Growing Up in Nauvoo
By Rosemary G. Palmer

What was life like for a child growing up in Nauvoo, Illinois, in the 1920s and the Great Depression?  “I have many fond memories of those years,” said Mary Baxter Logan, who has lived over eighty years in Nauvoo as a third-generation resident. 

When Mary was young, Nauvoo was a quiet town with little or no crime where people left their doors unlocked. Nauvoo’s population was about the same as it is today.  Mulholland, the main street “on the hill,” had three grocery stores, two gas stations, two blacksmith shops, a variety store, hardware store, bakery, public library, and several other businesses.  Temple square housed buildings, such as a school, Opera House, and apartments, built by the French Icarians in the 1850s, as well as other shops and buildings. 

“Temple Square with French Icarian buildings”

The “flats” next to the Mississippi River were overgrown with weeds, and most homes needed repair.  “Lots of people lived down there and were desperately poor-it was the Depression,” Mary remembered.  “They were good people but poor.”  None of the Mormon homes had been restored.  “Only the Joseph Smith Homestead and Mansion House were in good repair.  The Kimball home needed attention.”  Families lived in the Brigham Young and Willard Richards homes and the Cultural Hall.

Mary’s parents, Fred and Dorothy Baxter, raised Betty, Mary, Fred, and Annette “on the hill” in a stucco home on Gordon and Munson streets. The house had a wrap-around porch, which “was a wonderful place to learn to roller skate” and play with jacks, dolls, and buggies.  In a large sand pile under a Catalpa tree, the Baxter children built elaborate roads and runways with sand and toy cars. 

“Mary’s childhood home today without porch”

 “It was a treat to go for a ride in the car,” Mary recalled. At that time, families only owned one car.  Often Fred Baxter drove his family “to town”- Fort Madison, Keokuk, or Burlington-or to visit relatives in Fort Madison. Mary remembered riding across the frozen Mississippi River with her parents in their 1928 or 1929 Model A Ford to Montrose, Iowa, and then to Fort Madison.  Sometimes the family even traveled to Hannibal, Missouri.

The Baxter children also enjoyed riding along Water Street in Nauvoo, where several families lived.  An artistic girl named Rosie Kachle had painted beautiful pictures on five large stonemason stones. The family kept the riverbank mowed, and Rosie placed her decorated stones there for all to enjoy.  Later, someone pushed the stones into the river. “Why doesn’t someone go into the river and find them and put them in their yards?” Mary wondered.

Born in 1924, Mary Logan remembered that during the Depression, “people in Nauvoo didn’t have much.  They didn’t spend much money, they never expected much, and they walked where they wanted to go.” Even so, Mary did not feel deprived. “Those with big gardens were not desperately hungry.” Her mother was “a wonderful sewer” and “made plenty of clothes.”  Mary’s grandparents raised cows for milk and butter, and her dad raised hogs for meat.  Yet, some families in Nauvoo struggled. One day Mary and another child were walking home from school when the girl spotted a dime on the sidewalk.  The grateful child picked up the dime and took it into the grocery store to buy a tub of lard for her family. 

Mary’s Nauvoo Roots

In 1844, James and Catherine Faulkner, Mary’s maternal ancestors, moved to Nauvoo to join the LDS Church.  Because of troubles in Nauvoo after the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith, James and Catherine did not settle in Nauvoo.  Instead, they took their family to Quincy and joined the Catholic Church.  After the Mormon exodus, the Faulkners returned to Nauvoo to farm.  James Faulkner built a stone house across the road from the old pioneer cemetery, and in that house he and Catherine raised nine children.  That home still is inhabited today.

“Home built by James Faulkner”

Mary’s paternal ancestors, Emile and Annette Baxter, took their young family to Nauvoo in 1855 to join the French Icarians, who settled in the abandoned Mormon city in 1849.  Unfortunately, the Icarians disbanded in 1856, and Emile and Annette returned to New Jersey.  The next year, however, Emile purchased grape cuttings and returned with his family to live in Nauvoo, cultivate grapes, and produce wine.

