Nauvoo of today: A window to the majesty of the past

As autumn approaches, the bustling sights and sounds of summer in this city founded by the Prophet Joseph Smith on a bend of the upper Mississippi River give way to a quiet, peaceful serenity.

The large crowds that visit the Church's visitors center and the 25 restored homes and sites here during the summer taper off considerably in the fall and, particularly, during the winter.And that's why, according to missionary couples serving here, the fall is an excellent time to visit Nauvoo. There aren't the crowds, and the fall colors are beautiful, they say.

"Labor Day ends the summer season here," said Elder Arthur W. Elrey, who has been director of the Nauvoo Visitors Center since February 1993.

"Fall in Nauvoo is absolutely gorgeous," he continued. "Many people drive up the (Mississippi) river to see the change of colors on the trees." He said the fall colors are particularly beautiful on the Nauvoo temple block.

Elder Elrey explained a lot goes on in Nauvoo even after the summer tourist season ends. Dramatic productions are presented by the missionary couples at the cultural hall until Thanksgiving, and carriage rides continue until "the snow starts to fly."

In November, Nauvoo Restoration Inc. presents a daylong How-to Craft Fair, presenting Christmas crafts and ideas. The fair, to be held this year on Nov. 5, is expected to attract as many as 1,000 persons from as far away as 150 miles, said Elder James P. Sorensen, manager of Nauvoo Restoration. During the morning of the craft fair, a symposium will be held with various speakers on the topic of historical foods. In the afternoon will be 30 different workshops on Christmas foods and decorations conducted by members, missionaries and area residents.

During the summer, echoes of the past - the clanking of the hammer on an anvil in the blacksmith shop or the laughter from a dramatic production at the cultural hall - can be heard in the restored buildings.

"This summer has been tremendous," said Elder Elrey. "Already we're ahead of all of last year in the number of people who have visited." He said as of Aug. 14, more than 102,000 people had visited Nauvoo in 1994, eclipsing the 96,000 who came during the entire year in 1993.

"We will have a banner year this year," said the visitors center director.

He attributed the increased number of visitors this year to the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in June (See July 2, 1994, Church News for articles about the commemoration), and to the increased number who attended the City of Joseph pageant in July and August. (See Aug. 6, 1994, Church News.) The pageant wasn't held last year because of major flooding along the Mississippi River. "The pageant attendance this year was above anything we've seen for several years," he said.

This summer 39 missionary couples, called to the Illinois Peoria Mission, are serving in Nauvoo and nearby Carthage under the direction of Elder Elrey.

They serve as tour guides at the restored facilities and guide visitors through homes once belonging to Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball, Lucy Mack Smith and others. They explain some of the history of the homes and of the people who occupied them.

They conduct tours through the crafts and historic business buildings, such as the blacksmith shop, the print shop, Scovil bakery and Lyon Drug. At many of the sites, early 19th century crafts are demonstrated daily by the missionary couples.

Elder Elrey said the most popular facilities are probably the bakery, blacksmith shop, brickyard and Browning gun shop. The carriage rides are also popular as they take visitors in a horse-drawn wagon through some of the restored area, traveling on streets with such names as Young, Hyde, Parley, Kimball and Partridge.

During the winter, there is a quiet, peaceful serenity in Nauvoo. The missionary force is reduced to 16 couples. All of the restored homes remain open during the winter, with the missionary guides serving in more than one building. On two days of the week during the winter, the missionary couples participate in community service projects, such as being teachers' aides in the schools or serving at the family history library at the Nauvoo ward meetinghouse.

Even though visits to Nauvoo "slow down in the dead of winter," said Elder Elrey, "we always have some visitors."

During December, several of the show homes are decorated by Church-service missionaries with authentic period-type Christmas decorations. Also in December guest groups from the area, such as the Wesley Methodist Bell Ringers from Macomb, Ill., and the University Madrigal Singers from Quincy, Ill., perform weekly at the visitors center. After each performance a community open house is held at the center.

In January, about 40 students in BYU Semester at Nauvoo program will come to Nauvoo to study Church history until April.

Winters in Nauvoo can get cold. "Last year," said Elder Elrey, "we had some 10 below-zero days. The year before it wasn't as cold but more icy."

The cold of the Nauvoo area in the winter is something that many Church members are familiar with, from reading Church history if nothing else. After the Saints began their exodus from their beloved city, Dr. Willard Richards recorded in the Camp Journal on Feb. 19, 1846: "The wind blew steadily from the northwest accompanied by snow which fell to the depth of seven or eight inches, but much thawed as it fell, the storm was unceasing, and the evening was very cold. . . ." (History of the Church 7:593.)

During the fall and winter, Nauvoo Restoration Inc. "repairs, paints and fixes up" the restored facilities as needed. "It is a time for us to get ready for the next summer season," said Elder Sorensen.

This fall and winter, he said, two homes - one a historical home built in the 1840s by Silas Condit and the other a more recent home - will be remodeled as residences for missionary couples.

"Upgrading and refurbishing of the restored homes and sites is a continual process," said Elder Sorensen, who is on a missionary assignment in Nauvoo with his wife, Mary Jane. They have been in Nauvoo for 14 months. Sister Sorensen serves as director of the lands and records office, located on the second floor of the visitors center.

Thirteen full-time employees of Nauvoo Restoration, supplemented by 18 Church service missionaries, have the responsibility of maintaining the buildings and grounds in Nauvoo, as well as the jail and visitors center in Carthage. Church-service missionaries include carpenters, painters, masons, etc., said Elder Sorensen.

Nauvoo Restoration has its own greenhouse, and, between now and spring, flowers will be planted and prepared for outdoor planting around all the show homes in the restored area. Two full-time employees work in landscaping.

"We love to have people come to Nauvoo," said Elder Sorensen, and he and his staff do everything possible to make their visit a pleasant one.

"To me, there is no more sacred place than right here in Nauvoo," said Elder Elrey, who is serving his fourth missionary assignment with his wife, Lyn.

"The strongest feelings I have of Nauvoo are of the sacredness of this place." He said it was in Nauvoo that the saving ordinances of the gospel were restored. "The temple site is so sacred because of all that transpired there."

Before his assignment as director of the Nauvoo Visitors Center, Elder Elrey previously was president of the Oklahoma Tulsa Mission, president of the Nigeria Aba Mission, and served with his wife, as a missionary couple in Nigeria.

"The more I read, study and ponder, the more I realize what a great prophet Joseph Smith was, and how much we should appreciate what happened as the Restoration took place.

"As far as I'm concerned," Elder Elrey declared, "Nauvoo is the Sinai of this dispensation."

The Nauvoo of today with its restored homes and sites is a window to the past, showing a glimpse of the beauty and majesty of the city that Brigham Young once said looks "more like a garden of gardens than a city." (HC 7:431.)

"The name of our city (Nauvoo) is of Hebrew origin, and signifies a beautiful situation, or place, carrying with it, also, the ideas of rest; and is truly descriptive of the most delightful location. It is situated on the east bank of the Mississippi River, at the head of the Des Moines Rapids, in Hancock county, bounded on the east by an extensive prairie of surpassing beauty, and on the north, west, and south by the Mississippi." (A proclamation of the First Presidency of the Church to the Saints Scattered Abroad, HC 4:268.)

Because of all that transpired in Nauvoo during those few years that the Church was centered here, it is little wonder that tens of thousands of visitors come each year to visit.

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