And ye shall build it on the place where you have contemplated building it, for that is the spot which I have chosen for you to build it. If ye labor with all your might, I will consecrate that spot that it shall be made holy. (D&C 124:43–44)
Most Nauvoo historians, both Latter-day Saints and others, have largely limited their research to the Mormon era of the 1840s.Even a survey of Nauvoo, conducted as part of the Federal Writers’ Project in the 1930s, focused almost exclusively on the city’s Mormon past. The one Latter-day Saint writer who looked at post-1840s events concentrated primarily on the Church’s return and role in historic preservation within the city. No scholar has undertaken a thorough study of the city’s post–Latter-day Saint period. Hence, in the extensive bibliography of publications on Nauvoo, there are only two pamphlets that deal with the city’s history in its entirety, and then only up to the 1970s.
Similarly, authors have approached the history of Nauvoo’s buildings from a Latter-day Saint perspective, understandably a result of the Church’s expansive restoration program during the latter half of the twentieth century.However, for most of Nauvoo’s existence, its most important Latter-day Saint structure could not be seen. In 1969, Ida Blum, Nauvoo’s resident historian, observed this paradox: “The dominant landmark in Nauvoo is still the Nauvoo Temple site, although the temple has been gone for more than a century.” The reconstruction of the temple at the turn of the twenty-first century changed all this, the new temple generating considerable national interest in the original building. As a result, a number of publishers have issued studies looking at the original temple’s construction, its use for sacred purposes, and its ultimate destruction by nature and man. A few studies have also appeared addressing the new Nauvoo Illinois Temple, and likely more will follow. However, no author has addressed the temple lot’s history—especially those approximately fifteen decades between the original Nauvoo Temple and the newly built Nauvoo Illinois Temple. This study attempts to fill in this deficit by looking at the use of Nauvoo’s temple square during these “in-between” years.
The Original Nauvoo Temple, 1841–1848
From 1841 to 1846, the Latter-day Saints of Nauvoo, Illinois, supported by Church members as far away as Europe, built a temple on a commanding bluff overlooking the city. During winter 1845–46, Church leaders used the temple’s attic for administering sacred rituals. Even after most of the Mormons had vacated the city for the West in spring 1846, a crew of men remained behind to complete the building for dedication.During this period, Church leaders also appointed trustees to stay in Nauvoo and dispose of the Church’s and members’ property, including the temple.
After a fruitless two-year attempt to sell or lease the temple, on March 11, 1848, the trustees, who were anxious to follow the Saints to the Great Salt Lake Valley, conveyed title of the temple for $5,000 to David T. LeBaron, the brother-in-law of Almon Babbitt, one of the trustees.Babbitt apparently had not abandoned hope of finding a suitable tenant for the building; he stayed in Nauvoo and continued to pursue its sale or lease. His labor succeeded in fall 1848, when he negotiated a fifteen-year lease by the American Home Missionary Society of New York, which intended to use the temple as a seminary or a college.
Unfortunately, on the night of October 9, 1848, the very day Babbitt received word that Society officials had started for the city to finalize the lease, an arsonist torched the Nauvoo Temple.All that remained of the once-impressive structure were its cracked and fire-blackened walls, the flames having gutted the entire building.
Yet, even though the temple was damaged, Babbitt and LeBaron eventually found a buyer—Etienne Cabet, a Frenchman who came with several hundred of his followers to Nauvoo in spring 1849 to establish a communistic utopia.Babbit and LeBaron sold the damaged temple and other property to Cabet on April 2, 1849, for $2,000.
The Obliteration of the Temple, 1849–1865
Cabet’s followers, known as the Icarians, settled in Nauvoo, occupying some of the abandoned Mormon structures as well as building their own. Cabet was anxious to repair the temple and soon had crews clearing away the burnt rubble and positioning new piers to support the floors for interior reconstruction; however, Cabet’s effort was thwarted on May 27, 1850. As eight masons were working inside the temple walls, a violent windstorm arose that “burst suddenly on the hill of Nauvoo, where lightning, thunder, wind, hail and rain, seemed united to assail the building. The storm burst forth so quickly and with such violence [that] the masons overtaken unawares in the Temple, had not time to flee before the northern wall, sixty feet high, beat down upon their heads, threatening to crush and bury them up.”After the storm—one of the masons called it a tornado—the men fled the building. Fortunately, no one was harmed.
When Cabet surveyed the damage, he abandoned any hope of reconstructing the building. The Icarians decided that “the southern and eastern walls would soon fall down, and that, to avoid any serious accident, it was better to destroy them.”Crews razed those walls, leaving only the facade standing. Split by dissension, the Icarians remained only a few more years in Nauvoo, and by 1859 most had left for a new utopia near Corning, Iowa. Other settlers remained, mostly German and Swiss immigrants who had started coming to Nauvoo even as the Saints were abandoning the city. So strong was the influence of these settlers that German culture and language dominated Nauvoo until it became the largest German-speaking community in Illinois. Only with the commencement of the First World War did Nauvoo give up German. But the quiet farming village was nothing like the earlier bustling city of thousands.
The years between 1850 and 1865 took their toll on the temple’s ruins (fig. 1). The temple’s facade slowly crumbled until the southwest corner “alone remained, a monument of [its] former beauty and grandeur.”In 1859 a visitor left this description of its pitiful condition:
The Temple, as we have stated, is in a state of dilapidation and ruin. The portion not already fallen is tottering to its base and huge cracks gape along the walls from top to bottom. We passed, with some misgivings of accident, beneath a ruined archway, and stood within the vestibule. A flock of partridges that had been feasting at a neighboring wheat-stack, and were now seeking refuge within the building from the heat of the noon-day sun, were frightened at our intrusion and darted, with tumultuous haste and whirring sound, through the gaping windows. The place where we stood was filled with masses of stone.
The visitor could find no trace of the font or the oxen that had stood in the basement. Only the well that had supplied water to the font remained. He bent over and “removed one of the planks that covered the well and looked down into its depths, but nothing was to be seen but water; water and a solitary frog, that lay floating at his ease, with limbs lazilly [sic] extended, but who quickly disappeared when his privacy was invaded.” As the visitor cast his gaze over the scene, “all around in every direction the ground [was] thickly strewn with broken stone.”
Prior to February 2, 1865, the Nauvoo city fathers decided to level the damaged remnant for safety. On that date, the Carthage Republican reported, “The last remaining vestage [sic] of what the famous Mormon temple was in its former glory has disappeared, and nothing now remains to mark its site but heaps of broken stone and rubbish.”The temple limestone rubble became a readily available quarry for local townspeople.
