The air was crisp and cold — very cold, bitter cold.  The sky was still overcast, and the snow on the ground was dry and crunchy.  But instead of the relative quiet on such an icy morning in February, 1846, when families would normally huddle in their warm, fireplace-heated homes, bundled up against the chill air, or remaining in beds still warm from nightlong body heat, Parley Street and each of the dozen streets that merged into it were alive with activity and bustle.  More than alive, the street seemed to be full of chaos.  For three weeks, since the first wagons were ferried across to Iowa on February 4th, families had been leaving Nauvoo, Illinois, and settling in camps west of the Mississippi River, preparing for the massive migration the Brethren had been speaking of for the past several months. 

The ferry crossing at the end of Parley Street was filled with people and wagons; dozens of wagons waiting in queue for their turn to move onto the ice covering the mighty river.  On the night of February 23rd, after a week of storm and snow, the temperatures had dropped to near zero, and by the morning of the 24th, the Mississippi had frozen over, hard enough to traverse with a wagon and team.  Previous crossings during the month had been dangerous at best, with wagons being carried across on flatboats, amidst freezing water and flowing blocks of ice.  But this morning, the storm was past, and the river was still, because of the vast frozen cover that lay upon it.  By midmorning scores of wagons, with oxen, and horses, and hundreds of people in two great lines, spread across the ice from Illinois to Iowa. 

The Temple stood over the city like a beautiful sparkling tiara on a white pillow.  It held the attention of the many soon-to-be travelers as they worked their way down the road leading out of Nauvoo.  For the past year, completing the Temple had been foremost on the minds of the Saints in this city, spurred on by Brigham Young and the other leaders of the Church.  It was the focus of their covenant with the Lord to complete His House where holy ordinances could be performed and the great work of Salvation for the Dead could begin.  They had given all they had to build one of the most beautiful edifices in the country, only to leave it forever on the eve of its final dedication.  Two weeks earlier, on February 9th, the temple roof had caught on fire from an accident with a heating stove, and members had rushed to the scene to fight the blaze.  The damage was contained within an hour, and the fire extinguished.  Repairs were made, even though everyone knew they would never again be able to use the building. 

For the past three months, the membership of the Church had filled the rooms of the Temple, receiving personal endowments, and married couples being sealed for eternity to one another.  It was a period of immense joy in a surrounding of terrible persecution.  For a year, and longer, the enemies of the Church had been attacking the Saints in their homes and communities around Nauvoo, seeking to drive them out. Conflict with the opposition eased during the latter part of 1845 and in early 1846, after President Young assured the Gentile leaders that the Saints would be gone by spring. On February 3rd, packed and ready to depart, Brigham Young went to the Temple and found a large gathering of Saints waiting to receive ordinances.  He had announced that no further endowments or sealings would be performed, but when the crowd remained, he relented and opened the doors.  Two hundred ninety five people received ordinances that day.  Brother Brigham didn’t leave the next day as planned, and waited another ten days before transporting his family to Zion’s Camp in Iowa.  Still the pressure to go was intense, and the move was on. 

The Trail of Hope

Parley Street was the site of the principal ferry from which the Saints left Nauvoo; and so, in later years, Parley Street would come to be known as the Beginning of the “Trail of Hope.”  On this frozen February 24th, it was only one of the points of embarkation on the Trail of Hope.  No ferry was needed, and wherever a team of oxen could step onto the ice, it became a starting point for families and wagons moving west; but throughout the exodus from Nauvoo, it was Parley Street where the center of activity and traffic occurred.

Wagons turned on to Parley Street from a dozen other avenues.  Bain, Granger, Main, Hyde, Carlin, Partridge, and Durphey were principle streets.  Durphey was the main route down the bluffs from the Temple and the numerous homes and businesses surrounding it.  Traveling down this route, wagons passed the recently completed home of Apostle Wilford Woodruff.  Due to his numerous missions and travels, the home was not finished until the fall of 1845.  The Woodruff Family only lived in their home for a short four months before closing it up and leaving with the exodus.  The wagons turned on to Parley Street at the home of “Uncle” John Smith, and his son, Apostle George A. Smith.  This youngest Apostle had just married the previous November, and had left earlier in the month to join Brigham Young, and assist in setting up the camps in Iowa.  Across the Street was the closed up home of Apostle Amasa Lyman who had also gone on to Iowa. 

