Saturday, August 07, 2010

Summer Vacation: Nauvoo the Beautiful

Nauvoo, Illinois is a couple hours north of St Louis and lies on the banks of the Mississippi River.  It was originally settled by Mormon Pioneers who moved there seeking freedom of religion and to escape persecution. At one time it was a bustling town of 20,000 people, the largest city in Illinois, but that all changed in 1844 when the Prophet Joseph Smith was killed and soon thereafter, in 1845, when the Saints began their departure from Nauvoo travelling west to the Salt Lake Valley.

Nauvoo is now mostly corn fields and a small village as well as the historical district that is run by the LDS church. Nauvoo means beautiful and it is truly a beautiful place. It is amazing to me that this land used to be mostly swamp land that was drained to create habitable and productive land by the river.

The flowers around town are lovely; like this purple daisy--I think it is called a coneflower?

And this hibiscus.  I thought Hibiscus only grew in Hawaii but aparently it is hot enough and humid enough in Nauvoo for these lovely flowers to thrive.

The kids enjoyed watching the many different kinds of butterflies that frequented the gardens. This lovely yellow butterfly is enjoying the salvia.  Yes, the flowers were beautiful in Nauvoo but that is not really why we stopped here.

We arrived in Nauvoo on a Monday early evening and set up camp in Camp Nauvoo State Park.  It is right across the street from the historical city sites and offers full restrooms, partial hookups, and friendly neighbors.  This was the first and only night that we had a campfire.  The kids were really excited to make some smores and tell some stories.  We even sang a few songs.

The next morning Dave and I got up early and walked over to the temple after which we went back grabbed the kids and walked down to the historical town just in time to see the afternoon performance of the Nauvoo Pageant Bagpipers and a historical reenactment.  I am quite fond of bagpipes and always get choked up, they speak to my soul, I guess through my distant Scottish roots.  The reenactment that was performed was also very touching, a story I've heard a thousand times about two pioneer sisters, but seeing it there in this setting made it so real.  As they described running from the mobs and hiding in the cornfield behind us I suddenly felt transported.  I held my breath knowing the evil men, out for blood, wouldn't find the two girls but hoping just the same that they would be a little more quiet, a little more still.  I knew the story before but now I felt it. Both the bagpipes and the skit set the tone for the whole visit.  Afton and Cora got their picture with one of the "sisters" from the reenactment and from that point on Nauvoo would suck us back into history; we became pioneers.

We spent our days at Nauvoo exploring every inch of the historical town.  We learned how the pioneers made rope, bread, barrels, rugs, fabric.

We also learned how they built bricks to make their homes.  We got to keep a brick.

The kids spent some time quilting and learning other pioneer skills and games at the evening country fair.

We all went on wagon rides.

Carried by real live oxen!!

I love the way this ox is looking sideways at Cora, the huge smile on Cora's face and Kirkham sizing up the huge and gentle beast.  Pioneer children the age of Cora and Afton drove these animals across the plains, some on their own after one or both parents died.

At the wainwrights shop we learned about the metal working that they did there and we each got a ring made from a nail and they made our family a small horseshoe to keep for good luck.

The kids who wanted to (the girls) dressed up in pioneer costumes and we visited bakeries and chapels and gunsmiths and so many other cool places including the lands and records office where we found the location of the properties that my relatives owned there in Nauvoo. I am an 8th generation member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on both my mom's and dad's side of the family.  I have many ancestors who lived in this very city; built it from the swamp up and turned it into the beautiful place it is.
This is one of my ancestor's home sites.  It belonged to Anson Call and is located on the corner of Parley and Granger Streets. It is a big open field now but while walking through that field you can see where there are indentations and mounds where the foundation used to be. I imagined a small garden off the back porch and a summer kitchen beyond that.  This is where his children played and some of them fell in love and got married here and started families of their own.  It was a strange and wonderful feeling to walk the streets where my ancestors walked before me.

In October of  1845 those same pioneer ancestors (they had traveled to the United States from England just years earlier) who built this lovely city were chased out of it by mobs.  They loaded their wagons with what belongings they could and walked their families down Parley street to the banks of the Mississippi river where they crossed, some over the frozen river and later others by ferry across it.

As we approached the river, gazed across it's wide expanse and my children set foot in it, again, I found myself overcome by emotion.  To have built this city, these homes, these businesses, their temple and in less than 5 years have to turn around and leave it all as they set foot into the Mississippi for lands unknown; to have done all this and leave it all with little more than their family and their faith in God the Eternal Father and His Son Jesus Christ, trusting that They would protect them and lead them to a promised land where they could worship freely; could I have done it?  Would I have been strong enough?  Would my testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ be strong enough to do the same thing?  Would I even have my testimony of Jesus Christ if they hadn't been brave and faithful and trusted the Lord?  If they had stopped right there at that river, turned their back on it and the trek west and walked back up Parley street my family would not be what it is today or have what we have.

As we turned and walked back up Parley street we were greeted by a long row of pioneer stories on marble slabs. This story is one of my stories: I am a Leavitt on my mother's side.  Though most of my ancestors made it across the plains not all did. Many lost their lives pursuing freedom to worship. I am so thankful for their dedication and ultimate sacrifice.

One of the evenings we spent at the Nauvoo pageant.  It was all about the immigration to and building of Nauvoo and the flight from it.  It focused a great deal on the temple that the saints built there so that they could have the House of the Lord in their midst and be sealed to their families for eternity therein.  My Great (x4) grandfather Anson Call was standing guard at the temple the night word came into town that Joseph Smith had been murdered at Liberty Jail.  Shortly after the Saints fled Nauvoo the temple was burned and then destroyed by a tornado.  A few years back (5?) the church rebuilt the Nauvoo temple on the same site and to the same specifications.  I am so glad that we were able to visit that beautiful House, walk up the steps Anson Call guarded and know that because of Temples I will be with my family, all of them, forever.

My children at the front steps of the Nauvoo temple. Isn't that beautiful!


  1. Thanks for showing some of Anson Call's property. Do you remember that Jay is also descended from Anson Call? His mother was a Call. So we are related, in a way.

    Also, I believe it was June 2002 when the Nauvoo temple was dedicated. Eight years. . . goes by fast!

    I've enjoyed reading about your vacation. . .it's like a vicarious vacation. :)

  2. Yes, JeriLynn, I do remember that we are distant cousins. How could I forget such wonderful news?! You may be interested to know that Anson owned several properties and some of his wives owned their own property too. I have brought some of that information back with me on a CD that they burned for me there at the Lands and Records office. It only cost a $1. Is Jay a descendant of Anson Vasco Call? I am not (His brother Willard was mine) but found out on my way through Wyoming that he (Anson Vasco) was sent as a colonizer to Wyoming and was the first mayor of Afton, Wyoming. I thought that was cool.


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