Emile’s French and German neighbors also raised grapes, and by 1880, Nauvoo had at least 600 acres of grapes and 40 stone wine cellars. Mary’s father, Fred Baxter, became the third generation to raise grapes and make wine for commercial use.  For five generations this business has been in the Baxter family. Today, Mary Logan’s son operates Baxter’s Vineyards. 

Mary’s grandfather, Cecil Baxter, was born and raised in Nauvoo, and he knew Emma Smith, the Prophet Joseph’s wife.  Cecil often walked with Emma’s grandson, Frederick Alexander Smith, to his grandmother’s house for milk and cookies after school.  Mary remembered Grandfather Baxter telling about Emma Smith’s kindness to him during his childhood.  He refused to listen to negative comments about her.

School Memories

Mary attended elementary school at SS Peter and Paul School on the southwest corner of the Nauvoo Temple block.  The school, originally built from temple stone by the French Icarians, became the Catholic school where Mary attended 12 years of school.  She remembered playing ball and Red Rover on the ball diamond near the school.  One day, probably during fifth grade, Mary was either third-base catcher or the person running to third base.  “When the runner reached third base, we both jumped, and the base gave way.  We went down into a hole.  The nuns thought we had fallen into a well. We had actually fallen into part of the Mormon Temple,” Mary said.  “It was dry and dark.  I thought I was Alice in Wonderland.”  Although the two children were not injured, the hole was promptly filled in. 

“SPP school c1930 “

With no school buses for transportation, children walked to school in rain, snow, or sunshine. “In those days girls did not wear slacks,” Mary said. “To keep warm in the winter, we wore long underwear and stockings.” The Baxter children lived a mile from school, and in the wintertime they stopped at several places along the way to get warm. At “Grandma” Yager’s house, they received a dime to buy her a loaf of bread.  The children warmed themselves inside Schneider and Hummel’s grocery store, and on their way home from school, they stopped in again to get warm and purchase Grandma Yager’s loaf of bread.

  “Schneider and Hummel’s store”

Christmas in Nauvoo

Christmas was a happy season for Mary Logan.  Her father chopped down a cedar tree in the woods, and the family decorated it with ornaments, strings of popcorn, and lights. “We always had a crche on our library table,” said Mary.  Although the city did little decorating for Christmas, Santa gave sacks of goodies-ribbon candy, haystacks, an orange, and a popcorn ball-to children outside Hotel Nauvoo.

“Older photo of Hotel Nauvoo”

On Christmas morning, “I think at 6:00 a.m.,” the Baxter family attended Mass at the Catholic Church.  “Often we had to walk because the car would not start.  We had lots of company because others had the same problem.”  The music inside the church “was fantastic.  We had the greatest organ and talented people to sing.”

“I believe that Christmas was much more exciting in those years,” Mary said.  “We did not receive a room full of presents, and we were happy with the few presents we got.”  Mary added, “We usually received a toy, an article of clothing, and a game to share.  I remember one year I received a pair of stockings with butterflies up the back.”  Other gifts included autograph books, mittens, and sleds.  “We always received a jigsaw puzzle.  One year it was a map of the United States.  Mom made us say the name of the state and its capitol when we placed the state in its proper place.”

Mary recalled going to Grandma Kelly’s home each year for Christmas dinner. “Ma Kelly” lived nine miles east of Nauvoo in a large two-story house with no electricity.  She raised her own turkeys, which she butchered and roasted in an old cook stove.  She also made homemade pumpkin and mincemeat pies and plum pudding. “All of mom’s eight siblings and their families were there, and it was fun.”

The Christmas season often brought snow, and to Nauvoo youngsters this meant coasting.  The Baxter children pulled their sled to Schenk’s Hill on Young Street, where the snow was packed down and the street blocked off. “On a good day we could coast all the way to Main Street,” Mary recalled.  “Once, someone sprayed water, and we coasted almost to the Water Works Plant.”  It was a long walk back to Schenk’s Hill to coast down again. When the Baxter children finished sledding, they walked another mile home. “No wonder we went to bed early!” Mary said.


