The Nauvoo Temple “A monument of the Saints”
David R. Crockett
In August 1840, Joseph Smith announced to the members of the Church in Nauvoo that the time had again come to build a temple. On 19 January 1841, he recorded a revelation from the Lord commanding the Saints to Abuild a house to my name.@ (D&C 124:27.) William Weeks was appointed architect and superintendent of the temple construction. He was guided by the Joseph Smith, who said: AI have seen in vision the splendid appearance of that building illuminated, and will have it built according to the pattern shown me.@
Stone quarries near the city were used. The large stones were roughly cut at the quarries, hauled to the temple lot, and then polished and put into place. On 6 April 1841, a cornerstone ceremony was held. It was a grand celebration, with Joseph Smith presiding. Bands played, the Nauvoo Legion marched, and Sidney Rigdon preached to a congregation of nearly ten thousand people.
By November 1841, the basement rooms were enclosed and a temporary roof was constructed. A temporary wooden font resting on twelve wooden oxen was used for baptisms, both for the living and for the dead. By 30 October 1842, the temple walls were four feet high and a temporary floor was put on the main story. About three thousand people gathered for the first official meeting held in the temple.
The martyrdom of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum temporarily slowed down construction in June 1844. The walls were high, yet incomplete. Brigham Young was determined to continue the work on the temple. He said, AI would rather pay out every cent to build up this place and receive an endowment, even were I driven the next minute without anything to take.@
During July 1844, the Saints again committed themselves to completing the sacred building. By December 1844, the thirty pilasters (columns) on the exterior of the temple were almost complete. Each pilaster contained a moon stone and a sun stone. Star stones were put above each pilaster. On 6 December 1844 the final sun stone was raised up to be put in place. While doing so, one of the block shives broke, and the stone almost fell. After a couple hours work, repairs were made and the last sun stone was put into place.
The temporary wooden baptismal font began to leak and was removed. As soon as the stone- cutters finished the walls, they went to work on a font made of stone. On 16 March 1845, Brigham Young expressed an urgency for the Saints to hasten their work on the temple. He promised the Saints that if they worked on the temple, they would be blessed, that the Lord would make it up to them when their crops were harvested. On the following day, 105 extra workers showed up to labor on the sacred building.
On 24 May 1845 the walls were complete and the capstone was ready to set into place. A large congregation assembled, and in Aperfect silence@ watched William Player spread the mortar. Brigham Young stood on the stone and set it into place. He pronounced the capstone set and the band played the ACapstone March@ composed by William Pitt. Brigham Young proclaimed, AThe last stone is now laid upon the Temple and I pray the Almighty in the name of Jesus to defend us in this place and sustain us until the Temple is finished and we have all got our endowments.@ The entire congregation then participated in the Hosanna shout. With the walls complete, much work still remained on the interior of the temple. Workers were just about ready to start framing the attic level.
Brigham Young wrote to Wilford Woodruff in England, on 27 June 1845, and told him about the progress on the temple. AThe frame work of the roof is on the building, and the next week the brethren expect to put on the shingles; the frame work around the foundation of the tower is all up, and the first timbers for the tower itself were raised this day. The new stone font is mostly cut, and the first stone was laid today at about four o=clock. We expect in about five or six weeks the attic story of the Temple and the font will be all finished and ready for dedication.@ By 13 August 1845 the roof was complete.
On 5 October 1845, General Conference was held in temple. The windows were in, temporary floors laid, pulpits constructed, and seats brought in. Brigham Young dedicated the partially completed temple Aas a monument of the Saints.@ The Church leaders announced that because of continued persecution, the Saints would soon vacate the city, nevertheless construction would continue on the temple. The Saints were counseled to pay their tithing to raise desperately needed funds. Heber C. Kimball proclaimed: AI would rather go into the wilderness with a pack on my back . . . and have the temple finished than to go with my wagon loaded down with gold and the temple not finished.@
Temple Ordinances Administered
The Church leaders decided to use the attic level of the temple to administer the temple ordinances before the Saints left Nauvoo. On 30 November 1845, the attic level was dedicated. At this service, Elder John Taylor again sang the stirring hymn, AA Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.@ During the following week, the Twelve prepared the temple for ordinances, and Saints throughout the city donated furniture, pictures, curtains, rugs, and other items to adorn the House of the Lord.
On 10 December 1845, the first endowment ordinances were administered in the temple. Thousands received their sacred ordinances during the winter of 1845-46. Brigham Young and other members of the Twelve worked tirelessly each day in the temple, at times only pausing to rest for a half hour. After long hours of temple work, at times the attic area was cleared of furniture and for dances and feasts. The sounds of Hans C. Hanson=s violin and Elisha Averett=s flute filled the air. Brigham Young would instruct the group that the temple was a holy place and that when they danced, they danced unto the Lord.
As worries of increased persecution mounted, the temple work continued at a feverish pace. Construction progressed on the lower interior floors of the temple. Outside the temple, the Saints labored hard. They constructed wagons, gathered provisions, and prepared to start leaving the city.
On 2 January 1846, in the Celestial Room of the Nauvoo Temple, Brigham Young uttered these prophetic words:
We can=t stay in this (temple) but a little while. We have got to build another house. It will be a larger house than this, and a more glorious one. And we shall build a great many houses. We shall come back here and we shall go to Kirtland, and build houses all over the continent of North America.
As work continued on the lower floors of the temple, on 8 January 1846 an accident occurred. While Lorenzo Brown was working on a scaffold, it collapsed and he fell, along with five others, from a height of about fifteen feet. They fell on tools, timbers and planks. Lorenzo was the only one who escaped injury. The most serious injuries were received by Josiah Perry. His feet were broken and he never fully recovered.
