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This quaint town in the middle of Illinois is one of the best replicas of life in the 1850’s. Located on the banks of the Mississippi river, this small town has homes fully restored with volunteers that re-enact the times of Pioneers. There are pioneer crafts, games, horse-drawn wagon rides, and live entertainment. Explore the Pioneer History in Nauvoo Illinois.

Fort Madison

Located just across the Mississippi River from Fort Madison, this historic town is the location of the a former U.S. Military outpost, Fort Madison. This was an active trading post between the US Military and the Native Americans between 1808 and 1813.

It was also the site of the Chief Blackhawk’s first battle against the U.S. troops. This fort was one of three Army posts established to maintain control over the Louisiana area. There were so many trade disputes between the natives, especially the Sauk Tribe, that the trade treaty of 1804 was considered invalid. The quality of goods that were being offered from the Fort vs what was being offered by Britain and France were considered to be far inferior.

pioneer history in Nauvoo Illinois

The Blackhawk’s Biography relayed their point of view of this military settlement as follows:

“A number of people immediately went down to see what was going on, myself among them.  
On our arrival we found they were building a fort.  The soldiers were busily engaged in 
cutting timber,  and I observed that they took their arms with them when they went 
into the woods.  The whole party  acted as they would do in an enemy’s country.  The chiefs 
held a council with the officers, or  head men  of the party, which I did not attend, but 
understood from them that the war chief had  said that they  were building homes for a trader 
who was coming there to live, and would sell us  goods very cheap, and the soldiers were to remain 
to keep him company.  We were pleased at this information and  hoped that it was all true, but we 
were not so credulous as to believe that all these buildings were  intended merely for the 
accommodations of a trader.  Being distrustful of their intentions, we were  anxious for them
 to leave off building and go back down river.”

The Fort location was a poor choice due to being at the base of a bluff where the local natives could safely fire at it from a distance. After multiple attacks, attempted seiges, threat of cannon fire against the natives. The War of 1812 expanded, British allied with the Sauk and other tribes in an effort to eradicate the Americans and regain control of the important trade along this major river.

Conditions became so dangerous that bodies of the dead were left outside the fort, and troops were unable to leave the fort to recover lost supplies. Instead of allowing nearby towers to fall to the natives, they were instead…burned. The Army eventually abandoned the post in 1813 and burned it to the grown as they left.

The early setters built around the ruins of this fort and a large monument was erected in the early 20th century where you can see how these early forts were built and manned.

pioneer history in Nauvoo Illinois

Mississipi River Boat Tours

For those wanting to sail along the Mississippi there are several river boat cruises available. Here are a few options:

Nauvoo Visitors Center

After a brief interlude in Fort Madison, head over to the Nauvoo Visitors Center. There are several things I want to mention before you do though. The basis of this town is from when the Mormon Pioneers (or Latter-Day Saint Pioneers) settled in the area. Because of the religious significance this town has for them, it has been well preserved and very well restored.

While some may be aversed to visiting a place with such religious significance, I would like to persuade you otherwise. It has been said that it is the best restored Pioneer type village you will see in the United States. Here is where you will learn how trade happened for the community here along the Missisippi River. There are multiple shops where uplifting messages are shared on how people during that time survived. There are restored blacksmith shops, where they are still used in the same fashion they were used during that time. There is a Brick Masons yard where they explain the different types of bricks. An Apothecary shop that shows how illness was signaled to neighbors to not visit, herbs were used, and how bees were caught.

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The messages provided are uplifting, and teach nothing of hard argumentative doctrine of their religion. I found the community to be warm, kind, helpful and most of all inspiring.

If you start out at the Visitors Center; it will give you an overview of who these people were and how they cleared the swampy area to make it into a thriving trade community.

Nauvoo Temple

This Mormon Temple has been restored to it’s grand and original design. A Temple to the Mormon’s is a house in which they believe the Spirit of God resides if those who enter are worthy. There are prayers offered within this building, and a reverence in which it’s members talk about it because of the peace they feel when entering this Temple.

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I feel the reverence in which they talk about this building is compounded by the fact that despite it being destroyed by mobs so long ago; the original structure has been fully restored and is fully operational for their worship. It is thought as sort of a memorial in addition to a place of worship for those who sacrificed so much for what they believed in, in the mid 1800’s.

While those who are not members of the Mormon, or rather the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, are not allowed to enter. There are plenty of their members who have black name tags pinned to their shirts to show you what the inside looks like and answer questions about what goes on inside. They want me to emphasize, that while they do not wish to exclude anyone or make those who are not members feel like there are secrets being withheld from them; there is a certain sacred nature that needs to be upheld for those who come there to worship instead of it being a tourist center.

To learn about the struggle the founding members of this church experienced when trying to establish their community and build their temple. Be sure to stay for the free shows offered during the summer. These include the story of their Prophet Joseph Smith, and about those who immigrated from overseas to this city and then how they were forced out by angry mobs.

Joseph Smith Historic Properties

Learning about another religion can be a touchy subject for many, but it is important when understanding where another person’s point of view comes from. The history that shaped them, and how to explain things in ways that they can relate to and understand.

So for those who would like to know more about the Latter-Day Saint Prophet Joseph Smith; be sure to visit the homes where he and his family stayed. They are the original height, size, and layout of the home. It shows how meat was stored, where they went to the loo, and how they preserved food.

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Cultural Hall

The town’s gathering place where square dancing, sermons, and now nightly shows of the city during its ‘Golden Age’ occur. If you go up to the second floor of this building you can see a pioneer quilt museum. Learn about the different patterns, how they made their fabrics, and what a pioneer bedroom set would have looked like.

