Many tourists only schedule a day or two for their visit to Nauvoo. During that time they hope to see all the sites in Historic Nauvoo and still find time for the Nauvoo Temple and the Carthage Jail. My suggestion would be to stay four or five days — or longer — and drink in the peace and beauty of the place. Take time to enjoy all the “must-see” attractions, but also check out some places on my list of sites that most people miss.
Directly across the Mississippi River from Nauvoo is the little town of Montrose. At Fort Des Moines, identified by markers at the waterfront park, many Latter-day Saints, including Brigham Young, John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, established their first homes. They planned to build a settlement, “Zarahemla,” on that side of the river. The view of the Nauvoo Temple is spectacular from there. Just north of Montrose is the Mormon Trail Monument, commemorating the “miracle of the quails” and the start of the Mormon Trail. When pioneers made their exodus from Nauvoo, most stopped near Montrose to take one last look at the temple. It’s worth taking some time yourself to imagine the emotions of those early Saints.
Birds and trees of Nauvoo
Historic Nauvoo and Nauvoo State Park are prime birding sites along the Mississippi. On one weekend, the Audubon Society identified 127 species of birds in the Nauvoo area. Take a bird book with you and walk along the river on Water Street, where a birding trail is planned. See lots of waterfowl as well as migrating songbirds, or visit in the winter and see the many bald eagles that move south as the river freezes. But take a tree book, too. Historic Nauvoo is an arboretum as well as a historic area. It is planted with most of the species that will grow in the area, including dozens of varieties of oak and a number of exotic species rarely found in the United States.
The East Grove, site of the King Follett Discourse
The “Nauvoo Groves” site in Historic Nauvoo is only meant to commemorate the various groves that were used for preaching. The actual grove used most often during the Mormon era was west of the Nauvoo Temple on the hill that overlooks the Mississippi. Here, church leaders held services because there were no actual church buildings in old Nauvoo. For a period of time in the spring of 1844, however, on a site at the corner of Knight and Robinson streets (immediately east of Nauvoo Elementary), a wooden stand was set up and meetings were held there. This is the site where Joseph Smith delivered the well-known King Follett Discourse. It is also the site where both Sidney Rigdon and Brigham Young presented their claims for leadership after Joseph’s death.
Walking tour of Nauvoo City
The story of the various groups that inhabited Nauvoo after the Mormon period is very interesting. You can catch a glimpse of Mulholland Street’s past by taking a free self-guided walking tour. You’ll learn how the French Icarians, Sisters of St. Benedict and local businesses defined Nauvoo from the 1850s to the 1960s. The tour begins at “The Way We Were” Interpretive Park on Mulholland Street, across from the State Bank of Nauvoo.
The Weld House Museum, 1380 Mulholland St., is operated by the Nauvoo Historical Society. It includes artifacts and displays that feature the entire history of Nauvoo, including the Mormon period. The Rheinberger Museum, located in Nauvoo State Park, contains a large collection of furniture and other articles dating back to Native American times. It features a stone-arched wine cellar and original 150-year-old winemaking equipment.
Joseph Smith farm
Many visitors drive east on Parley Street to the Old Nauvoo Burial Grounds, but there they stop. This time, as you leave the parking lot of the burial grounds, drive .6 of a mile to the east and then look at the field ahead, on the south side of the road. This half-mile square area is the site of Joseph Smith’s farm. He never lived there, but he longed to do so someday. As he and his brother Hyrum rode their horses to Carthage, on the way to their deaths, some in the party asked why Joseph kept looking out across this land. His reply was, “If some of you had got such a farm and knew you would not see it anymore, you would want to take a good look at it for the last time.” It’s touching to stand at this spot and imagine his feelings that day.
There is a great deal of Mormon history in Quincy, less than 50 miles from Nauvoo. Visit Clat Adams Park, on the riverfront, near the Mississippi bridges. A monument marks the spot where Mormon refugees crossed the river as they fled from persecution in Missouri. Emma Smith and her children crossed here, walking on the ice. Then visit downtown Washington Park, just a few blocks away. Here, the refugees camped before local citizens took them in and fed and protected them. A marker in the park also commemorates this site. Check with the Quincy Area Convention and Visitors Center for a list of other Mormon history sites.
At Carol's Pies, the pie crusts are rolled by hand, and Carol makes her own fruit fillings. It is in Baxter’s Vineyards, a small family-owned winery in Nauvoo, which was established in 1857 by Emile Baxter and continues in the family. Also at Carol's Pies, find preserves, syrups and a nice variety of souvenirs, along with wonderful nonalcoholic juices. It is located 11 blocks east of Highway 96 (or Durphey Street) on Parley Street.
Don’t miss the 12-mile drive down the Great River Road, a National Scenic Byway, and then cross the Mississippi and view the lock and dam between Hamilton and Keokuk. Keokuk is another town rich with history and impressive architecture. Immigrating Mormons helped excavate the city. A monument in Triangle Park commemorates this LDS contribution to the community. In winter, see the great numbers of bald eagles near the locks. You may never have heard of the Keokuk National Cemetery, 1701 J Street, but it rivals Arlington in peace and beauty.
Bentonsport, Iowa4 comments on this story
There are interesting stops on the Mormon Trail, but one of the best is at Bentonsport, a charming little town on the Des Moines River where Mormon craftsmen built some of the homes and shops. The town is a National Historic Landmark District and houses several fun shops, an old-fashioned general store and an arrowhead museum. In nearby Bonaparte, a sign on the north side of the river commemorates the Mormon Trail and the crossing by Brigham Young and the Saints who followed.
Most of these sites have websites to provide directions and further information, or see historicnauvoo.net.
Dean Hughes is an author, and he and his wife, Kathleen, completed a two-year Public Affairs mission in Nauvoo, Ill., in 2010.