On 2 February 1845, Brigham Young announced that temple ordinances would cease. When he came to the temple on the following morning, he found a large crowd of people seeking their ordinances. President Young was somewhat frustrated because he knew they had to leave Nauvoo before their enemies could intercept them. He told the brethren that it was not wise to continue, that more temples would be built in the future. He informed the crowd that he was going to hitch up his wagons and start the journey west. He walked a small distance from the Temple, hoping that the crowd would disperse, but when he returned, he found the temple overflowing with people. Looking at the multitude, understanding their anxiety and thirst for knowledge, he decided to continue working in the temple for a few more days.
7 February 1846, was the final day for temple ordinances in the Nauvoo Temple. Work had been performed around the clock for two days. About six hundred people received their ordinances on that final day. At least 5,615 Saints were blessed to have received their endowments in the Nauvoo Temple.
Nauvoo Exodus Begins
The brethren turned their attention to leaving for the west. On 8 February 1846, members of the Twelve knelt around the altar of the temple asking the Lord to bless their journey. They asked Him to enable them to complete the temple and have it formally dedicated.
On the following day, 9 February 1846, the temple roof caught on fire! An alarm was sounded and many men ran to the rescue. A bucket brigade was organized. Axes were used to tear up the roof, and water was thrown on the fire. After raging for a half hour, the fire was put out and the Saints shouted AHallelujah.@ The fire had been caused by an overheated stove pipe.
Six days later, Brigham Young started his historic journey to the west. As the Saints crossed the Mississippi River, and made their way to Sugar Creek Camp, they would stop on the crest of a hill and gaze back at their city and beloved temple. John R. Young wrote:
The silvery notes of the temple bell
That we loved so deep and well;
And a pang of grief would swell the heart,
And the scalding tears in anguish start
As we silently gazed on our dear old homes.
When Brigham Young and other members of the Twelve departed on their journey, the temple was not closed. In fact the temple was still not finished. Construction workers continued their labors on the sacred building even though they understood that it would soon be abandoned. Truman Angell was appointed as the superintendent and was given charge to see that the temple was completed. Repairs were made to the fire-damaged roof. A lead patch was placed on the hole until plastering could be done. Hundreds came to the temple to see the damage and to climb the tower to take in the breath-taking view. The temple attic continued to be used each night for prayer meetings, and Sunday public services were conducted in the large main-floor assembly room.
On 22 February 1846, Brigham Young was back in Nauvoo to conduct some final business. This would be his final day in the city. A public meeting was held in the temple in the main-floor assembly room. A large crowd assembled, placing a huge amount of weight on the new floor. While Benjamin Clapp opened the meeting with prayer, the floor settled down about one inch and made a very loud cracking sound. People screamed and started to run in every direction. Some started to smash windows and jumped out like Amad cats.@ Brigham Young tried to calm the panic and the meeting was moved out to the grove near the temple. The floor was examined and was given a clean bill of health. When the congregation came together out in the foot-deep snow, President Young, probably with some impatience in his voice, told the people that they could now jump up and down as much as they pleased. He told them that they should know better than to become so frightened just because the floor of the temple settled a little.
On that afternoon, the members of the Twelve left Nauvoo, except for Orson Hyde, who would continue to provide leadership for the Church. He was given instructions to dedicate the temple when it was complete. Three other brethren were appointed as ANauvoo Trustees.@ Their duties were to oversee the sale of Church property left behind in the city.
A ANight@ of Pentecost
On 15 March 1846, the temple was still not complete, but many Saints in the city experienced a spiritual ADay of Pentecost,@ or rather a ANight of Pentecost.@ In the evening a small group of Saints gathered in the temple to partake of the sacrament. As they were overcome by the Spirit, some of the brethren spoke in tongues and others prophesied. While one brother described a vision, a light was seen over his head. The face of another brother shined with great brightness. Two heavenly beings were seen in the northeast corner of the room and the Holy Ghost was felt by all present. This spiritual meeting continued until midnight. Thomas Bullock said it Awas the most profitable, happy, and glorious meeting I had ever attended in my life.@
While this sacred meeting was taking place in the temple, Chester Loveland was called out of bed by his mother-in-law, who cried out with alarm that the Temple was again on fire! He dressed Aas quick as lightning@ and ran outside, seeing the temple all in a blaze. He studied it for a few seconds and realized that the flames were not consuming the temple. He also didn=t see anyone else running to the rescue and concluded that it was the glory of God. He returned to bed.
Another brother saw the belfry on fire at 9:45 p.m. He ran as fast as he could, but when he reached the temple he found it dark, secure, and unharmed. At about this time, Sister Almira Lamb, with others in her room, saw a vision of her dead child. It appeared to her in great glory and filled the room with light. Others dreamed inspired dreams that night. It was truly a night of spiritual feast.
Completion of Temple
On 6 April 1846, the Saints in Nauvoo held General Conference in the basement of the Nauvoo temple where the baptismal font was located. They could not meet in the upper levels because the workmen were painting. They could not meet in the grove near the temple because of rainy weather. Elder Orson Hyde offered prayer but the conference was quickly adjourned until the following day because of their cramped conditions.
A week later Elder Wilford Woodruff returned from his long mission to England, and arrived by river boat. He wrote in his journal: AIn about two hours we came in sight of the splendid Temple built by the Latter-day Saints and also the city of Nauvoo. I immediately got my spyglass and examined the city. The Temple truly looked splendid.@ On the following day he and his family were taken on a tour of all the rooms in the temple. Elder Woodruff addressed the Saints in the temple grove on Sunday and expressed deep appreciation for the privilege of speaking to the Saints in view of the sacred temple.
On 23 April 1846, the carpenters working on the Nauvoo Temple reported to the superintendent, Truman Angell, that they had completed their work. They swept away their shavings and cleaned up their tools. The painters and masons still had much hard work left.
Meanwhile, many miles to the west, Brigham Young and hundreds of pioneer Saints were camped at Garden Grove, Iowa. They received a letter from Elder Orson Hyde reporting that a wealthy Catholic bachelor wished to purchase the temple and in doing so, immortalize his name. He would probably pay nearly two hundred thousand dollars and also buy other properties. This prompted discussions among the Twelve whether or not to sell the temple. Before leaving Nauvoo they had agreed that the temple should not be sold, but rather should be rented. Several members of the Twelve had very uneasy feelings regarding selling the temple. They shuddered at the very thought of a congregation listening to a Amob priest@ in that holy place.