At Partridge Street, the growing throng passed the homes of Isaac Allred, and Newell K. Whitney, the Presiding Bishop of the Church.  Bishop Whitney and his family had crossed the Mississippi a week earlier, with Apostle Heber C. Kimball and his family, who had lived a block away on Partridge and Kimball Streets.  Bishop Whitney returned to Nauvoo temporarily, to assist the members of the Church as they left the city.  Elder Kimball, a counselor to Brigham Young, had established the Camp of Israel across the river at Sugar Creek, in Lee County, Iowa.  His company, by the time they left Sugar Creek, would include 235 wagons, 1600 animals, and over 300 people. His family at that time included thirty eight wives, most of whom were older women and widows who insisted on being married to him if they were to be under his care during the trek west.  The Gheen family of Partridge Street joined his company.  Esther Ann Gheen, the widow of William Atkins Gheen, was the mother of two of Brother Heber’s wives, Ann Alice and Amanda.  Esther Ann moved west with her four youngest children, Stephen, Mary Ann, Levi, and Sarah Ellen (the author’s ancestor). 

Walking down Parley Street, the emigrants passed the homes of Conrad Seibel, Aaron Blake, Henry W. Miller, William Dorlund, and Simon Pinkham.  At the corner of Hyde and Parley Streets, Gully’s store was teeming with customers, busy selling goods to last minute shoppers.  Across the street, William Clayton’s home was open.  As secretary to President Young, William had moved his family to Zion’s Camp on the 13th, but his wife, Diantha Farr Clayton, was nearing the completion of her pregnancy, and remained at home with her parents, Winslow and Olive Farr, until the baby arrived.  Friends stopped by, as they slowly wended their way down the street, to pay their respects to her; to offer their best wishes and hopes for her first child.  Five weeks later, on March 31st, 1846, Diantha gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Moroni Clayton.  William received word of the birth of his son a week later, on the trail across Iowa, and in joy and celebration, wrote the words to the great Pioneer hymn “Come, Come Ye Saints.” 

Rolling forward toward the ferry, the wagons passed Zundell’s Pottery and the Hatfield Cabinet Shop, and the home of Robert Snyder.  On the north side of the street were the homes of Nathaniel Ashby, John Gray, George B. Wallace, David Butter, Ezra Oakley, Gibson Devine, John Bowen, and more.  Several of these families were joining the companies of Brigham Young, John Taylor, or as in the case of George B. Wallace, were leading their own companies west. 

Past the Home of the Prophet

Passing Main Street, the travelers were able to look southward to the home of their beloved Prophet Joseph Smith.  His widow, Emma, and her older sons were out saying farewell to the many Saints who were going west with Brigham Young.  Emma, because of her marriage, and also due to her various callings, knew many of the people, and had become friends to hundreds of these passing pioneers.  It must have been especially difficult saying goodbye to the family of her sister-in-law, Mary Fielding Smith, the widow of Hyrum, or to Joseph’s Uncle, John Smith, and several cousins.  Emma was finished with moving and wasn’t leaving her husband’s side, even though he was long-since buried.

The Trail of Hope carried on past the homes of John Coolidge, Joseph Armstrong, Sherwood Judd, Elijah Fuller, and Joshua Smith.  At the corner of Parley and Granger Streets stood the residence of Apostle John Taylor, and behind it, the Brigham Young home, both closed and boarded up.  Across the street, the Webb Wagon and Blacksmith Shop were in full activity.  The five Webb brothers made and repaired wagons in preparation for the westward trek. They were repairing wheels, and making harnesses, as their furnaces blasted out heat into the street, where it was fully appreciated by all of the passers-by.  Next door was the Seventies Hall, where most of the men in Nauvoo, at one time or another, gathered to receive religious instruction from the Prophet and other leaders of the Church.  While wards had existed in Nauvoo, they were governmental in nature.  Sabbath meetings were generally held in members’ homes, with priesthood holders sharing the gospel they had received at the Seventies Hall. 

Across the street stood the home and shop of Lucian R. Foster.  He had been busy as a photographer in Nauvoo, and the surrounding area.  Recently he made images of Emma Smith with her baby son, David Hyrum, and several views of the Temple rising over the soon-to-be abandoned city. 

Near the ferry at the end of the street the Saints passed the homes of Nahum Curtis and his son, Lyman, who left Nauvoo with some of the first groups going west.  Lyman’s wife, Charlotte Alvord Curtis, gave birth to a baby boy the night after they left, but he died from exposure.  Nahum fell ill as they started across Iowa, and returned to Nauvoo, where he died on March 9, 1846. 