In 1876, William Adams visited Nauvoo and recorded in his journal, “No remains of the temple, except pieces of wall on the north side of the block could be discovered.”Eventually even these meager remnants were cleared away and no trace of the temple, except the well capped by a hand pump, remained on temple square. Joseph Smith III, who had played in the temple as a youth, reflected with melancholy upon the temple’s fate: “Of all the stones placed in position by human hands during its erection the only ones left are those lining the well which was dug in the basement to supply water for the baptismal font.” However, the utter obliteration of the Nauvoo Temple did not end the history of temple square. For the next century, the owners used the lot for a wide variety of purposes.
Nauvoo’s Temple Square—the Icarian Period, 1849–1859
Even before Icarian workmen sought to restore the fire-damaged Nauvoo Temple, they began erecting additional buildings on Temple Square. Most Icarian buildings were built of wood, and after the tornado toppled much of the temple, its ruins served as blocks for the foundation of many of these structures. On Temple Square, the Icarians eventually constructed seventeen buildings, which served some nineteen uses by the community (map 1).
Among the more enduring of these seventeen structures on Temple Square were those erected for private residences. On its southeast corner, on Mulholland Street and north along Bluff Street, Cabet erected a row of four two-story frame apartments (fig. 2). The buildings had eight rooms, four downstairs and four upstairs. Each door had numerals painted on it. Normally one room housed either a family or two or three bachelors.The furnishings were spartan: a bed made of white pine, a heavy padded wooden chair, a small wooden table, and such niceties as a candlestick, a broom, and a bucket. Often the residents had to use their own trunks as cupboards or chairs for visitors.
West from the apartments along Mulholland Street was a long frame building that housed a variety of small workshops for making candles, shoes, clothing, linens, mattresses, and matches, as well as for repairing clocks. Beyond this structure was a garden near the schoolhouse. North, behind these shops, stood five small structures: an infirmary, a pharmacy, a wash house, a bath house, and a drying house.Icarian workmen also dug a huge well, ten feet in diameter and forty feet deep, near the temple’s ruins.
North of the apartments was an office building that also housed the community’s print shop and a five-thousand-volume library, reportedly the largest in the state at the time.At the northeast corner of the lot, the Icarians built a large two-story frame building 120 feet long and 40 feet wide that extended along Bluff Street to the corner and then turned west for a short distance along Knight Street. This building, the first the Icarians built on Temple Square, was called the Refectory or dining hall. It had a balcony running around the second floor and a large cellar. The first floor contained the kitchen, dressmaking and linen shops, and a long (eighty-foot) dining room, which could seat four hundred persons. At one end stood a stage. Artists adorned the room’s walls with inscriptions of Icarian principles. An innovative feature was a miniature “railroad” that carried food and utensils from the community’s kitchen into the dining room. Here the Icarians ate their communal meals at long pine tables. The room’s stage was used for social activities; the community’s band, choir, and theatrical group performed frequently in the hall. Adult members, both men and women, also met in the large hall each Saturday to discuss the affairs of the community. Cabet gave lectures in the dining hall on Sundays.
The dining hall’s second floor was divided into a number of apartments, each sixteen feet by twenty feet. These rooms were reserved mostly for bachelors, with two or more men per room, although some married couples also received a room each. The 1850 federal census showed twenty-five single men living together; the only likely place was the dining hall’s second floor.The furnishings, like the apartments, were sparse. Each room contained sufficient beds for the occupants, a table, two chairs, and a mirror. West of the dining hall, along Knight Street, stood a bakery, a butcher shop, and a pork shop. On the corner of Knight and Wells Streets stood a long framed building that served as the community’s mechanics workshop and blacksmith shop.
After the tornado destroyed most of the temple, the Icarians used its limestone blocks to build a large schoolhouse at the corner of Mulholland and Wells Streets.It was a two-story structure with classrooms on the first floor and dormitories for children on the second floor. Children remained with their parents until the age of seven, when they moved into the dormitories. There they learned basic academics; they also learned practical skills such as how to perform household duties and how to manage communal space in the dormitories. Children remained in the schoolhouse until they were able to demonstrate that they could conform to the community’s rules. Parents were allowed to visit their children only on Sundays.
In 1859 a reporter for the Missouri Republican observed the recently vacated Icarian structures on Temple Square: “On two sides of Temple square their dwellings have been erected, on the other sides they have built their store houses and their school houses, the latter out of the ruins of the Temple.” He concluded his article with this estimation of the Icarian presence in Nauvoo in the 1850s: “All the time that they have been in Nauvoo, they have been distinguished for industry, neatness and good conduct, and barring their peculiar notions of government and religion, they are good citizens and excellent neighbors.”
Temple Square—the Secular Period, 1860s to 1930s
For most of the 1860s to the 1930s, non–Latter-day Saint owners occupied temple square and used it for many secular purposes (map 2). After the Icarians left, very little changed on the lot, but eventually most of the smaller shops and buildings they had abandoned were torn down for their lumber. The larger structures, such as the schoolhouse, dining hall, blacksmith shop, and apartments, remained for decades (fig. 3). During these years, the owners used these structures and added new buildings of their own. The citizens of Nauvoo also used the vacant areas of temple square for a wide variety of purposes, including outdoor pageants, baseball games, and agriculture, such as vineyards and a strawberry patch.
Sometime after 1864, the Icarian dining hall on the northeast corner of temple square caught fire and burned down. The owner, John Dornseif, chose to rebuild it after the end of the Civil War, except on a smaller scale and with bricks from his own kiln.Over the years, Dornseif’s replacement served not only as the Nauvoo City Hall but also at times as a saloon or dance hall, as private dwellings, as a place for theatrical productions, and in its last years as a motion picture theater. It came to be called the Nauvoo Opera House.
South of the Nauvoo Opera House, along Bluff Street, on a narrow lot only twenty-five feet wide, stood a building with a colorful history. The Schenk Brothers, Peter and Herman, sons of the founders of Schenk’s Brewery, built a single-story brick building on the site and opened the Palace Saloon in the 1890s. In 1903, Frank Goulty, a photographer, moved into that structure, which was renamed the Palace Building; Goulty stayed at least until 1926. The Mississippi Valley Telephone Company eventually leased the property and used the building for the city’s first telephone exchange.
The four Icarian apartments were used for private residences and small business enterprises for decades. Gabriel Nicaise, an Icarian who chose to remain in Nauvoo when the others left, lived in the first house on the corner, facing Bluff Street (see fig. 2).A jeweler, Nicaise used the first-floor rooms as his jewelry shop. Nicaise later allowed a man named Loomis to open a drugstore in the large room on the southeast side; after that, the Nicaise family operated an ice cream parlor in the same room. When the home passed to Nicaise’s daughter, Rose, she opened a millinery and dressmaking shop in the same large room. She lived in the home into the 1930s.
Hippolyte J. Roine, also a follower of Cabet who stayed in Nauvoo, lived in the second house from the corner with his mother and cousin Betsy.When all three of them had passed away, their house and the vacant one to the north were razed, leaving only the foundations made of temple limestone blocks.