After Asleeping on it,@ the Council decided to authorize the Nauvoo Trustees to sell the temple. The funds would be used to help the needy Saints move westward. They felt that the temple would be better protected if it was sold rather than be retained by the Church. Bishop Newel K. Whitney still felt reluctant toward this plan. Brigham Young shared with him a dream he had dreamt during the previous night. In the dream he was the steward of a store. He took some important steps while his employer was away. His master returned, smiled and said: AYou have done well. I intend to buy a large store filled with all kinds of commodities, all of which shall be under your control as you understand the affairs of my government and will do my people good.@ After President Young related this dream, Bishop Whitney voted in favor of the plan to sell the temple.
Back in Nauvoo, on 29 April 1846, the temple was finally completed! A group of temple construction workers met with their wives in the attic of the temple and had a feast of cakes, pies, and other items to celebrate the event. They enjoyed themselves participating in prayer, preaching, and blessing children until midnight.
On the following evening, 30 April 1846, Elder Wilford Woodruff, Elder Orson Hyde, and twenty others went to the temple for a private dedication of that sacred building. A private service was held because of the possibility of mob interference during the service. Brother Joseph Young (Brigham=s brother) offered the dedicatory prayer. He dedicated the temple to the Lord as a witness that His people sacrificed to fulfill His commandments. He prayed for the workmen who worked amidst persecution, for the leaders of the Camp of Israel that the way would be opened up for them to find a gathering place for the Saints. This was a very significant event because so many people had predicted that the temple would never be completed. Elder Woodruff wrote, ANotwithstanding the many false prophesies of Sidney Rigdon and others that the roof should not go on nor the House be finished, and the threats of the mob that we should not dedicate it, yet we have done both and we had an interesting time.@ At the close of the dedication, the congregation offered up shouts of AHosanna@ to the Lord. Prayers were offered that the mob would not disturb them during the public dedication of the temple.
On the following morning, 1 May 1846, a public dedication of the Nauvoo temple was held. About three thousand Saints attended the service. A one dollar admission was charged to help pay some of the temple construction workers. Elder Orson Hyde shared some remarks and then offered the dedicatory prayer:
Holy and Everlasting Father, before Thee this morning we present ourselves and acknowledge Thy mercy that has been extended to us since we have been on Thy footstool, and for this opportunity of dedicating this house....By the authority of the Holy Priesthood now we offer this building as a sanctuary to Thy Worthy Name. We ask Thee to take the guardianship into Thy hands and grant that Thy Spirit shall dwell here and may all feel a sacred influence on their hearts that His Hand has helped this work. Accept of our offering this morning....Let Thy Spirit rest upon those who have contributed to the building of this temple, the laborers on it that they may come forth to receive kingdoms and dominions and glory and immortal power. Accept of us we pray Thee, inspire every bosom to do Thy will, cause that truth may lead them for the glorious coming of the Son of God when you come in the name of the King, the Lord of Hosts shall be the King. Gather us in Thy Kingdom through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.
Why the Temple was Completed
On the Sunday following the dedication, the Saints gathered together in the temple for a Sabbath meeting. Orson Hyde discussed why they had gone to all the trouble in completing the temple. AIf we moved forward and finished this house we should be received and accepted as a church with our dead, but if not we should be rejected with our dead. These things have inspired and stimulated us to action in the finishing of it which through the blessing of God we have been enabled to accomplish and prepared it for dedication. In doing this we have only been saved as it were by the skin of our teeth.@
Elder Woodruff concluded the meeting by testifying of the truthfulness of Elder Hyde=s words. AThe Saints had labored faithfully and finished the temple and were now received as a Church with our dead. This is glory enough for building the temple and thousands of the Saints have received their endowment in it. And the light will not go out.@
During the weeks that followed, many families crossed the river to begin their trek to the west. With sad feelings they would stop and gaze back for one last look at their city and temple. Luman Shurtliff recalled: AI turned my back to the west and took a last look at the Nauvoo Temple and its surroundings and bade them goodbye forever.@ Priddy Meeks earlier recorded the same experience: AWhile crossing a ridge, seven miles from Nauvoo, we looked back and took the last sight of the Temple we ever expected to see. We were sad and sorrowful.@ Jesse Crosby added: AWe ascended the bluffs, and some six miles from Nauvoo, we found ourselves on a high and sightly place where we had a most splendid view of the temple and almost every house in Nauvoo. This was a farewell view.@
As Elder Wilford Woodruff departed, his thoughts were turned to the Lord in prayer. He wrote in his journal, AI left Nauvoo for the last time perhaps in this life. I looked upon the Temple and City of Nauvoo as I retired from it and felt to ask the Lord to preserve it as a monument of the sacrifice of His Saints.@
The Battle of Nauvoo
During June of 1846, anti-Mormon mob hostilities increased. Thousands of Saints still had not left the city. The temple grounds became a rallying point for the defenders of the city. On 14 June 1846, seven hundred men gathered at the temple with their firearms because a large mob had assembled at nearby Golden Point threatening to attack the temple. When the temple bell rang, the defenders met on the green near the temple. Stephen Markham led the troops into the temple and rallied them together. On this occasion the mob dispersed and did not dare to approach the city, but these renewed threats prompted many families to quickly leave their homes and start their journey to the west.
During September 1846 the mob organized again and marched on the city, now inhabited mostly by sick and needy Saints who had been unable to leave. A fierce battle raged for several days. A small band of defenders did their best to fend off the lawless force who wished to expel those who remained. The mayor of Quincy watched the battle from the top of the temple. Eventually the leaders who remained in Nauvoo decided that it was time to surrender. Their lives were in peril and it did not seem wise to continue the fight. A treaty was signed. Many Saints fled across the river before the mob entered the city.
