The Great River Road, Part 10: Nauvoo to Quincy, IL

In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.           – Abraham Lincoln

 September 3, 2015 – Day 13 – Nauvoo, IL

Big Steve and I crossed the Great River and rolled into historic Nauvoo, Illinois. This town is primarily known for the 1840s settlement established by Joseph Smith and other early practitioners of the Mormon faith. Although we’re not of the Mormon faith, we do enjoy looking at historic sites to get a glimpse of how people in past centuries lived.

Joseph Smith Homestead
Joseph Smith Homestead

Joseph Smith brought the Latter Day Saints (LDS) to the town of Commerce in 1839 to escape conflict with the Missouri state government. The town was renamed Nauvoo by Smith based on the Hebrew word meaning, “to be beautiful” and Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful upon the mountains…” Although the mountains in the area are beautiful, the relationship between Mormons and non-Mormons in the area was not. After Smith’s death in 1844, most of his followers, now under the direction of Brigham Young, escaped the violence and eventually migrated to the Great Salt Lake Valley.

Joseph Smith's Mansion House
Joseph Smith’s Mansion House

The LDS movement begun by Joseph Smith has evolved into various denominations and sects, and that plays out in the operation of the Nauvoo historical sites today. A group known as the Community of Christ, headquartered in Independence, Missouri, owns and operates the Joseph Smith Homestead, the Nauvoo House, and a few other buildings. The larger LDS Church, headquartered in Salt Lake City, owns most of the other historic sites, including the Brigham Young home. Both groups have done a fantastic job preserving the historic structures with period furnishings and providing excellent tours. It was easy to imagine what life would have been like back then.

Mormon Temple at Nauvoo
Mormon Temple at Nauvoo

The knowledge and passion of the tour guides we encountered along the way was especially noteworthy. Many of them were dressed in period clothing and were eager to share their stories with us. They each gave a spiel about who lived in the house or what activities would have taken place there, like the post office and the printing office. For example, a lady at the printing shop showed us a printing plate used to duplicate typography. So, if you wanted all your 1840 newsletters to look the same, you would need each of them to get the same solid impression. Well, if you combine the Greek words for solid (stereos) and impression (typos), you get stereos-typos, or stereotype…the name of the printing plate held by our Mormon friend. And if you decide to say that all people in a particular group are the same (like Muslims or Mormons or Tennessee fans), then you are stereotyping them…just like a newsletter. The lady at the post office explained that back in those days, postage was expensive and paper was scarce. As a result, letter writers used a technique known as cross-hatching. This involved writing crossed letters, which contained two separate sets of writing, with one written over the other at right angles. And I thought Steve’s handwriting was hard to read.

Several of the volunteers also shared a short snippet of some kind of faith lesson. Although we didn’t agree with everything they said, we admired their passion and excitement about wanting to share their faith. They were not pushy or pious, just sincere and passionate. That’s the lesson we took from this experience. By early afternoon, we had visited several historic structures, to include Joseph Smith’s home and grave, Brigham Young’s home, Jonathan Browning’s gun shop, the Nauvoo temple (a drive-by, only members are allowed in), and Grandpa John’s Café. Although Steve suggested we stay in Nauvoo for the rest of the year and try out a polygamist lifestyle, I reminded him that there’s only enough room in the RV for one woman.

John Wood Mansion, Quincy
John Wood Mansion, Quincy

September 4, 2015 – Day 14 – Quincy, IL

After overnighting at the Keokuk, Iowa Wal-Mart, Lil Jan and I crossed the Great River back into Illinois and headed south to Quincy. Our first stop was the impressive Governor John Wood Mansion, the 1835 home of…get this…Governor John Wood. In fact, Quincy has the most impressive collection of restored old homes that we’ve ever seen. We traveled down one street for 10 minutes and there was one beautiful old home after another on both sides of the street.

Villa Katherine
Villa Katherine
Inside Villa Katherine
Inside Villa Katherine

One particular home that caught our eye was the Villa Katherine, a Moroccan-style home on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. In 1900 wealthy Quincy native W. George Metz had this unique, castle-like home built. Legend has it that he intended to bring his German girlfriend (Katherine, perhaps?) to Quincy but she refused. Another legend says she agreed, but died on the journey over. I’m starting a third legend that she made it as far as the front porch of the house, looked over at George, whispered, “Auf Wiedersehen”…and then died. Either way, he was heart-broken, lived alone, and ended up using the home to host lavish parties for his friends. His only companion in this dream home was his 212-pound Great Dane named Bingo. B, I, N, G, O…yes, Bingo was his name-oh. After Bingo died in 1912 (100 years before Mandy), Metz fell into a great depression and ended up selling his home. It was later restored and in 2010, the Villa Katherine was used as a filming location for Fang, a movie about “vampires, mafia, and racing.” Although that sounds enticing, I would have preferred a film about a rabid dog named Bingo who attacks an old farmer named MacDonald near a castle on a Mississippi River bluff. But that’s just me.

6th Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Quincy
6th Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Quincy

After some antique shopping, our final stop was Washington Park, site of the 6th famous debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. The two men sparred over the divisive issue of slavery and national union in front of a crowd of 10-15,000 people. Although I haven’t read the entire transcript of their debate, a lot can be learned from just a few words spoken by Lincoln, the Republican candidate, and Douglas, the Democrat. Regarding the morality of slavery, Lincoln pronounced his strongest stand yet against the institution stating, “it is a moral, a social, and a political wrong…” Lincoln would later add, “No man is good enough to govern another man without the other’s consent.” Douglas countered that slavery was not a moral issue and insisted that states “…can exist forever divided into free and slave states.” Those opposing views would eventually plunge our nation into the Civil War, and would ultimately cost Lincoln his life. It’s one of the reasons I consider Lincoln our greatest President. Just as he took a stand to end the national shame of slavery, I hope and pray that some day we’ll have a President (and enough Supreme Court justices appointed by the President) to take a stand and end the even more shameful practice of abortion.

Big Steve and Lil Jan

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