A chance meeting in 1948 between missionaries of the Church with descendants in California of William Weeks, architect of the Nauvoo Temple, led to the Church acquiring the plans for the original temple. Thus, the Church had that resource to draw upon when, in 1999, President Gordon B. Hinckley announced plans to rebuild the Nauvoo Temple.
And though Brother Weeks became estranged from the Church after coming west with Brigham Young and the pioneers, some of his descendants subsequently joined the Church and are members today.
"Small miracles affirm our Heavenly Father's presence in our lives; sometimes we think of them as coincidences, but when we examine them more closely, they become awe-inspiring testimonials that God is in the details," reflected Marjorie H. Bennion, a Church member in Cedar City, Utah, who became acquainted with the Weeks descendants.
In April 1843, William Weeks was commissioned by Joseph Smith to create on paper the plans for the temple that he, the Prophet, had seen in vision. In the coming months, they worked together closely. At one point they disagreed on the shape of the windows, but the Prophet affirmed: "I wish you to carry out my designs. I have seen in vision the splendid appearance of that building illuminated, and will have it built according to the pattern shown to me." (History of the Church 6:197.)
The temple was finished according to that pattern, though not before the Prophet was martyred in Carthage in June 1844. Later, Brother Weeks and his wife, Caroline, were among the first group of pioneers in the exodus from Nauvoo in February 1846.
President Brigham Young had intended that William Weeks plan a temple to be built in Salt Lake City. But in 1857 a falling out with President Young resulted in Weeks leaving the Church. He took his family to settle in Southern California, taking with him the Nauvoo Temple plans. His daughter Caroline would later recall, "He regarded the Nauvoo edifice as his masterpiece; he took pride in exhibiting his temple drawings to friends and visitors in later years until his death on March 8, 1890." (Quoted in Arrington, J. Earl, "William Weeks, Architect of the Nauvoo Temple," BYU Studies, Spring 1979, p. 354.)
The daughter bequeathed the plans to her son, Leslie M. Griffin. It was he who was contacted by missionaries in 1948 in Boron, Calif., a small town in the Mojave Desert. He told them he was a grandson of William Weeks, the architect of the Nauvoo Temple.
One of the missionaries, Vernon C. Thacker of Brigham City, Utah, wrote an account years later of their association.
"On our last visit to Mr. Griffin," he wrote, "he excused himself for a few minutes and went into the rear part of his house. He returned with a large roll of papers. . . . He explained, 'These are the original architect's drawings for the Nauvoo Temple. They have been in my family for 100 years, handed down from my grandfather, William Weeks.' He then unrolled the plans and explained what they were. There were exterior drawings, some interior, an angel with a weather vane, pencil sketches for circular stairways, circular windows, archways, etc. Even the measurements for various details of the temple were included in William's handwriting. They were yellowed with age but in amazingly good condition. Mr. Griffin knew I was returning home in a few days. He asked me if I would do him a favor of carrying these plans to the headquarters of the Church in Salt Lake City, Utah."
Elder Thacker complied with the request.
The following year, 1949, Mr. Griffin's son, Leslie Jr., was baptized at the age of 19, the first Weeks family descendant to join the Church. Later, the family would be chagrined to read in a publication that it was someone other than the Griffin family who had been credited with donating the plans to the Church.
In 1999, Sandra Griffin Hardy, daughter of Leslie M. Griffin Jr., was serving as president of the Utah Shakespearean Festival Guild in Cedar City, Utah. There she became acquainted with Marjorie H. Bennion. She told her the story of the plans being donated to the Church and asked if in some way she could help her family be recognized as the donor of the plans.
On March 23, 2001, Sister Bennion was at a breakfast meeting in Cedar City attended by Elder David E. Sorensen of the Presidency of the Seventy and executive director of the Temple Department.
"He shared with those of us at his table the latest developments in the reconstruction of the Nauvoo Temple," Sister Bennion wrote in an account submitted to the Church News. "He related the story of the return of William Weeks' architectural drawings, noting that the current architects were using these original plans. Then he stated he knew of no Weeks descendants who are now Church members. Excitedly, I said: 'Elder Sorensen, you won't believe this! I heard this story from William Weeks' great-great-granddaughter herself. She is a member of the Church. Sandi Hardy and her parents live right here in Cedar City.' 'I would love to meet these people,' exclaimed Elder Sorensen."
Introductions were made that afternoon which led to a meeting at Church headquarters the following month involving the Griffins; Sister Hardy and her family; Vern Thacker, the missionary who had met Mr. Griffin in California in 1948, and his wife, Suzanne; and Sister Bennion and her husband, Steve. At the meeting, Brother Griffin again viewed the drawings he had seen many times as a child, even identifying a watercolor picture of a boat he had drawn on the plans in the 1940s when he could find no other paper on which to paint.
The Griffins brought with them the Weeks family Bible and donated it to the Church. The Bible confirmed the relationship between the Griffin family and William Weeks.
Sister Bennion wrote: "Many small miracles have occurred as the family of architect William Weeks has been rediscovered: Sandi's prompting to ask for help, finding and reconnecting with Brother Vern Thacker, and the unusual timing of the chance meeting with Elder David E. Sorensen whose responsibility is temples. The Church . . . learned the whereabouts of Weeks' descendants and that some are Latter-day Saints. These small miracles declare testimony and confirmation of God's presence in the lives of this dear family."