In 1860, Vitus Schaefer, a Swiss emigrant, purchased the Icarian apartment facing Mulholland Street and opened a harness shop in its basement. Later he built two one-story frame buildings west of the apartment for a workshop and a salesroom. Next to the salesroom, Schaefer’s wife planted a beautiful sunken garden “where vegetables and flowers formed a paisley pattern”—certainly a picturesque spot. When Schaefer died, his son carried on the business for more than forty years. Later the smaller buildings housed a Conoco service station.By 1940 only the service station and two of the apartments, those originally purchased by Nicaise and Schaefer, were standing.
The Icarian schoolhouse, built out of temple limestone, served a number of functions after the Icarians abandoned the property. Beginning in 1879 and at least until the late 1890s, the southwestern corner of the schoolhouse served as the city’s post office. The room to the east was a drugstore, while the northern half was a private dwelling.During the early years of the twentieth century, it housed the Fegers Hospital (fig. 4). In 1918 the Roman Catholic Church purchased the schoolhouse and used it as a parsonage until 1923, when the entire building was converted to the Saints Peter and Paul Parochial School, which continued as an elementary and high school until June 1954.
Later property owners not only used the Icarian structures but also built their own. Until the late 1920s, the original Icarian frame mechanics and blacksmith building at the northwest corner of Knight and Wells Streets served as a merchandise store; later it was used for general storage.After the building was demolished, Charles Reimbold built a two-story brick home on the western portion of the foundation. South of the Reimbold home, along Wells Street, Reimbold also owned a lot whose rear portion contained the actual site where the Nauvoo Temple stood. Along the street, he erected a small wooden building that housed a candy store and Express Office. This building was demolished during the 1920s. South of the candy store stood a fine two-story frame house built by Adam Swartz in the mid-1880s. Apparently, he relocated here after he had sold his residence on Mulholland Street. William C. Reimbold converted the home Swartz had sold into the Hotel Orient (fig. 5), which became the Hotel Nauvoo. Later, Reimbold also constructed a large icehouse that stood just west of the temple site at the rear of his property.
Conrad Knaust, a Prussian emigrant who engaged in the local lumber industry, built a fine frame home east of the limestone Icarian schoolhouse. Later George Hart purchased the home. Both of these men served as Nauvoo’s mayor, Knaust from 1869 to 1870 and Hart from 1915 to 1916.
In 1925 the Roman Catholic Church tore down the Knaust/Hart home and erected the Nauvoo Parish Hall, a large frame structure, east of the parochial schoolhouse. Local carpenter Paul Schenk built the hall.With its large curved roof, the hall boasted the largest basketball court in Hancock County. For years the Nauvoo Parish Hall housed a wide variety of functions, including sporting events, banquets, fairs and bazaars, plays, Red Cross blood drives, Saturday night dances, at least one session of the Hancock County circuit court, minstrel shows, graduation exercises, funeral services, and concerts. Although the Catholic Church owned the hall, the priests allowed other churches to use it, including the First Presbyterian Church and the First Methodist Church. Even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held a number of conferences in the building during this period. For nearly five decades, the building served as the veritable center of Nauvoo community activities.
Much of the interior of temple square, especially on its east side, was largely vacant. A baseball diamond, lighted for night games, stood behind the Icarian apartments.Children frequently used temple square as a playground. Mary Logan recalled that in 1934, while she was playing in the area where the temple had stood, the ground suddenly gave away. She and her sister fell into a large, deep cavity. Luckily neither girl was hurt, but their rescuers needed a ladder to get them out. The hole, undoubtedly part of the temple’s basement, was then filled in.
Clearly, from the Icarian period until at least the 1930s, temple square served a variety of uses, many structures were built on the former temple site, and its use as sacred space was all but forgotten. Then, beginning in the 1930s, the Church began to reacquire title to the site, parcel by parcel.
Latter-day Saints Reacquire the Temple Lot, 1930s–1960s
Between the 1930s and the 1960s, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reacquired temple square (map 3). During the 1930s, a number of individuals took an interest in temple square, even envisioning a restoration of the temple itself. Among the most persistent was Lane K. Newberry, a Chicago freelance artist, who was of Mormon descent. In April 1931, he came to Nauvoo to paint historical landmarks. He was captivated by the city and its crumbling ruins of old Mormon homes. Thereafter, he returned frequently to paint and draw. Over time he developed a vision of restoring the old buildings he was painting.He found a friend and ally in Bryant S. Hinckley, the president of the Northern States Mission from 1936 to 1939. With an introduction arranged by Hinckley, he traveled to Salt Lake City and met with the First Presidency on April 9, 1938. He sought their support for a Nauvoo centennial celebration the next year as well as for his vision of restoring the landmarks in Nauvoo. In a follow-up letter to him, President Heber J. Grant and his counselors wrote:
Following your presentation to us this morning of your Nauvoo project, we want to say to you that we appreciate very much your vision and enthusiasm. It will indeed please us to cooperate with you in the project and help work it out. To this end we can assure you that we will wholeheartedly do what we properly may to encourage those of our people who are able to do so, to visit Nauvoo during the summer of 1939. We shall be glad to erect in the future such memorial on the Temple Block, if secured by the State of Illinois, as will fittingly carry out your project.
A few months before Bryant S. Hinckley’s release as a mission president, the two men planned and sponsored a two-day centennial celebration of the 1839 founding of Nauvoo. Some seventeen hundred persons, mostly Latter-day Saints from throughout the surrounding states and Canada, gathered for festivities in the city on June 24 and 25, 1939. The highlight of the celebration was a Sabbath day meeting on temple square, where a congregation of hundreds gathered outdoors to hear sermons and speeches, just as the original citizens had in the 1840s. Among the speakers was Newberry, who looked out over the crowd on temple square and spoke of his dream of seeing “the temple rebuilt in full size on this spot where it once stood.”Mission President Hinckley shared this vision, even recommending to the First Presidency “that the Nauvoo Temple be rebuilt.” In reporting on the centennial event, Hinckley wrote prophetically that thousands would visit Nauvoo annually in the future and that the city would be “destined to become one of the most beautiful shrines of America.”
However, national and world events precluded the restoration of Nauvoo in the 1930s. These included the Church’s lack of finances for such an undertaking during the Depression and the outbreak of the Second World War less than three months after the Nauvoo Centennial Celebration.Yet even during these bleak years, there was one whose eyes were drawn to Nauvoo and its missing temple: Wilford C. Wood, a successful furrier from Woods Cross, Utah. He possessed the ardent desire to preserve items of Church history—not only artifacts, but also historical sites. His personal stationery contained the phrase “lest we forget,” attesting to his motivation. His interest in Nauvoo took root while serving as a missionary in 1918 in the Northern States Mission, where he became determined to acquire and preserve these important places of Church history. After his return home, he became a successful businessman, accumulating in time the financial resources to fulfill his dream. It became his custom to visit Church sites on his return to Utah from business trips to the East. In the 1930s, he began buying these important properties as they came up for sale.