Daniel H. Wells reported, AAs the mob came in, we left two blocks in advance. We met many of the Saints on this side of the river in distress and it drew tears from the eyes of some of the mob.@ The mob marched to the temple and received the keys to the temple doors. They marched around the temple and then camped on a field on Parley Street. Thomas Bullock wrote, AWhen they encamped, some speeches were made and the men yelled and screamed like savages.@
Desecration of Temple by the Mob
The mob ignored the terms of the treaty. Joseph Fielding wrote with sadness regarding the desecration of the temple: AThey rendezvoused in the temple. We had guarded it by night and day, a long time feeling unwilling to leave it in their hands, but they now had it to themselves. They even preached in it and cursed the Saints, but did no great damage to it, thinking it would add to the value of their property.@
Benjamin Ashby, who was among the sick, cold, Apoor camp@ across the river recorded, AAt night we could hear the sound of the (temple) bell and the base drum from the tower of the temple where the mob were carousing after banishing from their pleasant homes, innocent men, women and children to perish in the wilderness among tribes of savage Indians.@
On the following day the mob marched through the temple, up to the top of the tower. They rang the temple bell and shouted. Thomas Bullock wrote, AA mob preacher ascended to the top of the tower and standing outside proclaimed with a loud voice >Peace, Peace, Peace to all the inhabitants of the earth, now the Mormons are driven.=@
A correspondent for the Burlington Hawkeye visited Nauvoo and reported his experience in the newspaper. AWe proceeded to the Mansion House, where we met with a small detachment of soldiers and a number of strangers. From thence we went to the Temple.@ There he observed soldiers sleeping in the seats of the pulpits. AOn every hand lay scattered about in beautiful confusion, muskets, swords, cannon balls, and terrible missiles of death. Verily thought I, how are the holy places desecrated!@
A few days later Brother Edwin Woolley was able to revisit Nauvoo and he observed, AThe city is now in possession of the Mob, who are ransacking every house in it except those that are known to be not of the highest order. The temple is their headquarters, they have a barrel of whiskey in it and are drinking and carousing in mob style.@
During late September 1846, the mob had total control of the once beautiful, now almost deserted, city of Nauvoo. They took Colonel Johnson prisoner. He had been one of the leaders of the defenders of Nauvoo. They held a court martial over him at the temple and passed a sentence of death. After squabbling over the way to execute him, they finally just ordered him to leave the city.
Colonel Thomas L. Kane, friend of the Mormons, arrived at Nauvoo after spending many weeks with the pioneer company camped in the Council Bluffs area. He later described his visit to the temple.
I was descending the last hill-side upon my journey, when a landscape in delightful contrast broke upon my view. Half-encircled by the bend of the river, a beautiful city lay glittering in the fresh morning sun; its bright new dwellings, set in cool, green gardens, ranging up around a stately dome-shaped bill which was crowned by a noble marble edifice whose high tapering spire was radiant with white and gold. . . .
In and around the splendid temple which had been the chief object of my admiration, armed men were barracked, surrounded by their stacks of musketry and pieces of heavy ordinance. . . . They . . . conducted me inside the massive sculptured walls of the curious temple, in which they said the banished inhabitants were accustomed to celebrate the mystic rites of an unhallowed worship. They particularly pointed out to me certain features of the building. . . they led me to see a large and deep chiseled marble vase or basin, supported by twelve oxen, also of marble, and of the size of life.
They permitted me also to ascend into the steeple to see where it had been lightning-struck on the Sabbath before, and to look out east and south, on wasted farms like those I had seen near the city, extending till they were lost in the distance. There, in the face of the pure day, close by the scar of divine wrath left by the thunderbolt, were fragments of food, cruises of liquor, and broken drinking vessels, with a brass drum and a steamboat signal-bell.
The mob gave trouble to many of the non-Mormons remaining in Nauvoo who had been friendly to the Saints. These citizens published a newspaper named the Hancock Eagle. On 5 October 1846, they reported that the Nauvoo Temple had sustained much damage from the mob. AHoles have been cut through the floors, the stone oxen in the basement have been considerably disfigured, horns and ears dislodged, and nearly all torn loose from their standing.@ Names had been carved in the woodwork of the large assembly room on the main floor.
Across the river, near Montrose, Iowa, several hundred Saints remained camped in Athe poor camp.@ They heard a rumor that the mob had removed the angel weather vane and the ball from the top of the temple. The rumor proved to be false, but the Saints continued to worry about the temple that they loved so dearly.
The Temple is Returned to the Church
By mid-October, the mob was pretty much losing interest. Local public opinion was working against them. Most of them returned to their homes. Still about ten men remained and refused to let any of the Saints return to the city. But a few made it in. Horace Whitney wrote about his visit:
It appears by their statements that the mob have been pretty busy, plundering houses, ripping open feather beds and scattering the contents in the streets. They have also defaced the Temple considerably, inside and out, such as knocking horns from the oxen in the font, running about the streets and imitating the blowing of horns with them and doing other acts of sacriledge too numerous to mention. . . . The mob have torn down the altars and pulpits in the Temple and converted that edifice into a meat market.@
Finally, on 20 October, the mob turned the keys of the temple back over to a Brother Paine. The temple was again back in the hands of the Nauvoo Trustees who had been permitted to remain in the city.
On 5 April 1847, Almon W. Babbitt, one of the Nauvoo Trustees wrote to Brigham Young reporting that he had visited many cities in the east and that $100,000 was the largest offer that he had received for the temple and Church property in Nauvoo. Elder Willard Richards replied, and counseled against selling the temple for a low price. AHas the Lord turned bankrupt? or are his children so needy that they are obliged to sell their Father=s house for a morsel of bread?@ Besides, if the temple was sold, the money would be sought by those filing unjust lawsuits. The Daily Missouri Republican reported in June 1847 that the temple had been sold to the Catholic Church for $75,000. However, the sale was cancelled the following month because of a defect found in the title.