Summer was a busy time for the Baxter children.  Their father and several neighbors raised strawberries and raspberries, and from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., Mary and Betty picked berries.  “We were paid the hefty sum of one cent per quart of strawberries and one-half cent per pint of raspberries,” Mary recalled.  “Actually, that was good money during the Depression.”  As young teenagers, “Dad made a deal with Betty and me. We would do all the work, pay for the baskets, etc., and keep the money from selling them.”  Mary and Betty enjoyed that arrangement.

“In hot weather in the early evening, Dad or Mom would drive us to the old bathing beach above Argo Bay [near Inspiration Point] for swimming.” Mary learned how to swim in the Mississippi River. “The water was clear and the beach was sandy, and it was even sandy out in the river.  Sometimes we would swim at the Old Stone Bridge.” 

“During the summertime, we had several softball teams in Nauvoo,” Mary said.  “Several nights a week there would be a softball game at the ball diamond on Temple Square.”  Mary went twice a week to watch. “It was a boy or man thing,” as females did not play on softball teams. “We also had a Nauvoo City Band, which gave concerts in City Park on Wednesday nights.  We had a nickel for an ice cream cone from Kraus’s Caf.  John always had homemade ice cream,” Mary recalled. 

Visitors to Nauvoo

When friends came to town, Mary and her friends “walked to the winery at the southwestern part of town and then to the Joseph Smith Homestead and Mansion House owned by the RLDS Church” [now Community of Christ Church]. As they toured the homes, Mary learned about Joseph Smith.  “For many years I believed that the RLDS were the Mormons.  They were the only ones here.” Nauvoo Restoration had not yet begun.

“Older photo of the Mansion House”

After visiting the Joseph Smith sites, Mary and her friends walked down Water Street to the ferryboat landing.  “For a dime we could spend several hours riding the ferryboat back and forth to Montrose.  We had a nickel for a coke.  Les Reimbold had the juke box on, and we could dance to the music.  When we were teenagers, the excursion boats would be on the river, stopping at Fort Madison.  We would get to spend an afternoon cruising the river.”  Between 1926 and the early 1940s, the ferryboat operated April through November. 

Opera House Fire

The Opera House, originally built as the Icarian commissary, stood on the northeast corner of temple square.  In 1938, the Opera House was a movie theater, and Mary remembered when it burned down.  She and her brother were in the theater watching the movie “Kentucky Moonshine” when fire broke out in the projection booth.  The Nauvoo Grape Festival had been held on the street by the Opera House, and the street was still blocked off.  During the Festival, the city moved the fire truck, and no one could remember where it was.  When the truck was found, volunteer firemen discovered that the fire hose was broken.  According to Mary, fire engines coming from Fort Madison, Keokuk, and Hamilton arrived at the Opera House about the same time as Nauvoo’s fire truck.  Mary’s father always insisted that his children sit next to the fire exit in the theater.  As a result, she and her brother quickly exited the building.  Although the Opera House burned to the ground, all 150 people left the building safely.

“Nauvoo Opera House after the fire”

Asset to Nauvoo

During her eighty years in Nauvoo, Mary Eleanor Baxter Logan has been an asset to her community.  She has been involved in civic and community service through organizations such as the Icarians, American Legion Auxiliary of Women, and tourism-where she volunteered for many years.  She also shared her knowledge of Nauvoo history as a step-on guide for tour buses that came to town.  Mary Logan still imparts her knowledge, recollections, and scrapbook pages of Nauvoo people, places, and experiences. Her family has been part of the Nauvoo scene almost since the Mormon era.  Mary Logan bridges Nauvoo past with Nauvoo today.  Her childhood recollections help us see Nauvoo from a time and perspective that otherwise might be forgotten.

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