Wood had visited Nauvoo a number of times and had “for some time interested himself in the acquisition of the temple lot.”In February 1937, Wood learned by telegraph from officers of the Bank of Nauvoo that the part of temple square on which the original temple had actually stood (the Casper Reimbold property) was going to be offered at a public auction on June 27 by the Hancock County master of chancery. The bank had obtained a foreclosure decree of $5,844.25 against five parcels of property, including property of the late Casper Reimbold, because the owners of these parcels had failed to pay that amount by the January 28, 1937, deadline. The Hancock County master of chancery was directed to sell the property at public auction in the bank’s interest. The property had been offered for sale at public auction previously, but the bank had protected its interest by outbidding the others, whose offers were too low. Now the bank notified Wood, thinking that it might get a better price from an interested Latter-day Saint.
Upon receipt of the telegraph, Wood approached the First Presidency of the Church to learn their wishes concerning the matter. Although he had the resources to make the purchase himself, perhaps he felt he needed the approval of these Church leaders for such a significant property as a temple site. After a discussion among the First Presidency and the Twelve, President Heber J. Grant authorized Wood to represent the Church but not to pay more than $1,000 for the property. Since the bank officers had notified Wood in their telegram that the bidding would begin at $1,000 and that other interested parties would probably bid higher, this left the Church’s representative with a “difficult problem.”
Wilford C. Wood and an associate, Jack Smith, hurriedly traveled the twelve hundred miles to Nauvoo, arriving on the evening of February 18, 1937. The following day, standing in a downpour, the two men viewed the temple site with its rusty pump. They then met with George E. Anton, the vice president of the bank; Karl John Reinhardt, the cashier; and Leslie Reimbold, a representative of the Reimbold estate, in an office at the rear of the bank on the corner of Mulholland and Bluff Streets.Wood told the men that he could not afford “the price of sentiment” for the property, nor could he pay the amount they had mentioned in their telegram to him; and furthermore, he would not risk any ill feelings that might arise from competitive bidding in the auction the next day. These were probably the instructions he had received from the First Presidency, who obviously did not want to make the purchase a cause for local dissension. The three men told him that the property was well worth the price mentioned in their telegram and that, if necessary, the bank would again buy back the property to protect their interests. After a brief recess, the men reassembled. Wood later wrote of this transaction:
Came back to the bank and in the back room sat in the most important Council Meeting held in Nauvoo since the Saints were driven from here nearly one hundred years ago. I pleaded for the price to be within reason so I could buy the property. I told them the Church would put up a Bureau of Information which would be a credit to Nauvoo and that what they might lose in the price of the lot would come back to them many times with the people who would come back and pay homage to a desolate city that once had 20,000 people, and only has 1,000 today. I told them of the true principles of the Gospel, of the agency of man, and of the worship of God according to the dictates of conscience.
They all took cigarettes and offered them to me. I told them I had never tasted tea, coffee, or tobacco in my life. I asked them to name the price for which they would sell to me; they had previously said they could not see how they could sell for less than $1000 to $1500 and it seemed as though no agreement could be made as I was limited to the price I could pay. An impression came to me, and I said: “Are you going to try to make us pay an exorbitant price for the blood of a martyred Prophet, when you know this property rightfully belongs to the Mormon people?” I felt the spirit of the Prophet Joseph in that room. Mr. Anton said, “We will sell the lot for $900.00.” I grasped his hand, then the hand of the cashier of the bank and the agreement was made and signed.
The next day, Wood and Smith drove to Carthage through a heavy rainstorm for the auction at the Hancock County courthouse. The auction opened at 11:00 a.m. After several other pieces of property were auctioned off, Lee E. Troute, clerk of the Circuit Court, announced the temple lot. Bank officers Anton and Reimbold nodded to Wood, who bid $900. Undoubtedly Wood and Smith held their breath, but there were no other bidders, the bank officials having agreed not to bid and not to influence anyone else to bid. Wood’s bid was accepted. Anton endorsed Wood’s check for $900, and Samuel Naylor, master of chancery of the Circuit Court, made out a certificate of purchase to the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.After nearly a hundred years, the most important part of Nauvoo’s temple square was again owned by the Church.
Although the Church now owned the actual site upon which the Nauvoo Temple once stood, the majority of temple square was still in the hands of private citizens. This initial purchase opened the way for the Church’s ultimate acquisition of the rest of temple square, but it would take nearly three decades to reach that goal. The second acquisition, however, occurred just two months after the Church’s initial purchase.
Although the motivation of the owners of lot 1 (the northeast corner of temple square) is not known, perhaps they viewed the recent sale of the temple site to the Church as an opportunity and so announced a public sale of their property for April 26, 1937. The property, comprised of four conjoined parcels, was owned by a number of persons and estates; the owners were represented by Jacob M. Fisher. Standing on the property was the Nauvoo Opera House, then housing a motion picture theater. After he was notified of the upcoming sale, Wilford C. Wood made a second trip to Nauvoo and acquired title to the property (nearly a fourth of temple square) on April 19, 1937, two weeks before the public auction. Wood paid $1,100 for the property, acting this time on his own volition without the interest or authorization of the Church.It is not known why the Church chose not to participate in this acquisition, but from here on, Wood acted on his own in all his purchases on temple square. Wood turned the property over to the Church on July 13, 1938. Sadly, that same year, the Nauvoo Opera House caught fire and burned down.
Three years would pass before Wood next acquired parcels on temple square. During 1940 and 1941, he purchased three of the four parcels comprising lot 4 on the southeast corner. On April 4, 1940, Joseph W. Kelley sold him one of the two remaining Icarian apartments, which Wood turned over to the Presiding Bishop on April 21, 1940.Two months later, on June 3, Mary E. Tholen sold him the largest parcel, comprising the entire northern portion of lot 4. Wood deeded this parcel to the Presiding Bishop on June 21. On October 29 of that same year, Wood began the process of purchasing the other Icarian house, which stood on the southeast corner of temple square. The property was held in undivided interest by three parties totaling twenty-six individuals. Working tenaciously, Wood secured the signatures of the first party, Virgil Nicaise and ten others, on September 20, 1941. He secured the signatures of the second party, Odille Hohl and twelve others, on November 13, 1941; the third party, Odille Hohl and L. E. Hohl, signed on November 14, 1941. It had taken Wood thirteen months to obtain a clear title to the property. He transferred title to the property to the Presiding Bishop on November 24, 1941.
