In last week's article on the Parliment House in Canberra, Australia, I said that our man-made environment reflects an outward expression of self-esteem and our faith in the future, and today I would like to elaborate further.
I recently traveled with my family to Illinois. We covered a lot of the United States (3,300 miles) and saw a lot of sights. One of the more impressive was that of Nauvoo, Ill. I had heard a lot about the architectural restoration and the historic contribution to the Midwest but was not prepared for the representation of an energetic and dedicated people that was so evident. I believe that "Nauvoo the beautiful" was built on self-esteem and faith in the future. What took me by surprise was that several of the more prominent structures were built and finished during a time of intense persecution and with an understanding that they would likely be abandoned in a few months.In 1846, several years after U.S. Army officer Thomas L. Kane visited Nauvoo, he wrote that amid all of the natural beauty of the Mississippi River his "eye wearied to see everywhere sordid, vagabond and idle settlers; and a country marred, without being improved, by their careless hands." But of Nauvoo he went on to say, "Half encircled by a 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 domed-shaped hill, which was crowned by a noble marble edifice, whose high tapering spire was radiant with white and gold . . . The unmistakable marks of industry, enterprise and educated wealth, everywhere, made the scene one of singular and most striking beauty."
The most significant of the Nauvoo structures and the one with "tapering spire" and "radiant with white and gold" was the Nauvoo Temple. It was built between 1841 and 1846 with donated labor and materials. Although many of the Mormons were forced to leave Nauvoo in the early part of 1846, the temple was completed and dedicated in May of that year and was the crown of this unusual city. This crown remained on the hill for only a year or two when it was burned and pillaged for its stones.
The Brigham Young home, represented in the sketch, was completed in 1843 and abandoned for the trek west in 1846. Typical of the Nauvoo homes, the Brigham Young home, though large in number of rooms, was small in scale. Footings and foundations were constructed of local quarried stone. Timber frames of studs, beams, joists and planks were hand-hewn from local oak trees. The red brick was made from local clays and fired in the kilns of Nauvoo. Windows, doors and trim were made from white pine shipped down the Mississippi from northern climes.
Much of the Nauvoo metal work was forged and shaped by Jonathan Browning, who first learned the trade of blacksmithing and then applied it to locksmithing and gunsmithing. The Brownings left Nauvoo and moved to Ogden where the son of Jonathan, John Moses Browning, began the immensely successful Browning Arms.
Nauvoo City at its maturity was a prosperous community of about 12,000 - one of the largest in Illinois. Its grandeur of architecture and environment was unequaled. What would drive the people to invest so much time and energy into a city when it was known that eventually it would all be left behind? Again it falls back on the expression of self-esteem, optimism and faith in the future. I wonder if the residents of Nauvoo ever felt that it was too much work and required too much of a commitment on their part to build the tem-ple, Seventies Hall, Masonic Hall and their lovely homes for short-term use.
What of our commitment to the future?One hundred-fifty years from now, Will we be thought of as a people who are optimistic, industrious and committed to excellence?
[Joseph Linton is an architect in Highland, Utah County. He welcomes other viewpoints.]