Brigham Young reached the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847, and then returned back to Winter Quarters. In meetings during January 1848 at Winter Quarters, Brigham Young mentioned that he no longer wished to see the Nauvoo Temple sold.
Later that summer, on 9 July 1848, Elder Wilford Woodruff again visited Nauvoo on his way to a mission in the eastern states. He crossed over the Mississippi River in a steamboat and walked into Nauvoo for the first time since he left there on 22 May 1846. He wrote: AI visited the Temple and went over it from the bottom to the top where I once more had a full view of the once beautiful, but now desolate, city of Nauvoo. The temple was in a much better state of preservation than I expected to find it.@
The Temple Burns Down
On 9 October 1848 tragedy struck. The newspaper Nauvoo Patriot reported:
Our citizens were awakened by the alarm of fire, which, when first discovered, was bursting out through the spire of the temple, near the small door that opened from the east side to the roof, on the main building. The fire was seen first about three o=clock in the morning, and not until it had taken such hold of the timbers and roof as to make useless any effort to extinguish it. The material of the inside were so dry, and the fire spread so rapidly, that a few minutes were sufficient to wrap this famed edifice in a sheet of flame. It was a sight too full of mournful sublimity. . . . Although the morning was tolerably dark, still, when the flames shot upwards, the spire, the streets and houses for nearly a mile distant were lighted up, so as to render even the smallest objects discernible. The glare of the vast torch, pointing skyward, indescribably contrasted with the universal gloom and darkness around it; and men looked on with faces sad as if the crumbling ruins below were consuming all their hopes.
The Keokuk Register read:
As the flames shot up to the sky, they threw a lurid glare into the surrounding darkness. Great volumes of smoke and flame burst from the windows, and the crash of falling timbers was distinctly heard on the opposite side of the river. The interior of the building was like a furnace; the walls of solid masonry were heated throughout and cracked by the intense heat. The melted zinc and lead was dropping from its huge block.
Arson was suspected and later a man name Joseph Agnew was accused of starting the fire and receiving a cash reward for the deed. The tower crumbled, the insides were destroyed, and only blackened walls remained. Some people in Carthage, Illinois praised those who set the fire as Aupright honorable men, not vandals,@ and the anti-Mormon Warsaw Signal called the arson a Abenevolent act.@
The arsonist, many years later, confessed to the deed and explained that he and two others, posing as traveling visitors, asked the temple guard for a tour of the building. Agnew stole a key and later that night went up into the temple attic and started the fire Awhere it would get a good start before it would shed any light to be seen from the outside (probably in the very spot which was used as the Celestial Room) . . . . I began to retrace my steps with joy and a light heart for I was sure that the Temple was as good as burned.@ Agnew then became lost in the dark building and became trapped in fire. He wrapped his coat around his head, ran through the flames, and came out of the temple badly burned and bruised. AAfter going about one-half mile I looked toward Nauvoo and I saw flickering light and the next minute flames burst through the roof.@
Fire alarms were sounded and the citizens of Nauvoo organized a bucket brigade. They fought the fire all night, but to no avail.
News of the destruction of the temple brought a feeling of great sadness to Saints. Yet the leaders also felt a sense of relief to know that the sacred building had been Apurified by fire from the pollution@ of the wicked. Brigham Young later said, AI hoped to see it burned before I left, but I did not. I was glad when I heard of its being destroyed by fire, and of the walls having fallen in, and said, >Hell, you cannot now occupy it.=@
The Icarians Purchase the Temple
During March 1849, the Icarians, a group of French immigrants who wished establish a Utopian community, purchased considerable property in the deserted city and they bought the charred ruins of the Nauvoo Temple. They intended to put a roof back on the building and use it as a seminary for their people.
Dr. John M. Bernhisel wrote of his visit to temple site in 1849:
Though the walls of the Temple are standing, yet they are much cracked, especially the east one; and not a vestige of the once beautiful font remains. There has been nothing done to rebuild it, except clearing away some rubbish, and it is highly probable there will never be anything more done. The Temple is enclosed with a rude fence, and is used as a sheepfold and cow pen.
The Icarian construction work started in 1850 with a plan to convert the basement area to communal kitchens and dining rooms. But during 27 May 1850, a windstorm or cyclone further destroyed the weakened structure, blowing down the north wall. The sound of the crashing wall could be heard for three miles.
Emile Vallet, who was with the masons working in the basement, described the tragedy:
At 3 o=clock p.m. a distant report of thunder announced the approach of a storm. At their request I stepped out to ascertain whether it was a severe storm or not. Seeing only an insignificant cloud, I reported no danger. We continued to work. . . .Suddenly a furious wind began to blow; four of the masons fearing the non-solidity of the walls, left to seek shelter elsewhere. Seven of us remained, taking refuge in the tool room on the south side. If there is a Providence it was on our side, for hardly had we taken our position than the tornado began to tear small rocks from the top of the walls and flew in every direction. We became frightened. Some proposed to run away, others opposed it on the ground that it was dangerous, as those loose rocks could fall on our heads and kill us. Before we had decided whether we should stay or run, one of us that was watching exclaimed: AFriends, we are lost, the north wall is caving in!@ And so it was. A wall sixty feet high was coming on us, having only forty feet to expand. We fled to the southwest corner, deafened with terror.
More stones fell off and soon only the front west wall was standing. Many of the stones from the crumbling temple were used by the Icarians to build a school near the site. Other stones were hauled away to be used in other structures in and around Nauvoo. A large quantity of temple stone was shipped to St. Louis, Missouri. On 18 October 1852, Dr. Moritz Wagner visited Nauvoo and he reported: ASome building stones from the Mormon Temple were sold in my presence to a builder from St. Louis for $1,500.@
The temple ruins were a curious sight to those who traveled up and down the Mississippi River. Steamboats would pause half a day at the wharf to allow passengers to go and view its ruins. In 3 November 1850, Frederika Bremer wrote: AWe are now in sight of Nauvoo, formerly the capital of the Mormon district, and the magnificent ruin of their former temple is standing on its elevated site.@
In 1853 Fredrick Piercy visited Nauvoo. He wrote: AThe first objects I saw, approaching the city, were the remains of what was once the temple, situated on the highest eminence of the city and which in the days of its prosperity must have been to it what the cap or stone is to a building. On the banks of the river lie broken blocks of stone and shattered bricks and the visitor=s first steps are over evidence of ruin and desolation.@
During the 1850s many new converts would visit Nauvoo on the way to the Salt Lake Valley. At times they would take long detours in order to make the pilgrimage.