During the 1950s, Wood made his last purchase of a lot on temple square; thereafter, the Church made its own purchases. On June 8, 1951, Clara K. Reimbold, the widow of Charles Reimbold, sold her large brick home on the northwest corner of lot 2 to Wood, who turned it over to President David O. McKay on June 28.The Presiding Bishopric made the final purchase of the remaining property of lot 4 from Louise Schafer on September 25, 1952. In 1958 the Church contracted with Henry Egolf to raze the remaining two Icarian apartments and the Schafer property, Egolf’s payment being what he could salvage. The demolition revealed that the apartments’ foundations were made from Nauvoo Temple limestone.
On February 11, 1959, after twenty-two months of negotiations, Richard C. Stratford, president of the Northern States Mission, acting as the agent for the Presiding Bishopric, acquired from Charles R. Snelgrove and his wife, Fidellia, the Palace Building and its twenty-five-foot-wide piece of property along the southern limit of lot 1.Much of the success of this transaction was due to the influence of city attorney Preston W. Kimball and former mayor Lowell S. Horton, both of whom served on the Historic Sites and Building Committee for the Nauvoo Chamber of Commerce. The Mississippi Valley Telephone Company, which still occupied the brick building although it was no longer adequate, was given until November 29, 1959, to vacate the building.
The local newspaper noted that, with the purchase of the Palace Building, “the Mormon church now own[ed] approximately 75% of what [was] known as temple square in Nauvoo.”This latest acquisition gave the Church title to all of lot 1 at the northeast corner of temple square. By the end of the 1950s, the Church owned all of lot 1 (the northeast section) and lot 4 (the southeast section) and most of lot 2 (the northwest section); the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now Community of Christ) owned a small parcel of lot 2 west of the temple site. The Roman Catholic Church owned all of lot 3 (the southwest section). The local press expressed its approval of the Church’s acquisition of temple square, “for where the Mormons are there is also progress.”
The Church’s final acquisitions of property on temple square occurred in the early 1960s. Hugh Pinnock orchestrated the purchase of the Saints Peter and Paul School and the Nauvoo Parish Hall on lot 3 from the Roman Catholic Church on July 22, 1961, for $100,000.Over the years, Pinnock had became fast friends with the nuns running the school. On every occasion when he was in the city, he visited the school. When the school closed in 1954 and interest declined in maintaining the building, Pinnock saw an opportunity to purchase the property. Because of the years of friendship and confidence he had nurtured with the Sisters, he was able to act successfully in the interest of the Church. At Pinnock’s funeral in December 2000, President Gordon B. Hinckley stated that this acquisition “was a significant step toward building the new Nauvoo Temple” because the property occupied a fourth of temple square, and without it the temple could never have been rebuilt.
The last purchase by the Church was the Adam Swartz residence and property on lot 2, west of the original temple location along Wells Street. The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints owned this property. Following negotiations, which were under way as early as July 1962, the Church exchanged three parcels of land in Independence, Missouri, for the Swartz parcel; the RLDS Church paid the difference between the costs of the properties.The RLDS Presiding Bishop transferred the title to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Presiding Bishop on September 26, 1962. With this tenth acquisition, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints once again owned the entire temple block, just as it had some 120 years earlier.
The Latter-day Saint Presence Returns
During the last half of the nineteenth century, a trickle of Latter-day Saints passed through Nauvoo, “some [coming] in reverence, some out of curiosity.”A typical visitor, Hannah T. King, who visited Nauvoo in May 1853, wrote, “We arrived at Montrose about noon, and then [we were] ferried over the Mississippi to the other side, having had the ruined Temple in view for some time. My feelings that day were altogether inexplicable; my impressions were pleasing, yet sad. Ruin and a curse seemed upon the spot which the wicked have desecrated.” Mormon missionaries also visited occasionally, finding a few receptive persons at the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1905 they held a missionary conference attended by sixty-five missionaries and nearly one hundred members; there were three baptisms performed during the conference. After this time, the missionaries established a short-lived dependent Sunday School, but overall, the Church did not maintain much of a presence in Nauvoo except for several conferences held on temple square, including the two-day 1939 centennial celebration mentioned above.
One memorable gathering occurred July 14, 1947, in honor of a seventy-two-car caravan that had made a four-day trip from Salt Lake City. The Centennial Caravan was sponsored by the Sons of Utah Pioneers, who were going to retrace the original pioneer trail from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City. Nauvoo citizens welcomed the Centennial Caravan, which encamped on temple square, the designated outfitting place for the caravan. Sounds of hammers and saws filled the air as the travelers decorated their automobiles to appear like covered wagons, complete with canvas tops and plywood oxen. During a meeting of the participants in the Parish Hall, the “walls fairly shook when the Mormons sang one of their favorite hymns, ‘Come, Come, Ye saints.’”The evening of the fourteenth, the city hosted a celebration, with two thousand persons in attendance. The festivities that evening included speeches by civic and Church leaders. The caravan departed the next morning, wending westward just as their forebears had some hundred years earlier.
However, it was not until 1951 that the Church reestablished a permanent and official presence on temple square. That year, after acquiring the Charles Reimbold brick home on the northwest corner, the Church turned the structure into a Bureau of Information for the visitors to the city.Then in August 1952, Wilford Wood, who had purchased the Reimbold home for the Church, returned to Nauvoo and oversaw the removal to temple square of a six-ton monument from near the foundation of Joseph Smith’s store on Water Street. The monument had been erected on July 26, 1933, and dedicated to the founding of the Nauvoo Female Relief Society.
On March 17, 1956, the Church organized the Nauvoo Branch; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had officially returned to Nauvoo.The members of the branch initially shared the Reimbold residence on the northwest corner of temple square with the Bureau of Information. The building’s second floor also served as residences for missionary couples who were being called to serve in the city. Although the branch was small—most of the members were actually missionary couples serving as guides—it provided a welcome place for the few local members, many of whom were willing to drive long distances to attend meetings. In March 1960, the branch left temple square for a new home in the Times and Seasons building on Main Street.
In August 1964, the Nauvoo Branch returned again to temple square, occupying the second floor of the Nauvoo Restoration, Inc., office building (the old Icarian schoolhouse) on the southwest corner. The branch held its worship, priesthood, and auxiliary meetings on temple square for the next five years. In 1968 the Church began constructing a new full-phase meetinghouse along Durphy and Hibbard Streets, overlooking the Nauvoo flats. The local members raised their share of the construction funds. Even long-time Nauvoo citizen “Aunt Sophia” Tanner Harsch contributed to the building fund by leaving the Nauvoo Branch $17,000 (the bulk of her estate) in her will. Harsch, who had died in an automobile accident in 1963 at age ninety-nine, had been well known and beloved in the community. Her parents had settled in Nauvoo in 1846, just as the Saints were leaving the city; she and her mother were good friends with Emma Smith. Harsch lived her entire life in the house on Mulholland Street where she was born. Although she was a Lutheran, in her later years she became friends with a number of Latter-day Saint women and enjoyed meeting with them in Relief Society.The meetinghouse was completed and dedicated on May 25, 1969, and the Nauvoo Branch left temple square for good.
