In 1846, the early Latter-day Saints closed the doors to their homes and temple and bid farewell to Nauvoo, Illinois. Wilford Woodruff wrote these words in his journal: “I left Nauvoo for the last time perhaps in this life. I looked upon the Temple & City of Nauvoo as I retired from it & felt to ask the Lord to preserve it as a monument of the sacrifice of his Saints.” [1]

If Wilford Woodruff could walk the streets of Old Nauvoo today and visit the reconstructed temple on the bluff, he would know his prayer had been answered. The memory of Nauvoo remained in the hearts of Latter-day Saints, and through the efforts of descendants of the early settlers, Nauvoo has become “a monument of the sacrifice of his Saints.” Thanks to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Nauvoo Restoration, Incorporated (NRI), and Community of Christ’s Joseph Smith Historic Site, Nauvoo is one of America’s premier historic communities. On July 27, 2012, NRI celebrated 50 years of service to Nauvoo. How did this begin?

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Early RLDS Interest in Nauvoo

Late in the 19th century, the Joseph Smith family increased its interest in the City Beautiful. In 1893, Joseph Smith’s son Alexander said, “I haven’t for years felt a particle of interest in the old place until late. I feel we ought to take advantage of every opportunity to get a foot hold there again.”[2]Between 1908 and 1919, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS)-now called Community of Christ–purchased the Smith Family Cemetery, Nauvoo House, Mansion House, Homestead, and Red Brick Store foundation. By 1918, guides were presenting tours through three of the properties. In 1939, RLDS leaders planned for further improvements on their properties. By 1940, grounds had been landscaped and interior rooms of the houses contained period furnishings.

DSCN3605 Mansion 2012Mansion House today

Pre-Nauvoo Restoration, Inc.

The first property The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints purchased in Hancock County, Illinois, was Carthage Jail. This took place in 1903 under the direction of LDS President Joseph F. Smith, whose father had been martyred in that building. During that same time period, the Church bought historic sites in New York and Vermont. In 1937, the Church began acquiring property in Nauvoo when Wilford Wood from Bountiful, Utah, negotiated the purchase of the first parcel of the Nauvoo Temple block.

Rumors spread that “Mormons are to increase their holdings here,” [3]according to an article in the Carthage Gazette in 1937. In 1938, the First Presidency stated, “We shall be glad to erect in the future such memorial on the Temple Block, if secured by the State of Illinois, as will fittingly carry out your project.” [4]In 1939, the Hancock County Journal noted that”it is understood the Mormon Church has already appropriated $100,000 to finance the beginning of the work of reconstructing the old Temple.” [5]

DSCN3572 Nauvoo Temple

In 1938, Bryant S. Hinckley, Northern States LDS Mission President, noted that “time has worked a mighty change in Nauvoo” since the early Saints left in 1846. Hinckley maintained a vision of a restored Nauvoo. “The completion of this extraordinary project will be a matter of far-reaching significance. It will bring into relief one of the most heroic, dramatic, and fascinating pioneer achievements ever enacted upon American soil.” [6]

After Wilford Wood purchased a small section of the Nauvoo Temple lot, he bought the Times and Seasons building and several other historic sites and deeded them to the LDS Church, urging leaders to tell Nauvoo’s story to visitors. By 1962, with Wood’s assistance, the entire temple block had finally been purchased for the Church through ten transactions over 25 years.

Wilford WoodWilford Wood

The Beginnings of NRI

Salt Lake Physician J. LeRoy Kimball recalled, “I think it was in 1930 that I went through Nauvoo. I found the Heber C. Kimball home . . . which to me was a beautiful home, and particularly since it was owned by my great-grandfather.” Dr. Kimball started making yearly trips to Nauvoo, and “I haven’t missed any year since 1932,” he said in an interview forty years later.[7]

DSCN3617 HC KimballHeber C. Kimball home before restoration

Although his ancestor’s house had been occupied over the years, it was old and needed repair. Finally in 1954, Dr. Kimball purchased his great-grandfather’s residence and restored it as a family vacation home. Yet when a thousand guests attended the dedication on July 3, 1960, Dr. Kimball knew that he must share this historic site with others. “We’ve never spent a night in the Heber C. Kimball home,” Dr. Kimball said. “We spent the two weeks we thought as a vacation simply showing tourists through,” and “we stayed in the Pioneer Motel.” [8]Interestingly, Dr. Kimball’s great-grandfather had only lived in his beautiful red brick home four months before joining the Mormon exodus to the West. Sometime after the dedication of the home, Dr. Kimball hadMr. and Mrs. Perkins live there, and during the next yearthey entertained 15,000 visitors.

DSCN3580 Heber C. KimballHeber C. Kimball home today

Soon Dr. Kimball heard that a motel might be built across the street, so he purchased several properties nearby to prevent that from happening. When he learned that “more people asked about the Brigham Young home than the Heber C. Kimball home or the Joseph Smith’s properties,” Dr. Kimball bought that house and several others, including Wilford Woodruff’s residence.