Temple Ruins Disappear
During the mid 1860s, because of safety issues, the city officials in Nauvoo decided to level the remaining portion of the temple ruins. The Carthage Republican reported on 2 February 1865:
The last remaining vestage 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 shrine of the pilgrimage of thousands who have annually flocked to gaze in wonder and awe upon the beautiful ruin, -- is no more. The eye of the stranger and traveller who approach the classic city of Nauvoo will no more rest upon the towering ruin. . . . One day last week a mine was placed beneath the remaining portion yet standing; and with the blast that followed the last of the famous Mormon temple lay prone and broken in the dust.
In the many years that followed, the temple block was occupied by saloons, slaughter houses, hotels, grocery and drug stores, pool halls, a telephone exchange, and private houses. The temple well was raised up to ground level to allow continued use. In 1883, Richard W. Young, wrote to the Church periodical, The Contributor, and described his visit to the Nauvoo Temple lot.
The Temple we at once concluded must have been erected on one of the highest points of the ridge, and so we walked up to what we considered a likely location; our first conjecture was further strengthened as to the site by the presence in that neighborhood of a drug store and several other buildings constructed of finely wrought white stone, which we assumed to have come from the walls of the Temple. And so it proved, for after a short walk down a street in that neighborhood we met a man who turned out to be the owner of the Temple lot, which we had passed a block or two. . . .
And so we found it. Our guide, Mr. Bahmann, present proprietor of the lot and a store opposite, lead us up the street to the middle of a certain block and turned into a gate, which opened through an ordinary fence. We saw nothing within to betray the former site of a costly edifice. . . .
The precise limits of the structure were pointed out; it was in the middle of the lot as regards north and south, with its front wall about half way from front to rear, and the rear wall coincident with the back fence. Upon this ground stood a wagon with freight for some neighboring town; a large sized peach tree was growing a little to the rear of the center of the building site, and a well, which was described as the only remnant of the Temple on the lot, except a few scattering pieces of rock from the walls which had been thrown near the fences in clearing the ground for cultivation.…
The water of the well was quite sweet; Mr. Bahmann described it as having been located near the font supported by the carved oxen. In his store he showed us a part of one of the (sun stone) rays, formerly on the second story front.
In 1886 Franklin D. Richards also visited Nauvoo. He wrote:
Near the southeast corner of the Temple Block we saw a tavern bearing the sign ATemple House, kept by Valentine Laubersheimer.@ We put up at this place of entertainment; but before we could bring our minds to think of food or rest, we visited the site where once stood the beautiful temple. Of the stately structure not one stone was left standing upon another. The pollution of man has done its work, and melancholy and decay now abide amidst the scattered fragments. After a long walk we returned to our hotel, and for the first time in forty years I ate, drank and slept in the city of Nauvoo. Oh, the old home of the Saints, once so great, so lovely and so dear; but now fallen into desecration and decay!
The early morning found us abroad. Our first visit was, of course, to the Temple block. The place is occupied by stores and houses. We met a Mr. Reinbold, who is the present possessor of a portion of the block, and the proprietor of a mercantile house located there. He consented to act as our guide and informant, and to take us with a vehicle about the place. His store is standing very near the spot where the entrance to the Temple premises was in former times; and his stable yard, in the rear of his warehouse, extends so far upon the sacred site as to include the well which supplied the water for the baptismal font. The basement has all been filled in with debris up to the level of the surrounding ground, and the well has been walled up to this surface with stones from the Temple. Cattle and horses are watered there daily. We drank from it and found the water clear and delicious to the taste. We filled a bottle with the crystal liquid, and brought it home, that others might partake of it. That which we have remaining of it, still retains its purity and sweetness.
Mr. Reinbold carried us to the house of a gentleman to view a collection of carved stones taken from the Temple. These are kept in view and are exhibited to hundreds of people who annually visit the locality. The great fire considerably softened and split the rocks, but the devices upon them are quite legible and are easily traced.
The Church Repurchases the Temple Lot
In 1937, the Church started to repurchase property in Nauvoo. Wilford Wood of Bountiful drove twelve hundred miles from Salt Lake City to negotiate for the purchase of the Temple lot from The Bank of Nauvoo. Church leaders had instructed him to pay no more than $1,000 for the land. Brother Wood later related:
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: AAre 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, AWe 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.
In 1942 the Church finalized purchase of an old office building built by the Icarians which stood on the southeast corner of the Nauvoo Temple block. Earlier in March, 1940, the Church purchased the other remaining Icarian building near the temple site.
Temple Site Excavated
In 1962 the Church hired the Southern Illinois University Department of Archaeology to excavate the temple site. By the end of the year most of the basement area had been uncovered. They discovered that the foundation had been five feet thick and was six feet below the ground level. An article in the Instructor shared more discoveries:
The interior weight of the floors and roof had been carried by columns or pillars which rested on two rows of stone piers, five in each row, running from east to west in the basement. The stone baptismal font, which had rested on the backs of twelve stone oxen, was located in the depression in the center of the basement. Nearby was a tunnel of stone masonry, more than a foot square, which apparently served as a drainage tunnel to carry the water from the font southeastward toward a ravine. Pieces of broken, polished stone--possibly portions of the oxen or the font, and others which may have been parts of the arched or circular windows of the building--were found. Many old-fashioned square nails, some of them hand-forged, and pieces of lath and plaster, were uncovered. Pieces of melted glass and ashes, and chunks of splattered lead from the 1,500 pounds used in the gutters, are mute evidence of the devastating fire.
