utah.edu/UHE/b/BROWNING%2CARMS.html and www.gunsinfo.org/HistBrowning.html
A restoration of the original 1840’s building, the Printing Office is part of three contiguous buildings – this building, John Taylor’s home and the Post Office. You can learn – from volunteers – more about what exactly was involved with mid 19th century publishing.
In front of the Temple and next to the Temple Visitor Center is a statue depicting Joseph Smith, Jr. and his brother Hyrum as they are making their ride to Carthage to face charges of inciting riots in the destruction of the dissenter’s printing press in Nauvoo. They were not to return for on June 27, 1844 both were murdered.
Built in 1843-44, this house served Brigham, his wife and seven children. After Joseph Smith’s murder, this house became a planning center for the Mormon exodus to Utah – in 1846. Brigham Young became the second President in the LDS Church and is probably as important a figure among the LDS as Smith because he provided leadership and stability after the lost of the charismatic Joseph. Immensely practical, Young was what the movement needed for the trek to Utah and the trials that lie ahead in setting up anew in a totally new land.