Nauvoo Mormon Temple
On Easter Sunday, April 4, 1999, during General Conference, Mormon Church President Gordon B. Hinckley made the announcement that the historic Nauvoo Temple would be rebuilt. During his closing remarks, President Hinckley stated, “I feel impressed to announce that among all of the temples we are constructing, we plan to rebuild the Nauvoo Temple…The new building will stand as a memorial to those who built the first structure there on the banks of the Mississippi.”
The original Nauvoo Temple was the second temple the Mormon Church built in its early days. Nauvoo was the last haven of safety for the Mormons before their move west to Utah. Mormons moved to Illinois in 1839, after having been driven from the state of Missouri. Undeterred, the members turned the swampy area into the thriving city of Nauvoo. Work on the temple began in 1841 and construction was originally overseen by the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Joseph Smith, however, did not live to see the Nauvoo Temple finished. The prophet was murdered at Carthage Jail on June 27, 1844. Work on the temple continued, and the temple was finally dedicated in May 1846. Thousands of the Mormon pioneers received their temple ordinances prior to their trek west. Shortly after the temple’s completion it was abandoned. Two years after the Nauvoo Temple was completed, the temple was almost entirely destroyed by arsonists. An 1850 tornado toppled most of what remained of the temple and the remaining stones were used elsewhere in other buildings.
Over a century later, Sister Marjorie Hopkins Bennion learned a remarkable story about the Nauvoo Temple blueprints when she met Sandra Griffin Hardy, a great great grand daughter of William Weeks, the Nauvoo Temple Architect.
Sister Bennion said: “in 1948, a young missionary from Heber City Utah, Elder Vern C. Thacker, was transferred to the small remote town of Boron, California, in the Mojave desert. While there he and his companion, Elder Frank Gifford, knocked on the door of the home of Mr. and Mrs. Leslie M. Griffin, who graciously greeted them.
“Mr. Griffin was not a member of the Church but told the missionaries he was a grandson of William Weeks, the architect and the old ‘Mormon Temple in Nauvoo, Illinois.’ Although Leslie remembered little of his grandfather, he knew William was very proud of his role as [temple] architect…The two Mormon missionaries developed an excellent relationship with the Griffin Family…Before Thacker was to return home to Utah following the completion of his mission, Griffin turned the temple drawings over to him with instructions for him to turn them to Church Headquarters in Salt Lake City. Thacker recalled the scene: ‘on our last visit to Mr. Griffin he excused himself for a few minutes and went to the rear of the house. He returned with a large roll of papers, about 3 feet long, ten inches in diameter, secured with a rubber band. He explained, “These are the original architect’s drawings for the Nauvoo Temple. They have been in my family for over 100 years, handed down from my Grandfather William Weeks.”
“‘He opened the bundle…There were exterior drawings, some interior, an angel on a weather vane, pencil sketches of circular stairways, circular windows, archways, etc. Even the measurements for various details of the Temple were included in Williams’s handwriting. They were yellowed with age but in amazingly good condition. Mr. Griffin knew I was returning home in a few days. He asked me if I would do him a favor of carrying these plans to Church Headquarters. I assured him it would be a great honor for me to do so. He said he felt strongly that, after 100 years, these should be given to the Church. I subsequently left Boron with the plans tucked into the turtle back trunk of my Ford.’
“One week after returning from his mission, Thacker made an [appointment] with Church Historian, A. William Lund….and turned the drawings over to him. A short time later, Griffin received a letter of thanks from Lund… ‘We appreciate your action far more than words can express.’”
When President Hinckley made his announcement, he stated that the Nauvoo Temple was to be literally rebuilt, as close to the same specifications and design as the original as they could get. The original drawings of architect William Weeks, recovered by two Mormon missionaries, were key instruments in allowing the new Nauvoo Temple to be rebuilt as similar to the original as possible, a fitting memorial to the early Mormons who worked to build the original Nauvoo Temple only to leave it behind.
From the book ‘Holy Places’ by Chad S. Hawkins
50 WELLS ST
NAUVOO IL 62354
P.O. Box 310
Nauvoo, Illinois 62354-0310