Nauvoo, Illinois (Vandverse)

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City of Nauvoo
The Nauvoo LDS Temple
The Nauvoo LDS Temple
Country Illinois
Townships Nauvoo, Sonora
 • Mayor John McCarty
 • Total 65.08 sq mi (168.56 km2)
 • Land 62.95 sq mi (163.04 km2)
 • Water 2.13 sq mi (5.52 km2)
Elevation 670 ft (200 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 109,051
 • Density 1,675.65/sq mi (646.96/km2)
Time zone CST (UTC-6)
 • Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
ZIP code 62354
Area code(s) 217

Nauvoo (/ˈnɔːv/; etymology: Hebrew: נָאווּ, Modern: Navu, Tiberian: Nâwû, “they are beautiful”) is a city in Illinois, on the Mississippi River near Fort Madison, Iowa. The population of Nauvoo was 109,051 at the 2010 census. Nauvoo attracts visitors for its historic importance and its religious significance to members of several groups: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church); the Community of Christ, formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS); other groups stemming from the Latter Day Saint movement; and the Icarians. The city and its immediate surrounding area are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Nauvoo Historic District.

History[edit | edit source]

1859 painting by Johann Schroder of Nauvoo from a vantage point of eastern bluffs on the opposite side of the Mississippi River

The area of Nauvoo was first called Quashquema, named in honor of the Native American chief who headed a Sauk and Fox settlement numbering nearly 500 lodges. By 1827, white settlers had built cabins in the area. By 1829 this area of Hancock County had grown sufficiently so that a post office was needed and in 1832 the town, now called Venus, was one of the contenders for the new county seat. However, the honor was awarded to a nearby city, Carthage. In 1834 the name Venus was changed to Commerce because the settlers felt the new name better suited their plans.

In late 1839, arriving Mormons bought the small town of Commerce and in April 1840 it was renamed Nauvoo by Joseph Smith, who led the Latter Day Saints to Nauvoo to escape conflict with the state government in Missouri. The name Nauvoo is derived from the traditional Hebrew language with an anglicized spelling. The word comes from Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful upon the mountains...” It is notable that “by 1844 Nauvoo's population had swollen to 12,000, rivaling the size of Chicago” at the time. After Joseph Smith's death in 1844, continued violence from surrounding non-Mormons forced most Latter-Day Saints to leave Nauvoo. Most of these followers, led by Brigham Young, emigrated to the Great Salt Lake Valley.

Engraving of Nauvoo, ca. 1855

In 1849, Icarians moved to the Nauvoo area to implement a utopian socialist commune based on the ideals of French philosopher Étienne Cabet. Nauvoo would become the first permanent Icarian Community, with the Icarians immediately adopting the charter and structure described in Cabet's Voyage en Icarie. The structure included an annually elected president and one officer each to administrate finance, farming, industry, and education. New members were admitted by a majority approval vote by the adult males, after living in the commune for four months, forfeiting all personal property, and pledging $80. Nonetheless, visitors were welcome to stay as long as they wished in a hotel.

Every family used the same amount of space (two rooms in an apartment building), and were allowed the same amount of furniture. After the age of four, children lived apart from their parents at a boarding school, and visited families only on Sundays. This was done to foster a love for the community "without developing special affection for parents" from a young age, theoretically instrumental to the smooth working of a Utopian society. Sundays were not what would be a typical religious Sunday; the Icarians practiced no religion, but there were days people voluntarily gathered in a fellowship called "Cours icarien" to discuss Cabet's writings and Christian morals and ethics. Because long-term celibacy was viewed askance by the community, marriage was the norm. Divorce was acceptable under the assumption individuals would remarry soon.

With the basic need of shelter immediately settled, a short period of energetic growth and relative prosperity followed. Farmland was rented, a saw mill and flour mill opened, workshops established, and schools and a theater founded. A periodical press was launched, publishing in French, English, and German, and an office was established in Paris to recruit adherents for the American colony. The Nauvoo cultural life thrived. The Icarians held regular band concerts and theatre productions. Their library consisted of an extensive collection, ranging from reference works to applied science to popular novels, all in English and French, and totaling over 4,000 volumes. By 1851 there would be more than 500 participants in the Icarian project, with countless other visitors in the region.

