Nauvoo, the Beautiful: Soon to Become “Williamsburg of the West”


NOTE This article originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 1970 issue of Pioneer Magazine. For those of us who are familiar with modern Nauvoo, this article is an interesting historic piece that foretells the plans that revitalized and renovated the Nauvoo we enjoy today.

NAUVOO, ILL. (1970) — “Nauvoo, the Beautiful” is apparently on its way to become “The Williamsburg of the West.” The Mormons, driven out of this picturesque and colorful river city 124 years ago, are slowly doing the town over again, restoring it to is pristine historic splendor. It bids passing fair to become another Mormon shrine of which there are many linked along the territories of the early Latter-day Saints.

Excavations of historic building foundations, restoration of several of the more prominent residences and shops, has been going on for some time under the direction of Nauvoo Restoration, a church operated enterprise. The revivification procedures are well ahead of the public relations service which seems in no great hurry to publicize what is being done.

This may be because the townsfolk of whom there are approximately 1200, are not sure whether they like the deal or not. Naturally they are interested in the prospects for a booming tourist attraction but are somewhat leery about Mormons coming in and taking over the town’s business. The church has made it clear that nothing that is being done there is for profit — all displays, explanatory lectures and films will be for free and used exclusively for missionary purposes and to preserve the historical traditions of early Mormon history.

40,000 Visitors

Upward of 40,000 persons visited Nauvoo in 1969 without the benefit of publicity. As the restoration projects proceed, more and more tourists are expected. Nauvoo natives estimate that around 50,000 will come to their town during 1970.

[Editor’s Note: See this article, published in the Deseret News in 2006 which says, “Nauvoo’s tourism jumped to about 1 million people a year after the temple was announced, then soared to 1.5 million when it opened in 2002”.]

One of the major accomplishments of recent months was the excavation of the foundation of the Nauvoo Temple, once the largest building north of St. Louis and west of Cincinnati during the 1840’s. This area is now open to visitors.

Residences of Brigham Young, second president of the Church; Wilford Woodruff, fourth president and of Heber C. Kimball, Brigham’s “right bower” and stalwart Church and civic leader, have been restored and refurnished with period antiques. The building that once housed the town printing press is being restored and refurnished.

The Wagon Shop


Another historical workshop to be brought back is the blacksmith shop of Chauncey G. Webbs, where most of the wagons which carried the “Saints” on their arduous trip to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake, were built. Its two large forges have been replaced.

Plans call for the construction of a 2,000-seat outdoor amphitheater on the hillside where the majestic temple once stood. This vantage point overlooks the spot from which the refugee wagons ferried the Mississippi into the Iowa country, during the bitter winter of 1846.

In the planning stage is a modernistic, spacious Information Center and auditorium.

Following unsuccessful attempts to establish permanent headquarters for the Church in 1839, Joseph Smith gave up on Kirtland, Ohio, and Independence, Missouri, and purchased several hundred acres of land in a crescent of the Mississippi River, opposite what is now Fort Madison, Iowa. Here he chose a spot for the temple, laid out a township and called the place “Nauvoo,” a Hebrew word meaning, “the place beautiful.”

With this new settlement chosen, flocked the persecuted members of the Church from all over the country, particularly Missouri. They built a town of brick and log houses. Soon there were 37 shops and business enterprises and soon Nauvoo was the largest city in Illinois, twice the size of Chicago and three times the size of Springfield.

A Dream Shattered

Persecution then pushed its vicious tentacles into Nauvoo and with the assassination of the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum Smith in nearby Carthage Jail, the town lost its spirit, and Brigham Young, having been chosen successor to Joseph Smith, and after numerous consultations with his associates of the General Authorities, decided to abandon the place of Joseph’s dream.

The Reorganized Mormon Church, which retained most of the property of Joseph Smith when the main body of the Church went West, has restored the Smith Homestead and the Mansion House, a later dwelling of the Smith family. This church conducts tours through these historic places.

Within the next decade, Nauvoo Restoration, at its present rate of construction, should have most of the shops and several more of the memorable old residences restored, all of which will establish “Nauvoo, the Beautiful” as the new Williamsburg of the West.

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