A new and educational attraction will be launched this summer here in Nauvoo, Illinois, to help visitors learn more about its historic past. Most LDS visitors are familiar with Nauvoo’s Mormon era (1839-1846), but that was just one brief moment in Nauvoo’s history. What was Nauvoo like after the Mormon exodus? As the “flats” fell into ruin, what happened to the business district on the “bluff”? Who occupied the temple lot after the temple was destroyed?
Beginning this summer, visitors will find answers to these questions and more. They will catch “a glimpse of Mulholland Street’s past” by taking a free self-guided walking tour of Mulholland’s business district, where they will envision “The Way We Were.” Visitors will discover how the French Icarians, Sisters of St. Benedict, and local businesses defined Nauvoo from the 1850s to the1960s.
“The Way We Were” Walking Tour will begin at “The Way We Were” Interpretive Park on Mulholland across the street from the State Bank of Nauvoo. When the park and tour are finished, visitors may relax on a memorial bench, read informational panels, and pick up a brochure describing the walking tour route. At various locations, they will obtain information sheets with pictures and chronological histories of businesses along the route.
The Beginnings of “The Way We Were” Walking Tour
Karen Ihrig-Gilbert, founder and major promoter of “The Way We Were” Walking Tour, explained that, in 2003, long-time Nauvoo residents attempted to remember where various businesses had been located on Mulholland Street as well as who ran them and when. Since Nauvoo was already filled with Mormon history and a newly rebuilt temple, these residents wanted more of their personal history remembered. Just as LDS visitors felt “a sense of place” with church and family history in Nauvoo, so did long-time residents—some of whom had made Nauvoo their home for five generations. A “sense of place” beckoned residents to preserve their own memories and, in the process, expand what others might learn about Nauvoo’s history.
In 2004, the State of Illinois announced that Nauvoo and three other West-Central Illinois communities were selected to participate in “Streetscape,” a program designed to make their downtown areas more attractive. “The Way We Were” Walking Tour of Mulholland Street fit nicely into Nauvoo’s “Streetscape” program until the project folded.
Despite this setback, Mulholland Street’s history plagued Karen and several “local, like-minded History Buffs.” They began collecting memorabilia, researching sites in a five-block area on Mulholland, holding meetings with long-time residents, and gathering and scanning photos. The History Buffs team grew from time to time, the Nauvoo Historical Society assisted when it could, and Mulholland’s history started to unfold.
A “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” Project
A few years after Gene Shurts and his wife moved to Nauvoo in 2002, Gene began attending History Buffs planning meetings under Karen Ihrig-Gilbert’s leadership.
“Three local individuals,” one of whom was Gene Shurts, “offered to scan, document, and catalog photos,” Karen remembered, while “newspaper articles and personal contacts encouraged local participation. Countless meetings were held to probe people’s memories and encourage hunts for resource materials.” As the research continued, Karen said, the History Buffs “generated ideas for a walking tour that would highlight Mulholland’s past, and a plan was developed.”
Gene Shurts recalled that during a planning meeting in December 2005 or January 2006, the History Buffs agreed upon “a tour down Mulholland Street as the main subject with a time frame of 1850 to 1960.” Gene said, “As time went on, I volunteered for more work and, boy, did Karen take advantage of me.” Gene scanned photographs, organized materials, and conducted interviews. He gathered more photos, newspaper articles, legal documents, and other information from local sources. Gene’s research then expanded to other repositories, such as Western Illinois University, Hancock County Historical Society, Brigham Young University, the LDS Church History Library in Salt Lake City, and the Catholic Sisters in Iowa. The Walking Tour project also grew to include French Icarian buildings on Temple Square (1849-1856) and Sisters of St.
Benedict structures in Nauvoo (1874-2001).
Karen continued to direct the project and spur it on. “She met with many local older citizens to gather information and sometimes would invite me along to discuss items that pertained to the photos and articles,” Gene said. After he obtained old photos, he “tried to document their dates and then consulted with Karen, trying to correctly date them.” Throughout the research process, team members located few primary documents; as a result, Karen said they “tried to be judicious in choosing secondary sources.”
“The Way We Were” Moves Forward
In 2008, the History Buffs planned a “Mulholland Interpretive Park” with three benches and interpretive panels to honor the French Icarians, the Sisters of St. Benedict in Nauvoo, and the merchants of Mulholland from the 1850s to 1960s. They added a fourth panel to describe Mulholland’s Central Business District. Karen sent letters to present and past residents of Nauvoo, requesting historical information and financial contributions—since this endeavor has been and will continue to be privately funded.
Between 2008 and 2009, Karen Ihrig-Gilbert, Gene Shurts, and Jim Moffitt gave “The Way We Were” Power Point presentations to LDS temple and site missionary audiences, general audiences in Nauvoo, and the Sisters at St. Mary Monastery at Rock Island, Illinois (formerly of Nauvoo). Their “nostalgic virtual tour down Mulholland” highlighted businesses and the temple block during the post-Mormon era. “The past is somewhat elusive,” they said in their presentation. “Pictures are frozen moments of that past—merely slices of time that beg identification and interpretation. One picture IS worth a thousand words: the senses are engaged, emotions are stirred, and nostalgic bits and pieces are woven together to create a pattern of the way we were.”
With great effort and devotion, Karen Ihrig-Gilbert and her team have tried to “recreate Mulholland’s past and insure its place in the future” with “The Way We Were” Walking Tour project. The team assisted Karen with research for the Walking Tour brochure and information sheets with pictures, dates, and history of businesses along Mulholland Street. Karen Ihrig-Gilbert and Jeanene Dean of the Nauvoo Tourism Office created and prepared the brochures and information sheets. “The Way We Were” Walking Tour will be up and running sometime this summer, but research on Mulholland Street will continue.
After all, that’s the way history is. As Karen intuitively observed, “Memories and recorded history are sometimes flawed. Reconstructing what was is the continuing job of the researcher.”
After “The Way We Were” Walking Tour opens this summer, watch for a Meridian Magazine article announcing its official opening. Then come to Nauvoo, take the free self-guided tour, and experience an expanded vision of Nauvoo’s history.