BY home when purchased by NRIBrigham Young home before restoration

Now Dr.

Kimball considered setting up a nonprofit corporation and charging money to visit the sites in order to facilitate restoration.   He informed LDS Church President David O. McKay that he would like to renovate about 40 homes in Nauvoo if he had the money to do so. . President McKay was willing to have the Church help–along with private donations.

DSCN3591 Brigham Young 2012

“This Nauvoo Restoration thing wasn’t a one man proposition,” Dr. Kimball said, so “I suggested to him if the church was going to put in the finances, why shouldn’t we have an organization.” [9]On July 27, 1962, the First Presidency approved Nauvoo Restoration, Incorporated (NRI), as a non-profit organization and called Dr. Kimball as its first president. He served in that position from 1963 to 1987.

Dr J LeRoy Kimball 1Dr. J. LeRoy Kimball

Jim Kimball, Dr. Kimball’s son, wrote, “During the 23 years of Dad’s service, under the direction of the First Presidency, Nauvoo Restoration Inc. purchased approximately 1,000 acres of property.” In addition, “twenty-four LDS structures were historically restored totally or in part.” Yet, “one of my father’s favorite sayings was that NRI is no crash program.'” [10]

DSCN3565NRI map of Nauvoo

Dr. Kimball envisioned Nauvoo’s place in American history and its part in the pioneer migration to the West. Knowing that restoration must be factual and well documented, Dr. Kimball contacted experts from such places as Jamestown and Williamsburg, Virginia, and the National Parks System for advice about restoring Old Nauvoo. The State of Illinois presented Nauvoo with a plaque with this inscription: “Nauvoo has been designated a Registered National landmark under the provision of the Historic sites, August 21, 1935. The site possesses exceptional value in commemorating the history of the United States. United States Department of Interior.”

NRI implemented the four steps to authentic restoration: historical research, archaeology, reconstruction, and decoration. Restoration required historical and archaeological research, with homes and buildings being built and furnished as authentically as possible.

Seventies Hall renovation

With the assistance of two Hancock County attorneys, NRI purchased land, houses, and crumbling foundations on the “flat” and began the work of restoration. Nauvoo attorney Preston Kimball represented NRI until he died in 1976. LeRoy A. Ufkes from Carthage then served as NRI’s legal representative for over thirty years.

Parley Holliday, NRI Project Manager from 1971 to 1982, said that NRI purchased most of its properties between 1964 and 1971, after consulting with Ed Kendrew of the Colonial Williamsburg restoration project. Kendrew recommended buying property quickly but taking time to restore the homes and buildings. Preston Kimball handled the legal work during these busy years.

Leroy Ufkus became involved with NRI “when they were cleaning up the flat. They bought the properties in the name of NRI and paid the going price. Most of the properties were vacated and run down.” Ufkes noted that “the Mormon Church was awfully nice to people who wanted to sell their properties on the flat.”

Dr. Kimball remembered that “some people wanted to sell and some people sold because they got a good price, but I think that I made very few enemies because it was a rare case that I didn’t give the people what they asked as far as the property was concerned.” [11]When two sisters sold their homes to NRI, the Church granted them lifetime occupancy. These sisters remembered when weeds were so high on the flat that “it was a regular forest down through here,” and Dr. Kimball told them what Old Nauvoo could become.

In 1967, Dr. Kimball was asked about plans for the Nauvoo Temple block. “This has not been decided yet. One suggestion is to partially restore it, perhaps rebuilding only a corner of the building to the tower base. This will allow people to get an idea of the temple’s grandeur and permit them to climb to the top and see the beautiful view of the Mississippi River and the countryside about which so many visitors as well as the Saints wrote” [12]

Dr. Kimball’s son Jim recalled that “Dad always preached . . . that Nauvoo should provide both a historic and a spiritual context for learning. He proclaimed to all who would listen that the Temple Block was the great centerpiece’ of the project.”[13]

During Dr. Kimball’s time as president, NRI moved forward with research, archaeological digs, and renovation of houses and buildings. In 1969, ground was broken for the Historic Nauvoo Visitors’ Center, and the building was dedicated on Sept. 4, 1971.

Nau Vis Cen 1980Historic Nauvoo Visitors’ Center, 1980

In preparation for the sesquicentennial of the founding of the Church in 1830, a Monument to Women Memorial Garden was constructed behind the Nauvoo Visitors’ Center and dedicated in 1978. This garden with its sculptures, brick walkways, flowers, shrubs, and trees commemorates the organization of the Relief Society in Nauvoo in 1842. Thirteen statutes represent women of the past, present, and future as well as the dimensions of a woman’s life. The brick walkways flowing in a circular pattern symbolize the eternal nature of life.