The Nauvoo Restoration, Inc., Period, 1960s–1990s
Although a number of persons had nurtured visions of restoring Nauvoo and its temple, the man largely responsible for fulfilling the dream was Salt Lake City physician J. Leroy Kimball. In the 1930s, while a medical student at Northwestern University in Chicago, Kimball visited Nauvoo and saw the home of his great-grandfather Heber C. Kimball. He determined to purchase it, and after a twenty-year effort, he succeeded in acquiring it in 1954. Slowly he began to restore it as a comfortable summer home for his family, attempting also to retain its 1840s ambiance. Upon completing it in 1960, he invited Apostle Spencer W. Kimball to dedicate the remodeled home. The Kimball family was surprised when hundreds of persons showed up for the event and were pleased with the crowd’s interest in touring the building. So overwhelming was the demand for tours of the restored building that the Kimballs never spent a night in their summer home.These events, however, changed Dr. Kimball’s life, as he began to envision the possibility of restoring old Nauvoo, making it a historically accurate monument to the early Nauvoo Saints. He began to marshal the means for fulfilling his dream of acquiring the properties and restoring the crumbling structures, setting in motion a lifetime mission for himself.
Among Dr. Kimball’s first priorities was his determination to locate and excavate the original site of the Nauvoo Temple. He persuaded Harold P. Fabian, a member of the Advisory Board on National Parks, Historical Sites, Buildings and Monuments, and Dr. Melvin L. Fowler, an archaeologist from Southern Illinois University, to travel to Nauvoo and see if they could determine where the temple actually stood. The excavation of the temple site began on a bleak, wintry day in December 1961. Upon arriving at temple square, the party viewed the ground and found no evidence of the massive temple. After setting out five-foot-square grids where the men felt the temple might be located, the party began their work. Using a backhoe brought in “to rediscover, if possible, the actual site,” the party watched as the equipment dug into the frozen ground. Dr. Kimball recalled the day’s event: “To our amazement and relief, the blade of the machine immediately struck solid rock which turned out to be one of the south piers which supported the interior pillars of the temple. Our greatest expectations were realized as we gazed upon a sight no one had beheld for a century.”Ultimately, the party uncovered four of the piers, as well as a long-buried skeleton. Speculation among the Nauvoo residents concerning the excavation rippled across Nauvoo, including a report that the Church had a plan for “rebuilding the Nauvoo Temple.”
Heartened by the success of the previous winter’s excavation, in May 1962 Dr. Kimball invited Counselors in the First Presidency Hugh B. Brown and Henry D. Moyle plus a party of dignitaries to tour Nauvoo as the guests of local attorney Preston W. Kimball. The tour included temple square, where Dr. Fowler showed the previous winter’s excavation to the two counselors, who even descended into the six-foot-deep hole to view one of the piers uncovered the previous winter. The local paper carried a picture of the group in front of a large pile of temple limestone blocks. That evening the Nauvoo Chamber of Commerce feted the visitors at a dinner in the Hotel Nauvoo. The counselors tried to quell the rumors of Nauvoo restoration by the Church, pointing out to those assembled, “Although a final decision has not been made, the temple will probably not be rebuilt on the old foundation,” but “eventually a replica of the original may be built on another section of the square.”
However, Dr. Kimball gave a presentation of his vision of a restored Nauvoo to the First Presidency of the Church. After much discussion, the First Presidency embraced Dr. Kimball’s vision and incorporated Nauvoo Restoration, Inc. (NRI) on July 27, 1962. This nonprofit organization’s mission was to “acquire, restore, protect and preserve, for the education and benefit of its members and the public, all or a part of the old city of Nauvoo in Illinois, and the surrounding area.”Dr. Kimball became its first president. Under his able direction, it became a moving force in the continued acquisition of property and the restoration of Church historical sites and buildings throughout Nauvoo. NRI moved its offices into the recently acquired Saints Peter and Paul Parochial School. After extensive remodeling, the first floor of the building was turned into the new Bureau of Information. In one of the rooms were many pictures and sketches of “the proposed restoration program,” including drawings of the homes of Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, Lorin Farr, and Lucy Mack Smith. A newspaper reported that, when the Bureau of Information opened, “streams of visitors” entered “to learn more about the Restoration project.” As NRI assumed full responsibility for the restoration projects throughout Nauvoo, the Church transferred title of temple square to it on December 13, 1963.
During President Brown and President Moyle’s Nauvoo visit in May 1962, Dr. Fowler had announced that the Church had entered into a $16,000 contract with Southern Illinois University to excavate the temple site that summer under the direction of field supervisor Dee F. Green, a doctoral candidate. Team members came from local residents as well as students at West Illinois University, Southern Illinois University, and Brigham Young University. The Nauvoo Parish Hall was converted into a large workshop to clean and box artifacts. It also served as sleeping quarters for the men. Women were housed in local apartments. A truck served as an office for Green.In June the crew extended the existing 1962 grid and started the tedious task of excavating the temple site. The team’s main work that summer was the removal of five to six feet of overburden, which exposed an ash layer from the building’s fiery destruction and located most of the temple’s foundation walls. The excavated earth was heaped up opposite the temple site along Bluff Street. Local interest in the work was high; Green even authored a weekly report for the local newspaper, the Nauvoo Independent, describing the team’s progress and discoveries.
By the close of work in September, they had located and exposed the temple’s east, north, and south walls, although few actual stones remained. The west wall would have to await the removal of several trees on the former Adam Swartz property, recently acquired from the RLDS Church.The team had gained an idea of the probable arrangement of the basement’s interior walls, although more work was needed around the well, the font, and the west-side stairwells. The most exciting feature the team uncovered was a stone-lined tunnel about a foot square that penetrated the south wall. Green thought the tunnel was probably the drain for the font. During their work, the team had gathered fifteen hundred bags of artifacts, which were taken to Southern Illinois University for cataloging and analysis. They also found several fragments of sun, moon, and star stones; pieces of the font and oxen; and portions of carved moldings from the exterior and interior of the temple. Working from sketches prepared by staff artists Betty Marker and Dave Crowell, Dr. Fowler was finally able to draw a partial profile of the excavation showing the composition of the site’s vertical faces. Before leaving, the crew covered the excavation with plastic weighted down with dirt. Other teams would have to excavate the west wall and hand-expose the site’s finer features. Finally, someone needed to remove and sift ash deposit to uncover original floors and expose what remained beneath the rest of the ground.
