The word ‘Mormon’ makes most people think of Salt Lake City in Utah, the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church was founded in upstate New York where in 1830 Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon. Smith said that the book was a translation of an ancient book that he found buried in the ground at a spot to which he had been directed by an angel. The teachings of the book became the basis for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church or Mormons) which set up its first base in Ohio with an outstation in Missouri. In 1838 the failure of a bank left the Ohio Mormons in debt so they moved to Missouri. People in Missouri were suspicious of the Mormons and in 1839 they were driven from the state. The LDS Church bought the small town of Commerce in Illinois. They renamed it Nauvoo and in 1841 set about the task of building a temple in their new home. However, tensions with local people soon surfaced. In 1844 to quell dissent within the church, Joseph Smith declared martial law in Nauvoo and as a result he and his brother Hyrum ended up in Carthage Jail on treason charges. An armed mob attacked the jail and the brothers were killed. Tensions with the local people increased further over the next few years, so the new leader of the Mormons, Brigham Young led his followers west on a journey that ended with the settlement of Salt Lake City in Utah. In 1849  Icarians moved to the Nauvoo area to set up a utopian socialist commune but this disbanded in 1856 and Nauvoo became an ordinary town.




Mormon Temple

The temple at Nauvoo was far from complete when Joseph Smith was killed. In 1846 when Brigham Young decided that the Mormons must move west the exterior was complete but the interior was unfinished. Following the decision to leave Nauvoo the Mormons wanted to sell the temple so they hurriedly made parts of it  usable and it was declared  open. The Catholics showed interest in buying it but in the end all attempts to sell it failed. The Mormons headed west, leaving behind a magnificent temple on a bluff above the Mississippi River. In the early morning of October 9,  1848 the temple burned down. Whether the fire was started deliberately or by accident is unclear but there was speculation that Brigham Young had ordered its destruction or that an opponent of the Mormons was responsible.  An 1850 tornedo turned the ruins of the temple into a pile of rubble. In 1937 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bought back the land on which the original temple had stood then in 1999 the church announced plans to rebuild the temple on its original site. The new temple opened in 2002. Its exterior is identical to the original temple, but the interior has been laid out like a modern Mormon Temple.


Joseph & Hyrum Smith Mormon Monument

On June 24, 1844, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum left Nauvoo for Carthage in order to appear in court and answer a charge of causing a riot. When they arrived in Carthage they were put in jail and the charge was increased to treason.  The journey to Carthage was their last as they died at the hands of a mob that attacked the jail. This statue that faces the reconstructed temple depicts Joseph and Hyrum at the beginning of their fateful journey. The bronze statue was created in Salt Lake City in 2003 by sculptors Stan Watts and Kim Corpany. From the statue, if you head down Young Street towards the river and then turn right, you will come to the Historic Nauvoo Visitors’ Center.  If you have had a pair of polite and smartly dressed young men knocking on your door and asking questions about faith you will instantly recognise the people in the Visitor’s Center. Yes, it is owned and run by the Mormons, so you will find that the information given in the Visitor’s Center is based on the Mormon view of history.

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Wilford Woodruff Home

Here we have a house that was built for one of the Mormons in Nauvoo. Wilford Woodruff joined the LDS Church at the end of 1833 when the church was based in Ohio. In 1889 in Salt Lake City he became the fourth president of the church. At the time when the church moved to Nauvoo, Woodruff was heavily involved in overseas missionary work, mainly in England. In 1843, aware of the effect that his long absences were having on his family, he commissioned the construction of a brick house for them. A working fireplace was built in each room to ensure that his family was comfortable during the harsh winter weather. The house was completed in 1845 but Woodruff had to sell it in April 1846 ahead of the move west. It is one of the few homes in Nauvoo that still has some of the belongings of its original inhabitants.

Homestead, Joseph Smith Historical Site

Joseph Smith’s properties were clustered on the southern side of Nauvoo, by the banks of the Mississippi. Here you find the Joseph Smith Hstoric Site Visitor’s Center, which is run by the Community of Christ, an offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Inexpensive guided tours are offered by the Visitors’ Center, but it is easy to tour the exteriors of the various buildings yourself. The Homestead is a log cabin that farmer Hugh White built around 1803. Joseph Smith moved in with his family in  1839 after the relocation from Missouri. It was initially both a home and the headquarters of the church. In 1843 Smith and his family moved into the rather larger Mansion House. Joseph and Hyrum Smith are buried in the cemetery visible to the left of the building. The extension on the left of the picture was added in 1858.


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- An interesting piece of history of which many people may be unaware.
-  A more balanced approach to the story of Nauvoo would be preferable.
- If you cringe at the sight of Mormon missionaries on your doorstep, this is not for you.
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Mormon Temple (rebuilt), Nauvoo, IL, USA


Joseph & Hyrum Smith Mormon Monument, Nauvoo, IL, USA
Homestead, Joseph Smith Historical Site, Nauvoo, IL, USA
Wilford Woodruff Home, Nauvoo, IL, USA
Pendleton Home and School, Nauvoo, IL, USA

Pendleton Home and School

Joseph Smith Homestead and Wilford Woodruff Home are original buildings but sadly many of the other buildings from the 1840s have not survived. In order to provide a more complete picture of historic Nauvoo the Mormons have reconstructed several of the missing buildings, including this log cabin. Calvin Pendleton was a doctor who jioned the LDS Church and came to Nauvoo in 1839. He married Sally Ann Seavey and built their home on this plot of land. In Nauvoo Pendleton worked as a gunsmith and to supplement his income he taught school in his home. The log cabin was rebuilt in 1990/91 and the interior is furnished as a school of the mid 19th century.


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