News that the Nauvoo Temple would be rebuilt prompted gasps, a few claps "and a lot of sobs" from members gathered to watch general conference at the Nauvoo Illinois LDS Stake Center.
"We were not able to completely contain ourselves," admitted stake President Durell Noland Nelson.
President Gordon B. Hinckley's announcement Sunday came as "happy news" to Nauvoo members, who have long anticipated a time when temple worship would return to a pivotal area in LDS history.
Still, the announcement "came as a surprise to most," said President Nelson, adding that local members have long hoped Nauvoo would be included in the church's growing list of future temple sites.
"We're very excited," added member Kay Walker, whose Mormon ancestors were driven from Nauvoo in 1846.
Walker said President Hinckley's announcement was greated with "hugs and tears" by Nauvoo church members.
Although the Nauvoo Temple was destroyed more than a century ago, local members say the area is still a spiritual haven. Many have joined the church after walking the grounds and learning its story, President Nelson said.
The president said his own family was converted to the LDS faith years ago after visiting the temple grounds, which they mistakenly thought was a picnic site.
"The Nauvoo Temple was the crowning point of the (early church's) work in Nauvoo," President Nelson said. "It brought about the complete restoration of the gospel."
Rebuilding allows the temple's history to come full circle, he said.
Walker said he and his family had long felt a temple would return to Nauvoo. The Walkers returned themselves in 1994 to open a motel partly built on land once owned by Kay Walker's great-great uncle, Henson Walker.
President Nelson said he does not anticipate any opposition in the area to rebuilding the temple. LDS Church members make up about 10 percent of the population of Nauvoo and regularly play host to thousands of tourists who visit the area year-round.
The LDS Church owns much of historic Nauvoo, where it has restored several homes and operates a visitors center featuring young missionaries who perform musical programs for visiting tourists. Several missionary couples operate a variety of enterprises there, re-creating much of what life was like in the mid 1800s, including a foundry, print shop, candlemaking operation and brick mason production.
The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which broke from the original body of the church that came west to Salt Lake City, also owns part of the historic area, including the Joseph Smith home, Joseph Smith's Red Brick Store, the Mansion House and the Nauvoo House.
Through Brigham Young University, travel study students have recently begun spending a semester in Nauvoo, where they take classes in church history and doctrine as well as some general education. Students live in restored and modern Nauvoo homes and attend classes in historic church buildings and at historic sites in the region.