NauWomens Garden 1980Monument to Women Garden, 1980

DSCN3609 Womens GardenMonument to Women Garden, 2012

In addition to restoration work of NRI, the RLDS Church renovated the Joseph Smith homestead and the section of the Mansion House that was still standing. On April 6, 1980, the Church’s sesquicentennial, the RLDS Church dedicated the rebuilt Joseph Smith’s Red Brick Store where the Relief Society was organized. A month later, the Joseph Smith Historic Site Visitors Center was dedicated. A spirit of cooperation developed and continues today between the RLDS (Community of Christ) and LDS churches in the work of restoration and visitor tours.

DSCN3600 Sep 2012

In 1982, the LDS Church announced the dedication of 16 restored buildings and the excavation of the Nauvoo Temple site.

In January of 1987, Dr.Kimball retired as president of NRI, and Elder Loren C. Dunn, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, became the president.

By 1989, the sesquicentennial year of the arrival of the early Saints in Nauvoo, NRI had restored and dedicated other historical sites, including Carthage Jail and the block where it stands. This dedication took place on June 27, 1989.

Carth Jail cardRestored Carthage Jail and statues

End of Nauvoo’s Historical Restoration

On June 27, 1989, Elder Loren C. Dunn reported that “no further restoration is planned in the Nauvoo area. With the homes and shops the Church has restored over the years, plus the visitors centers at Nauvoo and Carthage, there is enough of a flavor of the old city there now to give people a good idea of how it was. . . . After this year, Nauvoo Restoration, Inc., will continue to function, but in an operations and maintenance mode, rather than one of construction.”[14]

“This has been a most spiritually uplifting and rewarding experience for all of us who have been involved with this particular era of time in Nauvoo,” Elder Dunn said. In “the future there will be the maintenance and ongoing operation of the historic buildings and sites in Nauvoo and Carthage and also the operation of the farm,” a 1,000-acre operation that represents the rural atmosphere of early Nauvoo.[15]

TS JT PO-rpPrinting Office, John Taylor home, Post Office in Old Nauvoo today

Historians may not agree on what Nauvoo was really like, but since NRI’s beginnings in 1962, visitors who come to this historic place receive a taste of 1840s Nauvoo. In 2011, NRI was dissolved, and the Church’s Historic Sites Committee took over general responsibilities. On this 50th-anniversary year of Nauvoo Restoration, Inc., the name has been changed to Nauvoo Facilities Management (NFM), said Casey Cluff, 2011 NRI manager and current NFM manager. This new organization has plenty to do to support the Illinois Nauvoo Mission, Nauvoo Temple, Nauvoo Productions, Nauvoo Pageant, and Nauvoo City and community. Some of the responsibilities include ground maintenance, vehicles and equipment, 30 historical sites, two visitor centers, two outdoor stages, mission home, 173 missionary apartments, parking lots, storage buildings, vegetation, barns, horses and oxen-and the list goes on.

DSCN3570 Sep 2012Nauvoo Facilities Management sign ready for installation

Where does the Nauvoo Restoration story begin? “I left Nauvoo for the last time perhaps in this life,” said Wilford Woodruff. “I looked upon the Temple & City of Nauvoo as I retired from it & felt to ask the Lord to preserve it as a monument of the sacrifice of his Saints.” Thank you, NRI, for 50 years of service to this monument to the early Saints. We look forward to many more years of NFM’s maintenance and operation of sites that commemorate church and United States history and provide both historic and spiritual contexts for learning.


Rosemary Palmer is Nauvoo, Illinois, correspondent for Meridian Magazine.

[1] Woodruff, Wilford.(1983). Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Signature Books, 3:49.

[2] Shireman, Joseph Smith, Jr., and His Illinois Legacy, 18-19.

[3] Carthage Gazette,Feb. 27, 1937.

[4] The First Presidency, Improvement Era, 1938.

[5] Hancock County Journal, March 9, 1939.

[6] Hinckley, Bryant S.Improvement Era, August 1938.

[7] “J.Leroy Kimball Memoir.”Interview by William Ortman, 1972, University of Illinois at Springfield.Norris Brookens Library Archives.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Kimball, J. L. (1992). “J. LeRoy Kimball, Nauvoo Restoration Pioneer: A Tribute.” BYU Studies, Vol. 32, nos. 1, 2.

[11] Interview byWilliam Ortman, 1972.

[12] Kimball, J. L. “About Nauvoo Restoration.”Improvement Era, July 1967, 14.

[13] Kimball, BYU Studies, Vol. 32, nos. 1, 2.

[14] Dunn, Loren C., June 27, 1989, NRI Historical Files

[15] Lloyd, R. Scott, “Era of Restoration Ends in Nauvoo.”Church News.Published Sat., Oct. 6, 1990.