It was fun to imagine the room full of shy young women and men who were attempting to dance around here. The show was quaint but entertaining, and I was very grateful to let my feet rest for a bit and escape the humid summer air.

Family Living Center

You can learn how to make rope and barrels at the Family Living center as they did in the day of the American Pioneers, who trekked across the great plains. You can also get a recipe for pioneer bread, and make your own candlestick and so much more

I was surprised at how much I felt like a child discovering something for the first time when I was here. Participating in these activities, learning how to be self sustaining during a time when technology didn’t run their lives. How they entertained themselves. But what struck me the most, was how much of their day was dedicated to creating, and survival for the winter months. Volunteers are there to help, dressed in time period clothing and full of historical knowledge of how things were done and made during the early 1800’s.

The best part is that you get a free memento in this shop, where you get to take home the rope that you make and a slice of the bread.

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Jonathan Browning Gun Shop

Jonathan Browning was a Tennessee native, who started out as a Blacksmith and then later started to make guns. It wasn’t that he just made guns, but invented different types and mechanisms of the gun. His most notable inventions were the sliding breech repeating rifle, or the Harmonica gun. The army took note of his invention and utilized his guns for many years. Each one of the Harmonica guns took 2 weeks to make, and sold for $24 (today this would equate to $456.96 per gun).

Some of his guns are on display here, and you can also see how rifle barrels in the 1800’s were made.

Lyon Drug Store and Herb Garden

Medical care before 1820 was mostly by trial and error, with apprenticeships passing down knowledge increased and collected year after year. Medical schools didn’t emerge until the 1840’s, and so most of the medicines used were strictly herbal.

So for common ailments or for symptoms of a disease process that is more insidious, any member of the community could come into the Drug Store or Apothecary and request a concoction to help alleviate certain symptoms.

There were, however, some very interesting concoctions that were used then that are quite shocking to us today – now that we have science to back up the dilitirous effects. One of these concoctions was Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, used to sooth teething toddlers. What was the key ingredient? Morphine. Opium was commonly used to treat coughing fits and diarrhea – it was used as an all purpose drug back in the day. It was also common to treat syphilis with arsenic and mercury. Blood letting was used to break fevers, and calomel was used to induce vomiting that would help expel the bad blood and toxins from the body.

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Much of what you see in this Drug Store is herbal based; though these would often be mixed with water or alcohol.

This store was by far the most fascinating for me, given my medical background. It made me chuckle and at the same time horrified what the people here likely endured. To be situated right near the Mississippi River, where Malarial mosquitos roamed during that time. Yet I was thouroghly impressed at how they made due with the resources and knowledge they had during that period of time.

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Brickyard

Brick making will never be so fascinating as when you visit this shop. You have to enter a small room where a brick mason will show you how bricks are made, how they were cooked, how much they cost, and how long it would take to build a home in the 1800’s.

I didn’t realize that the different color of bricks signified their relative strength due to the placement in the fire. The sturdier bricks also cost more and possessed more color. If you are the type that likes to watch the show ‘How it’s made’ then Historic Nauvoo is the place for you!

Once you are done learning about how the bricks are made, you are given a brick, made in the ovens at this location with a memorial stamp on it for free. Just one more free memento of the plethora here.

Blacksmith Shop

Walking into the Blacksmith shop was VERY warm, as it should be when your trying to bend and melt metal. An elderly gentleman was there with little children crowding up in the front, curious and enthralled by the metal working and instruction. He captivated the children, by telling them (and the other adults in the room) how hot the metal had to be in order for it to bend, what types of things can cause impurities in the metal, and what types of things they would utilize a Blacksmith’s shop for back then.

He then told us a story of how young men who were wanting to wed, but did not have the money for a gold ring would use an old silver nail to propose to their brides. The ring they would use to propose is lovingly called a ‘Prairie Diamond’. Each single woman was invited to come up and receive one of these fire forged rings (thrown in Lord of Rings Meme here), and leave with a smile on her face.

Scovil Bakery

After boiling in the Blacksmith shop, head over to another cook off at the Scovil Bakery. This is a rather small shop, but you get to see how a Bakery was set up, where they would cook items that could be purchased by the community – and they even offer a home baked treat. The Scovil cookies are delicious and packed full of love from the elderly women in this store. Best part is, the cookies are free!

Trail of Hope

Once called the trail of tears, you walk along a dirt road leading from the town to the river. Every ten feet or so is a new sign, with a story of how the pioneers of that time were persecuted by mobs for their beliefs. For those who are part of this Latter Day Saint Religion, this is a very moving trail – as it tells a story of courage, loss, and ultimately hope for a future free of torture, death, and constant re-establishment in new country.

This town for them, was the last town before making the trek out of the – at the time- United States to a land out west. Through storms, rain, snow, starvation, disease, and summiting mountain passes with wooden wagons and handcarts – they were able to live in freedom, and peace in a place now called Utah.

No matter if you are a member of this religion or not, their story of courage in the face of adversity is inspiring. With so much hate then, and even now – it is important to remember the lessons of our past – and learn from them.

So if you find yourself in Illinois on a road trip, or want to see how the West was truly won and explored. Visit Nauvoo Illinois and see just how courage in the hearts of Americans was truly forged.

Where to Stay: 

Woodruff Hotel (4-star)

Nauvoo Grand – Bed & Breakfast (3-star)

Nauvoo Log Cabins

Nauvoo Family Inn & Suites

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