Other artifacts were later found including part of the bricked basement floor, workmen=s tools, glass, nails, bolts, hinges, and other items. Also in 1962, the Church formed a non-profit corporation named ANauvoo Restoration Inc.@ which was to oversee restoration of many historic buildings in Nauvoo.
1968 Plan to Partially Rebuild Temple
In 1968, Nauvoo Restoration Inc. announced that the Nauvoo Temple would be partially restored on the original temple site. The object of this plan was to create a visitor=s center for tourists to learn about the Church and the historic temple. Construction was expected to begin in 1970 and last for two years. An information center and museum were planned for the temple block.
The Improvement Era gave more details about this curious 1968 plan to partially rebuild the temple:
The temple=s footing and floor will be built over the exact spot where once stood the original temple, and will follow the exact measurements of the original build. Indeed, some of the original stone work, including some of the original footings, will be used in the reconstruction. The brick basement floor will also contain some of the original basement bricks. Portions of the legs of the original 12 oxen that surrounded the font will be used in the font restoration. Nearby will be the temple well which provided water for the font. The front facade of the temple is to be rebuilt to the original height of the upper pediment, so that tourists may ascend the stairway and obtain a glimpse of the view that so enchanted early-day Nauvoo visitors.
Construction never took place as the plan to create this tourist structure was abandoned.
In 1977 a nine-foot bronze replica of the temple was placed on the site. In 1982 several historical sites were dedicated in Nauvoo including the temple site. Visitors at the temple site were able to see foundation stones that outline the building and show the location of the baptismal font in the temple basement.
The temple=s massive sun stones have always fascinated people. One such stone was located in the Historical Square in Quincy, Illinois for many years. It was there as early as 1912. There was another sun stone in the Nauvoo State Park.
In 1989 the Smithsonian Institution purchased the Quincy sun stone for $100,000 from the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams Counties in Illinois. At that time, the stone had been on display at the governor=s mansion in Quincy. The purchase was one of the most expensive acquisitions by the Smithsonian Institution=s Museum of American History. The museum wanted the stone because Ait is a central symbol of the heroic effort by the Mormon pioneers in their movement from upstate New York to Utah to maintain their belief system. . . . Few religions have their beginnings in America. That alone is quite a phenomenon, not to mention the strength and growth the Mormon Church has shown. The stone is symbolic of the most persistent religious movement in American history.@ The sun stone was put on display a few feet from the original Star Spangled Banner at the museum=s main entrance.
On 26 June 1994, President Howard W. Hunter presided at the unveiling of the other sun stone which had been moved to the temple site. This stone, owned by the state of Illinois, had previously been on display in the Nauvoo State Park. In 1992 the Church was made Acustodian@ of the stone. President Gordon B. Hinckley said of the temple:
This building was to be concerned with the 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. . . . I am grateful, my brothers and sisters and friends, that the Church again owns this sanctified ground on which stood a special house of the Lord, dedicated to His holy and eternal purposes.
Several temple stones have found their way to several stake and ward meeting houses. One such stone was saved from an Indianapolis Indiana landfill. The temple stone was originally brought to the Indianapolis Indiana Stake Center in 1966 by building missionaries. The stone, one-foot by two-feet was set in concrete in a courtyard next to the stake center. During the summer of 1998 architectural changes were made to the courtyard and the construction crew accidentally dumped the stone in the county landfill. Members of the stake were sent on a rescue mission to the dump and soon located a pile of concrete. Within a few minutes they found the stone which had not been damaged. It was brought back to the stake center and is now enclosed in a display case.
Announcement to Rebuild Temple
During his closing address of the April 1999 General Conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley made a surprising announcement.
I feel impressed to announce that among all the temples we are constructing, we plan to rebuild the Nauvoo Temple. A member of the Church and his family have provided a very substantial contribution to make this possible. We are grateful to them. It will be a while before it happens, but the architects have begun their work. This temple will not be busy much of the time; it will be somewhat isolated. But during the summer months, we anticipate it will be very busy. And the new building will stand as a memorial to those who built the first such structure there on the banks of the Mississippi.
At the Nauvoo Stake Center, the Saints reacted with joy. Stake President Durrell N. Nelson said: AThere was a moment of shock, and then there was actually some applause, even though it was during the concluding session of conference. Then everyone caught themselves quickly, and for most of the rest of the meeting there was crying.@
Elder Hugh W. Pinnock, president of the North America Central Area said: AWe anticipate, if possible, it will be built on the original footprint@ He also explained that the interior would have to be much different than the original in order to accommodate temple work as in other modern temples. The ground breaking ceremonies were held on 24 October 1999. President Gordon B. Hinckley said on that occasion: AThere will grace this sight a magnificent structure, a re-creation of that which existed here and served our people so briefly during that great epic [Nauvoo] period of the history of the Church.@
Local Nauvoo community reaction has been mixed, but generally supportive of the reconstruction. Tom Wilson, mayor of Nauvoo said, "This community here is a tourism community. We support [the temple] in the name of tourism. It is how our merchants make their bucks.@ Other residents feared that Nauvoo would turn into a giant AMormon tourist trap.@ Many Church members are already relocating to Nauvoo. The Nauvoo population is ten percent Mormon, and the Church owns thirty-six percent of the acreage in the town. The temple will certainly attract more permanent Mormon residents, given that retired Church members tend to relocate near temples.
There is no doubt that the reconstructed Nauvoo Temple will again be the sacred destination of numerous pilgrimages, as its ruins were during the 1850's and 1860's. But at that time Church membership number in the thousands -- now it numbers in the millions. It is estimated that by the summer of 2002 that tourism in Nauvoo will reach 750,000 visitors a year. President Hinckley remarked, AI=ve never seen anything that enlisted such excitement as this temple.@ In 1845 Brigham Young dedicated the partially completed temple as Aas a monument of the Saints@ and a few weeks later he prophesied, AWe shall come back here.@ As thousands of Saints left Nauvoo during 1846, they gazed back for one last glimpse of their temple and prayed that the Lord would preserve it as a monument of their sacrifices. Now, these hopes and prayers will be again be realized
. Joseph Smith, Jr., The History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints. Edited by B. H. Roberts. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1932‑1951). 6:196-97. On 13 Feb 1846 William Weeks was released as temple architect so he could start the trek west. Truman Angell was appointed to take his place.
. Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Provo: Seventy=s Mission Bookstore, 1982), 246.
. See Richard O. Cowan, Temples to Dot the Earth (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989).
. Quoted in Matthias F. Cowley, ed. Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors, as Recorded in His Daily Journals (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1964), 226-27.
. History of the Church, 7:323.
. History of the Church, 7:385-87.
. History of the Church, 7:417-18.
. History of the Church, 7:431.
. Norton Jacob Autobiography, BYU Special Collections, 20.
. From Heber C. Kimball Journal kept by William Clayton, George D. Smith, ed., An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1995), 252.
. Lorenzo Brown 1823-1900 Journal, BYU Special Collections, 1:15.
. History of the Church, 7:579.
. John R. Young, Memoirs of John R. Young, Utah Pioneer 1847 (Salt Lake City: The Deseret News, 1920), 15.
. History of the Church 7:594, Thomas Bullock Journal, BYU Studies 31:1:53.
. Gregory R. Knight, ed., AJournal of Thomas Bullock,@ BYU Studies 31(Winter 1991): 61-2.
. Scott G. Kenny, Wilford Woodruff=s Journal (Midvale, Utah: Signature, 1983), 3:38.
. Elden J. Watson, ed., Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 1801-1844 (Salt Lake City: Smith Secretarial Service, 1968), 144‑46.
. Wilford Woodruff=s Journal, 3:41.
. Minutes by Thomas Bullock, Historic Sites File, LDS Church Archives.
. Wilford Woodruff=s Journal, 3:43.
. Wilford Woodruff=s Journal, 3:46-7.
. Luman Shurtliff Autobiography, BYU Special Collections, 66..
. Jesse Crosby Autobiography, BYU Special Collections, 30.
.Wilford Woodruff=s Journal, 3:49.
. A day-by-day history of the Battle of Nauvoo can be found in David R. Crockett, Saints in the Wilderness: A Day-By-Day Pioneer Experience (Tucson, Arizona: LDS-Gems Press, 1997).
. Will Bagley, ed., The Pioneer Camp of the Saints: The 1846 and 1847 Mormon Trail Journals of Thomas Bullock (Spokane, Washington: The Arthur H. Clark Co., 1997), 66.
. Andrew F. Ehat, ed., "They Might Have Known That He Was Not a Fallen Prophet"‑‑
The Nauvoo Journal of Joseph Fielding, BYU Studies 19 (Winter 1979), 165-66.
. Benjamin Ashby Autobiography, BYU Special Collections, 16.
. Bagley, ed., The Pioneer Camp of the Saints, 67.
. William Mulder and A. Russell Mortensen, eds., Among the Mormons (Salt Lake City: Western Epics, 1994) 193-94.
. Leonard J. Arrington, From Quaker to Latter-day Saint: Bishop Edwin D. Woolley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 167-69.
. Address given to The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, quoted in Orson F. Whitney, History of Utah (Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon & Sons Co, 1892), 1:274-78.
. Watson, ed., Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 405‑07.
. Women=s Exponent 13:139.
. Wilford Woodruff=s Journal, 3:356‑58.
. Wilford Woodruff=s Journal, 3:381‑85.
. Quoted in Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994) 250-51.
. Journal of Discourses, 8:202-03, October 8, 1860.
. Journal History, September 10 1849.
. ACommunism: History of the Experiment at Nauvoo of the Icarian Settlement@ The Nauvoo Rustler (Nauvoo, n.d.) 8-9.
. This building, still standing, later served as a hotel call the AIcarian Hotel.@ In recent years it served as the Information Center of Nauvoo Restoration, Inc.
. These stones were used to build a structure on 300 North and 4th Street. When the building was demolished, the St. Louis Stake authorities acquired many of the stones. Stanley B. Kimball, AThe Nauvoo Temple, an essay on its history, architecture,@ November 26, 1962, BYU Special Collections, 17.
. Stanley, Kimball, ANauvoo,@ Improvement Era, January 1966.
. Quoted in Improvement Era, August 1954.
. Quoted in Virgina S. Harrington and J.C. Harrington, Rediscovery of the Nauvoo Temple: Report on Archaeological Excavations (Salt Lake City: Nauvoo Restoration, Inc., 1971), 6.
. Edgar Lyon, AThe Nauvoo Temple,@ The Instructor, March 1965.
. The Contributor, January, 1883.
. The Contributor, May 1886.
. Improvement Era, March 1937.
. T. Edgar Lyon, AThe Nauvoo Temple,@ Instructor, March 1965. To read a detailed description of the excavation discoveries, see: Virgina S. Harrington and J.C. Harrington, Rediscovery of the Nauvoo Temple: Report on Archaeological Excavations (Salt Lake City: Nauvoo Restoration, Inc., 1971).
. Jay M. Todd, ANauvoo Temple Restoration,@ Improvement Era, October 1968.
. Lee Davidson, ASmithsonian pays $100,000 for Sunstone from Nauvoo Temple.@ Church News, December 2, 1989.
. Gordon B. Hinckley, ANauvoo=s Holy Temple,@ Ensign, September 1994.
. Shaun D. Stahle, AIndiana stake showcases temple stone.@ Church News, September 5, 1998.
. R. Scott Lloyd, AHistoric Nauvoo Temple to be rebuilt,@ Church News, April 10, 1999.
. Greg Hill, ARebuilding of Magnificent Temple,@ Church News, October 30, 1999.
. Dan Egan, ATension on the Rise Again,@ The Salt Lake Tribune, January 23, 2000.