Further work on Nauvoo’s temple square was postponed until 1966 while NRI studied the Nauvoo historical restoration program, in which the “problems of the temple site were being considered.”In 1966 excavation of the site began again under the direction of J. C. Harrington, who had been called as the director of NRI’s archaeological program in August of that year. That summer a team working under Virginia S. Harrington followed the 1962 grid and removed the dirt from a ten-foot area around the temple well that had not been uncovered by the 1962 excavation. Virginia Harrington returned in 1967, making exploratory trenches in the lower basement, and in 1968 she completed the excavation around the font and well.
During the summer of 1969, J. C. Harrington and Virginia Harrington jointly directed a large team that made the final excavation of the temple site. Finding that much of the original 1962 grid system had been lost to erosion, the Harringtons established a new one following a new scheme they had devised for all Nauvoo archaeological sites. They expanded the 1962 grid to ten-foot squares and extended it over the entire four-acre block. By the end of the season, the team had excavated the entire basement to the original basement floor levels, including the previously uncovered west wall that exposed the location of the two circular stairways. The team also explored the font drain tunnel further, attempting to identify its construction and direction. Finally, the workers sunk test trenches along Knight Street, seeking to locate the temple wall; they dug other trenches on temple square to establish historical ground levels.
With the completion of the archaeological investigation of temple square in 1969, the workers cleaned up the site, leaving some limestone blocks to indicate the foundation stones. They removed some of the debris but left the large pile of dirt from the 1962 dig on the east side. Temple square presented a cleaned-up appearance, but it was far from a garden spot. A few structures yet remained on the site, including the Adam Swartz home west of the temple site, the former Icarian schoolhouse, and the Charles Reimbold residence to the north.
Nauvoo Restoration, Inc.’s Proposal to
Partially Restore the Nauvoo Temple, 1968
With the final stages of the archaeological work on temple square completed, the question of what to do with the actual temple site naturally arose. As early as the summer of 1967, NRI was considering a partial restoration of the temple. In an article about the organization’s recent activities in Nauvoo, Dr. Kimball answered a question about the plans for temple square:
This has not been decided yet. One suggestion is to partially restore it, perhaps rebuilding only a corner of the building to the tower base. This will allow people to get an idea of the temple’s grandeur and permit them to climb to the top and see the beautiful view of the Mississippi River and the countryside about which so many visitors as well as the Saints wrote.
In fall 1968, NRI officially announced in the Improvement Era its ambitious plan for temple square. This plan included a large visitors’ center and museum, statuary, and a partial reconstruction of the temple. The purpose of the plan was “to create a center where the story of the Church [could] be told to the millions of tourists and nearby residents who travel through the Midwest.”
Although this proposal appeared in the Improvement Era, it was never adopted; instead, NRI substituted a much less elaborate plan. Rather than constructing a visitors’ center on temple square, NRI built a spacious two-story brick visitors’ center located on four square blocks bordered by Hibbard, Young, Main, and Partridge Streets. The center was dedicated in September 1971, and NRI relocated its headquarters from the old Icarian schoolhouse to the second floor of the new visitors’ center.
Temple Square—a Monument to the Past, 1970s–1990s
On July 1, 1971, the Church created the Nauvoo Mission from the Northern States Mission, with Dr. Kimball as its president.After NRI vacated the old Icarian schoolhouse in 1971, the Church decided to use the building as the mission home. The Icarian schoolhouse served only briefly as the mission home, however, because NRI undertook an extensive landscaping project on temple square during the 1970s to beautify it and to make its appearance a more suitable memorial. The plan called for the demolition of the two remaining structures: the Icarian schoolhouse and the Reimbold residence. During a special session on March 28, 1972, the Nauvoo City Council approved NRI’s request to destroy the 121-year-old Icarian schoolhouse, over the objection of local resident Florence Snyder, a descendent of the Icarians. She appeared before the council and lamented the removal of one of the city’s most historically prominent landmarks. However, the city council’s vote was unanimous in favor of NRI. Workmen razed the structure the following week. The last structure on the block, the former Reimbold brick home on the northwest corner, was demolished in April of the following year. Temple square was now completely clear of all structures, but much work still needed to be done to make the site presentable.
The work of landscaping temple square occupied most of the 1970s. Beginning in summer 1973, the workers’ major task was to clear away the rubble from the various excavations, much of it broken stone from the temple itself, and to grade the lot and plant sod.Irvin T. Nelson, Church landscape architect, supervised the project, which consisted of some seventeen different jobs throughout the lot. The task of removing all the limestone fragments proved arduous and time consuming. Nelson stated that his crews found debris from the temple everywhere. In preparing the site for 150 trees, the workers found stones in every hole they dug. “We had to haul off large rocks,” Nelson said, “and foundation materials by the hundreds and hundreds of yards.” The workers filled the holes with topsoil in preparation for planting the trees the following year.
The centerpiece of the project was, in Nelson’s words, “the Sacred Temple Enclosure.” The archaeologists had left the temple basement excavation unfilled but graded to prevent erosion. Under Nelson’s supervision, workers planted sod, outlined the foundation of the temple, and set stones to define the support piers and interior walls along the north and south sides. On each corner, they set a decorative stone. They placed red brick in the font area, defining the shape of the font. The well east of the font was protected by a wrought-iron grill. They laid brick to outline the two circular stairways at the west end of the excavation and built a looping chain-link fence around temple square. By the end of the working season, temple square presented a refreshingly clean appearance.In December, Elders Mark E. Petersen and Delbert L. Stapley of the Quorum of the Twelve and John H. Vandenburg, Assistant to the Twelve, toured temple square accompanied by President J. LeRoy Kimball, the Nauvoo Mission President. The Church leaders were duly impressed with the appearance of the temple lot. After viewing the temple enclosure, Elder Petersen remarked, “People who visit there can stand on the edge of the excavation and see the form and size of the temple as it was originally.”
The following year, 1974, workmen returned to finish the project, planting the trees and flower beds. They also built a sidewalk around the block and planted 1,250 feet of ornamental hedge around the perimeter, which soon overgrew and obscured the less attractive chain-link fence. In June 1975, Nelson described a plan to build a plaza east of the temple, with additional trees, shrubs, flowers, a flag pole, and a small model of the temple.During the summer of 1976, the beautification of temple square continued with the construction of the plaza, surrounded by flowerbeds. On the plaza’s eastern perimeter, crews erected three large limestone monoliths with engraved quotations. The one on the north, entitled “The City of Nauvoo,” gave a brief history of Mormon Nauvoo. The central one, “Temple of God,” gave a brief account of the purpose of the temple. The southern one, “The Nauvoo Temple,” recorded a brief history of the temple. For the temple model, workers made a three-foot-high base surrounded by red brick pavement set in a herringbone pattern like the basement floor of the original temple.
