Downtown Nauvoo, Illinois
Nauvoo (“to be beautiful”) is a small city in Hancock County, Illinois, United States, on the Mississippi River near Fort Madison, Iowa. The population of Nauvoo was 1,149 at the 2010 census. Nauvoo attracts visitors for its historic importance and its religious significance to members of several groups: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church); the Community of Christ, formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS); other groups stemming from the Latter Day Saint movement; and the Icarians. The city and its immediate surrounding area are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Nauvoo Historic District.
The area of Nauvoo was first called Quashquema, named in honor of the Native American chief who headed a Sauk and Fox settlement numbering nearly 500 lodges. By 1827, white settlers had built cabins in the area. By 1829 this area of Hancock County had grown sufficiently so that a post office was needed and in 1832 the town, now called Venus, was one of the contenders for the new county seat. However, the honor was awarded to a nearby city, Carthage. In 1834 the name Venus was changed to Commerce because the settlers felt that the new name better suited their plans.
In late 1839, arriving Mormons bought the small town of Commerce and in April 1840 it was renamed Nauvoo by Joseph Smith, who led the Latter Day Saints to Nauvoo to escape religious persecution in Missouri. The name Nauvoo is derived from the traditional Hebrew language with an anglicized spelling. The word comes from Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful upon the mountains...” It is notable that “by 1844 Nauvoo's population had swollen to 12,000, rivaling the size of Chicago” at the time.
After Joseph Smith's death in 1844, continuing violence from surrounding non-Mormons forced most Latter-Day Saints to leave Nauvoo. Most of these refugees, led by Brigham Young, eventually emigrated to the Great Salt Lake Valley. In 1849, Icarians moved to the Nauvoo area to implement a utopian socialist commune based on the ideals of French philosopher Étienne Cabet. At its peak the colony numbered over 500 members, but Cabet's death in 1856 caused some members to leave this parent colony and move elsewhere. In the early and mid 20th century Nauvoo was primarily a Roman Catholic town, and the majority of the population today is Catholic.
On the city’s higher ground are the temple, residential areas, and the business district along Mulholland Street (Illinois Route 96), much of it devoted to the needs of tourists and those interested in Latter Day Saint history. The flatlands are occupied by a small number of 19th-century brick houses and other buildings that have survived the city’s vicissitudes, with large empty spaces between them where houses and whole neighborhoods have entirely disappeared.
Community of Christ owns much of the southern end of the flatlands and maintains several key historic sites located in and around Nauvoo, including the Joseph Smith Homestead, the Nauvoo House, the Red Brick Store, the Mansion House, and the Smith Family Cemetery. Guided tours are available at the church's Joseph Smith Historic Site, located at the south end of the town and accessible from Highway 96.
The LDS Church owns most of the other historic sites in Nauvoo, including the homes of Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and other early members of the church, as well as other significant buildings. Most of these sites are open to the public, with demonstrations and displays, and there are self-guided driving tours as well as wagon tours. These tours are free, as are the stage and riverside theatrical productions. There is a large visitors' center complete with two theaters and a relief map of 1846 Nauvoo.
In June 2002, on the site of the original temple, the LDS Church completed construction of a new temple. The exterior, and much of the interior, is a copy of the original. The exterior matches the original exactly except in three ways: The temple was positioned 12.5 feet (3.8 m) south to allow for parking on the north side, there are two new exterior doors (with an entrance on the north for disabled persons and emergency exits in the basement on the east) and there is a standing Angel Moroni as is seen on most modern temples; the original was an unspecified flying angel, also with a horn in hand but in a horizontal position with the compass, square and flame above.
The work to renovate various sites of historical significance in the area is coordinated by Nauvoo Restoration, Incorporated. NRI is a nonprofit organization supported by both the LDS Church and Community of Christ, as well as others interested in Nauvoo’s history. Due to the work of NRI and its members, Nauvoo has been dubbed the “Williamsburg of the Midwest.” In March 2007, Nauvoo was nominated to compete as one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois.
Nauvoo sponsors numerous activities throughout the year including The Nauvoo Pageant (July/August), Grape Festival (Labor day weekend), and Pumpkin walk (October).
Because most of the city is well above flood level, Nauvoo has not historically had problems when the Mississippi river has risen. In both the floods of 1993 and 2008, very little damage was sustained within city limits.