Nauvoo's first name was Quashquema, a Fox Indian
word meaning "peaceful place." Nauvoo, a
Hebrew word for "beautiful place" or "pleasant land", is a historic town and the backdrop for Nauvoo State Park. On the banks
of the Mississippi River in western Illinois' Hancock County, the 148-acre park, on the south edge of Nauvoo
along Illinois Route 96, includes a 13-acre lake with a mile-long shoreline.
In addition to fishing, boating, camping and hiking, people return to
these serene surroundings for the park's recreational features, its annual
grape festival and to soak up the area's history.
Once a Fox Indian village of 400 to 500 lodges,
the site of Nauvoo was relinquished by a treaty in 1824 for 200 sacks
of corn. Six years later, Hancock County's first post office was established under the name of Venus. By 1834, the name changed to
Commerce again, then eastern land speculators changed the name to Commerce City.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints, known as Mormons, settled here in 1839 in hopes
of escaping religious persecution. After changing the name to Nauvoo,
they incorporated the town and received a special charter from the Illinois
Missionaries including Brigham Young, converted
thousands in England and elsewhere, causing people to migrate to the area.
The town grew as business and industry flourished. By 1844, its population
surpassed Chicago's and Nauvoo became Illinois' largest city.
With the boom came an increase in criminal
activity. Sentiment toward the Mormons was not favorable during this period,
since many people blamed them for the lawlessness. Ironically, lawlessness
figured prominently in 1844 when LDS founder Joseph Smith was shot and
killed in the Hancock County jail in Carthage while supposedly under protective custody.
The religious differences that caused the
Mormons to settle in Nauvoo also caused them to leave. In 1846, they were
driven from Illinois and, under Brigham Young, the majority left for Utah.
Others migrated to Texas and Michigan. A few, including the family of
Joseph Smith, remained in Nauvoo and formed the Reorganized Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Joseph Smith began building a temple in the
early 1840s. It was four stories high, measured 128 by 88 feet, and featured
an 82-foot octagonal tower. Church Elder William Weeks served as architect
and directed the work of dozens of skilled craftsmen. Although incomplete,
services were first held in the temple in 1844. Because of Smith's assassination
that same year, the temple was never finished. Despite this fact, it was
said to have been the finest building in the west at the time, with the
cost of materials estimated to have been $1 million.
An arsonist set fire to the temple in 1848.
Three years later, it was completely destroyed by a tornado. Stone from
the temple has been incorporated into other Nauvoo buildings, but one
original architectural feature can be seen in Nauvoo. A decorative cap
to one of the temple's pilasters is displayed inside a protective covered cage. Called a "sunstone" because
it depicts a sun with a radiant face, the two-piece, 2.5-ton limestone
carving was one of 30 such stones that adorned the columns. The pilasters
also featured the same number of "moonstones" and "starstones,"
and some of these are still in existence. The sunstone displayed
at Nauvoo is one of only two known to exist. It is owned by the State,
on loan to the LDS Church, and displayed at the original temple site.
The other was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution in 1989.
Today both the LDS and RLDS churches have
visitor centers plus restored homes and shops adjacent to the park that
are open throughout the year.
Nauvoo went from being the state's largest
city in 1844 to becoming all but a ghost town in the three years following
the Mormon exodus. In 1849 a small group of French and German immigrants
heard of the vacant city and decided to settle in
Nauvoo. Their leader was a French political figure, Etienne Cabet, who
wrote several books including the story of a utopian community, A Voyage
into Icaria. The book gave members of this communistic colony the
The colony broke up a few years later when
the group found its communal way of life unworkable. Before the Icarians
split up, however, they introduced grape growing and wine making to the
area. While most of the local vineyards have disappeared, the first vineyard
planted in Nauvoo still exists on park property and is maintained by park
personnel. Many of the former wine cellars are now vacant, although one
is used in the manufacture of Nauvoo's Roquefort-type blue cheese, which
has received international awards.
Plant and Animal
A 4-acre plot of land adjacent to the site
superintendent's residence has been converted into a natural area. Four
kinds of prairie grasses and approximately 10 kinds of prairie flowers
are grown here. If you're visiting here in the spring, you may find the
area burnt to a crisp--that's because the grasses must be burned periodically
to help the prairie renew itself.