NRI commissioned David A. Baird, son of architect Steven Baird, to build the model of the temple. Beginning in April 1976, he sculpted the temple in clay and made wooden patterns from which molds were made. With the help of Utah artist Edward Fraughton, he made wax versions of each section, which were then used to make the final white bronze castings. More than one hundred fifty pieces were cast and assembled to make the model, which Baird secured with silver solder. Baird coated the completed model with Patina, giving the surface a weathered look. He finished the model in May 1977, and it was installed on its base that summer. The final model stood nine and a half feet high, fifty inches wide, and seventy-four inches long, and it weighed nearly one thousand pounds.By 1980 the model had been painted white to appear more like the actual temple. A number of pieces of original temple limestone fragments were placed on display, as well as full-size facsimiles of a moonstone and a sunstone.
The Church News reported in May 1977 that the “remodeled temple square in Nauvoo [was] scheduled to be dedicated in ceremonies on Aug[ust] 9, .”In August of that year, the Church News devoted a lengthy article, including a number of photographs, to the site. Temple square was now completely landscaped and decorated as a testament and monument to the faith, devotion, and artistry of the early Latter-day Saints and their beloved Nauvoo Temple. Dr. Leroy J. Kimball said that the newly completed temple square landscaping project was NRI’s “brightest diamond” and that the work done there was the most important of all NRI’s projects.
During the 1980s, NRI continued the restoration of many of the existing old Mormon structures and the total re-creation of destroyed structures on the “flats” below temple square. In August 1982, President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency traveled to Nauvoo to dedicate these historic structures. On August 14, more than two thousand persons gathered on temple square, an assembly believed to be the largest on the block since the 1840s. During the services, President Hinckley publicly dedicated sixteen recently restored historical structures and the landscaping of temple square.
A further refinement of temple square’s landscaping occurred in late October 1996, when workers tore out the hedge and chain-link fence, replacing them with a four-foot-high ornamental wrought-iron fence. The new fence resulted from an assignment given to missionary Verden Chambers, who had owned a small decorative iron business. Upon being asked to work on replacing temple square’s hedge, he approached Steven Peterson, who owned Peterson Engineering and Fabrication in Ogden, Utah. Peterson not only agreed to fabricate a new fence but also donated all the labor to install it. Peterson company employees donated more than ten thousand hours of labor in producing it, making 130 ten-foot panels.Peterson employees and NRI volunteers erected the new fence as well as new signs on each corner. Grant Fry of NRI commented on the appearance of temple square: “This new and significant improvement provides a very attractive and dignified enclosure inviting visitors to enjoy this peaceful and sacred spot.”
For the final two decades of the twentieth century, temple square served as a restful and beautifully landscaped park that drew thousands of visitors, both Mormons and others, to the site of the former temple. On April 6, 1991, NRI and the Illinois Peoria Mission, in whose boundaries the city of Nauvoo resided, sponsored a program in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the laying of the Nauvoo Temple’s cornerstones.Seventy-five persons gathered on the Nauvoo Temple plaza for the program. Under the direction of Nauvoo Stake President Walter H. Pierce, the program featured three speakers and musical numbers by the Nauvoo Stake Choir. A missionary, Stan Henderson, gave a brief history of the temple. He was followed by Mike Trapp, a local expert on the temple, who described the events 150 years ago. The concluding speaker was Hyrum Mack Smith, who recalled the words his great-grand uncle Joseph Smith said at the southeast cornerstone. Stake Relief Society President Teresa Griffith presented a United States flag to President Pierce in commemoration of the presentation of a similar flag to Joseph Smith in 1841. In conclusion, Dan Hahl presented a plaque to Nauvoo Mayor Dale Bruegger. The small wooden plaque, which bore a replica of a sunstone and an inscription, stated that it “was presented to the people of Nauvoo as a token of our appreciation for the peace and friendship we now enjoy with them.”
The final and fitting ornament added to temple square during this period was one of its original sunstones (fig. 6), which had been on public display at the Nauvoo State Park for over forty years.NRI conservators, however, became concerned about the stone, noting its deteriorating condition; they were also apprehensive about potential vandalism. After negotiations, the Illinois State Department of Conservation made the Church the custodian of the precious artifact on December 2, 1991. Obtaining permission from the state, the Church removed the stone from its setting on March 9, 1992, and transported it to the nearby NRI workshops, where conservators repaired it prior to its relocation on temple square. There it was enclosed in a specially constructed glass-and-steel case designed to protect the fragile limestone carving and to stabilize its environment. The unveiling of the stone took place on June 26, 1994, one day before the 150th anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith. Over six hundred persons gathered on the plaza for the impressive dedicatory ceremonies directed by President Howard W. Hunter.
Among the speakers that day was Gordon B. Hinckley, then a Counselor in the First Presidency. President Hinckley, like his father, Bryant S. Hinckley, had deep appreciation and love for the Nauvoo Temple and great admiration for the sacrifice of those who built it. During his remarks, he “traced the history of the Nauvoo Temple,” explaining the significance of the moon, sun, and stars symbolic stones. He also described the purpose of the temple in these words: “This building was to be concerned with things of eternity. It was to stand as a witness to all who should look upon it that those who built it had a compelling faith and a certain knowledge that the grave is not the end, but that the soul is immortal and goes on growing.”President Hinckley’s words took on special significance on April 4, 1999, when, as President of the Church, he surprised the worldwide congregation of general conference with his announcement that the Nauvoo Temple would be rebuilt, ensuring that it would once again literally “stand as a witness” to all people that the Lord had not forgotten it.
Later that summer, President Hinckley visited Nauvoo’s temple square and, while reminiscing about the dedicatory services held there on August 14, 1982, confided to Hugh Pinnock, “You know I dedicated this site for the reconstruction of the Nauvoo Temple.”It is entirely fitting that President Hinckley, whose father had recommended that the Church rebuild the Nauvoo Temple some seventy years earlier, should be in a position as President of the Church to shepherd the temple’s reconstruction.
Of all the buildings restored for the public by the Church in Nauvoo, the temple stands alone, wholly unique. As meticulously as these buildings in Nauvoo were restored, all of them were designed primarily as museum pieces of the past. They were never intended to be functioning residences, businesses, or public buildings. Only the Nauvoo Illinois Temple was designed from the beginning to be both a restored and a fully functioning building. After three years of construction, followed by a six-week public open house in which over 330,000 persons toured the building, President Hinckley dedicated the new temple on June 27, 2002, the 158th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s martyrdom.A consecrated temple now stands again on the very site where Joseph Smith had laid the cornerstones for a temple in 1841. The Prophet’s vision, once destroyed, has been literally fulfilled. After a century and a half, Nauvoo’s temple square has been returned to its divinely intended state as sacred space, for the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that he had chosen and consecrated it as the place for his holy house (D&C 124:43).