Each year Nauvoo, Illinois, with a population of 1,100 attracts over 200,000 visitors. Often called the Williamsburg of the Midwest, Nauvoo is a National Historic Landmark District with over 60 restored historic sites. Live stage productions, horse-drawn wagon tours, activities for children, museums, visitor centers, and seasonal events bring Nauvoo’s past to life.
Although much of Nauvoo’s restored history has focused on the Mormon period (1839-1846), a new attraction titled “The Way We Were” Walking Tour expands the portrait of this historic town. Visitors can take a free self-guided walking tour of Mulholland Street and learn how the French Icarians, Sisters of St. Benedict, and local businesses defined Nauvoo from the 1850s to the1960s.
“The Way We Were” Walking Tour begins at the Walking Tour Interpretive Park, a mini-park on the south side of Mulholland Street across from the State Bank of Nauvoo. Visitors may relax on three limestone memorial benches and read informational panels about the French Icarians, Sisters of St. Benedict, and merchants on Mulholland. Another panel introduces the Walking Tour and provides an overview of the evolution of Nauvoo’s downtown area. A brochure describes the circuitous walking tour route, and 32 information sheets along the route contain photos and chronological histories of businesses on Mulholland Street.
To discover what visitors may learn on the Walking Tour, here is a description of four sites along the route: Temple Square, State Bank of Nauvoo, Nauvoo Tourism Office, and Latter-day Harvest bookstore.
Nauvoo Temple Block (1100 Block, North Side of Mulholland)
After the Mormons left Nauvoo in 1846, Etienne Cabet and his French Icarian group settled in the abandoned city from 1849 to 1856. They purchased the Mormon temple lot and began restoring the edifice, which had been destroyed by fire in 1848, when a tornado leveled the walls in 1850. Using temple stone and other materials, the Icarians constructed various structures on the Temple Block and this area became the community’s hub. A diagram of Icarian buildings on the Temple Block can be read on the Icarian Interpretative Panel at the beginning of the Walking Tour.
On the southwest corner of the Temple Block stood a two-story schoolhouse, which the Icarians built partly with temple ruins in 1851. The lower floor held classrooms, with girls and boys being taught separately at each end of the building. Children, beginning at the age of five, lived in dormitories on the upper floor during the week and on Sundays visited their parents. Although girls could not attend public school in Illinois before 1856, Icarian girls in Nauvoo received an education. This building was used as a schoolhouse until 1860.
From 1860 to 1890, the building housed a drug store and post office. Between 1907 and 1912, it became Ferger’s hospital and drug store. The Catholic Church acquired the building in 1918 and made it a parochial school until 1961. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) then purchased the building, and it became an LDS Visitors’ Center from 1962 until it was razed in 1972.
East of the schoolhouse on Mulholland St., Conrad Knaust built a frame home, and George Hart later purchased it. The Catholic Church tore down the home and built a parish hall where dinners, sporting events, bazaars, plays, dances, funerals, graduation ceremonies, and concerts took place between 1926 and 1961. The building was razed in 1964.
On the southeast corner of the Temple Block on Mulholland and Bluff streets, the Icarians built four two-story frame apartments. One family lived in a two-room apartment with a sitting room and bedroom and no kitchen, as Icarians ate in the community dining hall on the northeast corner of the Temple Block. Over the years, the apartments served as private dwellings and small businesses, such as a jewelry store, drugstore, and ice cream parlor.
North of the apartment houses, the Icarians built a library-print shop and an L-shaped refectory, which served as a communal dining hall, assembly room, and entertainment/lecture theater. The upper floor contained dwellings. This building burned down in the early1860s, but was rebuilt as “City Hall.” It burned again, and the owner replaced it with a smaller structure, the “Nauvoo Opera House,” which functioned as a dance hall, theater for dramatic productions, and movie theater. In 1938, a fire broke out in the move projection booth of the Opera House and destroyed the building.
West of the refectory on Knight Street were a bakery, butcher shop, and blacksmith and harness shop. When the blacksmith shop was razed, Max Reimbold’s Dry Goods Store replaced it in the 1870s. Then, in 1886, Charles Reimbold built a brick home on the property.
Over the years, the early Mormons, Icarians, Catholics, RLDS Church (Community of Christ), and local residents owned all or sections of the Temple Block. Between 1937 and 1962, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Nauvoo Restoration, Inc., acquired this property and, by 1973, all the buildings were gone. This four-acre site was planted in grass, with some original temple foundation stones and stonework for the baptismal font’s well remaining visible. A wrought-iron fence later enclosed the block, and a small replica of the temple was placed inside for visitors to see. Rebuilt and dedicated in 2002, the Nauvoo Temple now stands where the original temple once stood in the 1840s.
In 1895, 1899, 1913, three “Business Blocks” sprang up on Mulholland Street. An architectural plan which connected two or three businesses together into one building with a seamless façade was called a “Business Block.” Two of these “Business Blocks” stood on the 1200 block of Mulholland Street
State Bank of Nauvoo (1205 Mulholland)
During the Mormon period in Nauvoo, Robert Foster, a member of the LDS Church, built a four-story, 50-room hotel in 1842 on the site where the State Bank of Nauvoo now stands. On January 21, 1844, the Prophet Joseph Smith recorded in his journal: “Preached in front of Dr. Foster’s Mammoth Hotel to several thousand people—although weather somewhat unpleasant—on sealing the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers” [Faulring, 442]. Later that year, Robert Foster assisted with the publication of the Nauvoo Expositor on the same block.
Between 1849 and 1855, the Icarians used Foster’s building as a recreation hall.