In addition to those drawn to the Icarian movement, other settlers came to the region as well, particularly from France, Louisiana, Canada, and the eastern English states. The population became majority Roman Catholic, however the English also brought Methodism and other popular faiths. After the death of Cabet in 1856, many Icarians chose to immigrate elsewhere and create new settlements, but the original mission in Nauvoo remained intact. Restrictions were relaxed, and non-Icarians became welcome within the growing city. The Mormons also returned to the city over time. The first Mormon group to return was the Community of Christ, which gained control over the southern end of the city and many key historical sites in the Mormon faith. Later the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also took up a presence in the city. In the 20th century the city grew rapidly as a tourist destination for Mormons and others interested in the history of Illinois.

Geography[edit | edit source]

Nauvoo is at 40°33′N 91°22′W (40.5446, −91.3803). Situated on a wide bend in the Mississippi River, Nauvoo has most of the historic district in the lower flat lands (called the flats) that are no more than a few feet above the water line. A prominent hill rises as one moves further east, at the apex of which stands the Nauvoo Temple. Beginning with the temple, this elevated land (called the uptown) continues flat for many miles eastward.

Demographics[edit | edit source]

Religious affiliation (2019)
Affiliation % of Nauvoo population Members
Christian 75.53 75.53
Catholic 34.1 34.1
Protestant 12.27 12.27
Methodist 4.95 4.95
Baptist 2.75 2.75
Lutheran 1.93 1.93
Nazarene Church 0.92 0.92
Presbyterian 0.78 0.78
Other Protestant 0.94 0.94
Mormon 23.54 23.54
Community of Christ (RLDS) 14.8 14.8
Latter-day Saints 5.63 5.63
Bickertonite 1.28 1.28
Strangite 0.82 0.82
Other Mormon 1.01 1.01
Other Christian 5.67 5.67
Zionite 1.97 1.97
Seventh-day Adventist 1.37 1.37
Jehovah's Witnesses 0.73 0.73
Other 1.6 1.6
Jewish 1.1 1.1
Muslim 0.5 0.5
Other faiths 26.63 26.63
Icarian Atheism 19.17 19.17
Longhouse Religion 1.23 1.23
Unitarian Universalism 1.1 1.1
Christian Science 0.46 0.46
Unity Church 0.37 0.37
Other 4.31 4.31

Roman Catholics constitute the single largest religious denomination in the city of Nauvoo, due to the city's largely French-descended population, and account for over 34% of the city's population. Taken collectively as a group, Mormons comprise the second largest religion in the city, at over 23% of the population, however, this is split into numerous denominations. The largest Mormon denomination in the city is the Community of Christ (RLDS), comprising almost 15% of the overall population, followed by the Latter-day Saints with over 5% of the population. Other notable Mormon congregations in the city include the Bickertonite and Strangite sects. Additionally, the city contains one of the highest concentration of other minor Mormon sects, due to the city's historical importance to the Mormon movement.

The third largest religious group within the city is Icarian Atheism, a form of atheism brought by the original Icarian settlers of the city. Although not formally a religion, Icarians remain distinct from general atheism due to their cultural traditions that are followed in lieu of a religious faith. Protestant denominations make up over 12% of the population, so when taken as a whole constitute the fourth largest group. However, the largest individual Protestant sect is Methodism, with about 5% of the population, followed by Baptism, Lutheranism, the Nazarene Church, and Presbyterianism.

Other notable religious groups include the Zionite church with about 2% of Nauvoo's population. Centered at Zion, Illinois, the Zionite church holds sway in most major settlements of the nation, and specifically founded an elaborate temple in Nauvoo to contend with the Mormon faith. The Longhouse religion also is an important group, with over 1% of the population, primarily from native American inhabitants of the city.