At the end of Parley Street near the ferry, the families, oxen, and wagons stepped off onto the ice.  The last home they passed was the one belonging to Captain James White.  His home served as a hotel and an Inn for shippers traveling up and down the Mississippi River.  He was one of the first residents in that area, having settled in Commerce, as Nauvoo was known in 1823, long before the arrival of Joseph Smith, and the LDS Church members.  At the ferry, leafless and covered with snow, stood an elm tree that for a century was the landmark of the Nauvoo Ferry. 

The “people” of Parley Street were not just the residents who lined this corridor to the West.  The immigrants who passed down Parley Street must also be regarded as her People.  Without them, this would be but a section of unpaved road that would have long since disappeared into the pages of history.  The August issue of The Ensign, the flagship periodical for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, features an article by this author entitled “A Walk Down Parley Street.”  The intent of that article was to provide a personal visualization, of President Gordon B. Hinckley’s comments at the last dedication service for the Nauvoo Temple, on June 30, 2002.  He asked the participants at the dedication, when they left the Temple that evening, to “walk down Parley Street,” and imagine a young family with children, leaving their warm home, and beginning the trek west in the cold and ice of February in 1846.  Together, with the beautiful artwork and maps by artist Glen Hopkinson, the story President Hinckley spoke of was retold with the imagery of the family of Widow Esther Ann Gheen, the author’s 3rd Great Grandmother.  The purpose of the article was to show members of the Church, that they too could apply the story of their ancestors, to President Hinckley’s call to walk down Parley Street. Through our study of family history we can all share in the memory of the greatness and devotion of brave men, women, and children, whether in Nauvoo, or anywhere else in the world, who left all they had, out of love for their Heavenly Father, and “walked down Parley Street.”

To this writer, the story of “A Walk Down Parley Street,” presented by President Hinckley, was an allegory using a visual, historical setting to describe “Leaving the World, to follow the Word of the Lord.”  By identifying real, historical individuals in my genealogy who made that walk, it made their commitment, and their covenant with Heavenly Father, more personal and dear to me.  These weren’t just nameless symbols of Gospel stories; this was MY Great Grandmother.  She gave everything for me.  What can I do for her?  Like her, I can leave the World, and follow the Word of the Lord.  And I can teach this to my children, too. 

*           *           *           *           *           *

For those who want to make the Walk Down Parley Street live for them, and who want to know how their family were the People of Parley Street, here are a few records to search, and steps to take:

First, Remember, the Walk Down Parley Street applies to any Ancestor who “left the World, to follow the Word of the Lord.”  They may never have been in Nauvoo. Their “walk” may have begun 150 years ago, or it may be happening now.  If you are “that ancestor,” write down your story of your “Walk Down Parley Street”, and share your testimony with your family. However, for the purposes of this article, we will focus our research recommendations on the families that lived in or near Nauvoo. 

1.  Find out who your ancestors were who joined the Church.  Do this by searching family records, speaking with family members, or looking up information in LDS Church records on the Internet, or at your nearest Family History Library.

2.  Identify where your ancestor lived in the Nauvoo area.  Finding them as documented individuals in a given place, at a specific time, makes them real.  Suddenly they become part of history, and we can relate them to other historic people and events around them. 

Recently, my wife learned that an ancestor, Benjamin Gardner Curtis, was one of a group of Church members living in the Carthage area after the Nauvoo Saints had left on the trek west.  Gardner Curtis lived in the South West Quarter of Section 24, Township 5, Range 6, about three miles east of the City of Carthage.  On July 11, 1846, he and six other men were harvesting wheat in a field twelve miles from Nauvoo, when they were surrounded by an angry mob.  Their tools and weapons were taken away, and they were forced to kneel on the side of a gully where they were severely whipped and beaten.  Gardner Curtis survived the beating and later brought his family to Utah, where he lived a life faithful to the Gospel. My wife realized that because of her ancestor’s devotion, she had the legacy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in her life.  For her, this was the start of A Walk Down Parley Street.

3.  Sources that help identify places where people lived, in and around Nauvoo, Illinois, include:

About the Author:

James W. Petty has 30 years experience as a professional genealogist, having received degrees in history and genealogy from Brigham Young University. He has worked for the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has authored numerous articles for the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, The Virginia Genealogist, Heritage Quest, Utah Genealogical Society Journal, People Search, and World Search Magazines. In addition to his column on Meridian he writes a genealogy column for People Finders, and World Search. He has certified as a Certified Genealogical Records Searcher.

If you are interested in using his services to help you with your family genealogy, he can be contacted at

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