Deer, skunk, opossum and raccoon are among
the animals that call Nauvoo State Park home. Cardinals and goldfinches
find this spot on the Mississippi a perfect place to nest, as do geese
and ducks. The welcome mat is especially out for wood ducks, who will
nest just about anywhere. Look for their boxes 15 to 20 feet up in the
trees around Lake Horton and in the posted and protected area across from
the park's extreme south edge.
A house built by Mormons in the 1840s, remodeled
by Icarians, and later owned by the Rheinberger family serves as the Nauvoo
State Park Museum. The restored home features a wine cellar and a press
room, and is the only Nauvoo wine cellar open to the public. This also
is the location of Nauvoo's first vineyard, which has been producing grapes
since the mid-1800s. The museum itself exhibits artifacts from all periods
of Nauvoo's history, from Native American occupation to the introduction
of Nauvoo Blue Cheese in the 1930s. The museum is staffed by the Nauvoo
Historical Society and is open 1-5 P.M. from May 1 through October
Lake Horton, a 13-acre manmade fishing lake,
is stocked for anglers wanting to catch largemouth bass, channel catfish
and bluegill. Although there are no boat docks or boat rentals, a primitive
boat launch is available. Only electric trolling motors are allowed.
Nauvoo State Park offers 150 camping spaces,
equally divided between Class A and Class B areas. A youth group area
is centrally located in the park. Don't forget to ask for permission--all campers must obtain a permit for overnight camping from the park office,
and groups of 25 or more must get advance permission before entering
At 1.5 miles, the park's main trail, Locust Lane, shows off some of the park's best features. As the trail winds
around the lake and through timbered areas, hikers can see and hear a
variety of birds .Visitors also will enjoy the 3/8-mile accessible loop trail from the campground.
A short trail connects the main picnic and playground area to the dam,
and a short, one-way trail lead's hikers to Gilligan's Island on Lake Horton.
and Playground Areas
If picnicking is in your plans while visiting
Nauvoo State Park, you're in luck. The park features two picnic and playground
areas totaling 20 acres. In addition to playground equipment for kids,
you'll find tables, stoves and two shelter houses, one equipped with modern
toilet facilities. A ball diamond and two parking lots round out the list
Sod Stage and South Areas
The Nauvoo Grape Festival, held annually
over Labor Day weekend in the Grape Bowl and Sod Stage area directly west
of Lake Horton, coincides with the ripening of the grapes. The festival
includes an hour-long program depicting Nauvoo's history. A pageant, which
for more than 50 years has paid tribute to two Nauvoo industries, observes
an old French rite called "The Wedding of the Wine and Cheese."
The festival's carnivals, entertainment tents, arts and crafts exhibits,
flea markets, buckskinners and car shows are held at the South Area,
just south of the ball diamond.
Sledding is permitted on the slopes adjacent
to the dam of Lake Horton. Cross-country skiing is allowed along the trails
when snow cover is adequate. Note that
the modern restrooms are closed during winter months, as is the museum.
From Chicago area take I80 west to
I74. Take I74 south to Rte 34. Take Rte 34 West to Rte 67. Take Rte 67
South to Rte 136. Take Rte 136 west to Rte 96. Take Rte 96 north 12 miles
to Nauvoo State Park.
From Springfield take Rte 97 west and north to Rte 136. Take Rte 136
west to Rte 96. Take Rte 96 north 12 miles to Nauvoo State Park.
From the East St. Louis, Alton area take Rte 67 north to Rte 136.
Take Rte 136 west to Rte 96. Take Rte 96 north 12 miles to Nauvoo State
- While groups of 25 or
more are welcome and encouraged to use the park's facilities, they are required
to register in advance with the site office to avoid crowding or scheduling
- At least one responsible
adult must accompany each group of 15 minors.
- Pets must be kept on
leashes at all times.
- Actions by nature can
result in closed roads and other facilities. Please call ahead to the park
office before you make your trip.
- We hope you enjoy your
stay. Remember, take only memories, leave only footprints.
- For more information
on tourism in Illinois, call the Illinois Department of Economic Opportunity,
Bureau of Tourism at 1-800-2Connect.
- Telecommunication Device
for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Natural Resources Information (217) 782-9175
for TDD only Relay Number 800-526-0844.