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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Brigham Young
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a two‑story rectangular house, with a gabled roof pitched at about 30° and one chimney (there may be another, obscured at the viewer's left by a tree). Windows and doors are severely rectangular. It is the Joseph Smith House in Nauvoo, Illinois.]

Joseph Smith Home, Nauvoo, Built 1842.

 p85  "The Mansion House"

"And again, verily I say unto you, if my servant Robert D. Foster will obey my voice, let him build a house for my servant Joseph, according to the contract which he has made with him." This was a divine revelation, as written down in Doctrine and Covenants, received by Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church. It came to him, along with other revelations, on January 19, 1841. This was just two years after Joseph Smith had established headquarters his sect at Nauvoo, a rolling, attractive region on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River.

The quoted passage was in reference to the construction of a suitable residence for the Prophet. Soon after the revelation, the house was completed by its builder, Robert Foster. It survives in Nauvoo as one  p86 of the shrines of the Mormon Church, as well as a historic landmark of Illinois. In this house lived a man who played a dramatic role in American history; who founded a religion that still flourishes and who did much to develop the Western frontier.

Almost everyone knows of Joseph Smith as the founder of the Mormon Church, but few outside the Church are aware of the fact that while occupying his Nauvoo residence, he was a candidate for the presidency of the United States.

And he was living in this house, too, when his spectacular career was brought to a tragic end. In it he was arrested following a schism within his own church and an uprising of non-Mormon people of the surrounding countryside. Arrested with him was his brother, Hyrum, the Patriarch. The two were lodged in the near-by jail at Carthage and there they were murdered by a mob on June 27, 1844.

Describing the graves of Joseph Smith and his brother, which are located near an earlier Smith dwelling in Nauvoo, the Illinois state guidebook says: "The bodies of the Prophet and his brother were moved several times after the murder at Carthage, and were finally secretly buried in a springhouse near the homestead [Smith's first Nauvoo home]. Knowledge of their location was for years a family secret; the springhouse fell into ruin; and in 1928 the bodies were found only after considerable search."

After the murder of the Prophet, the Smith home, known as "The Mansion House," was occupied by his widow, Emma Hale Smith. She was the mother of his five children, one of whom, Joseph, became, in 1860, head of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Later known as the "nonpolygamous Mormons," this branch of the Mormon Church set up headquarters at Independence, Missouri.

Research by architects of the Historic American Buildings Survey reveals that the house and property were deeded to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1918 by Fred A. Smith, grandson of the Prophet. "Intensive repairs," says the Survey report, "were undertaken immediately and the house stands today in excellent condition, with most of the original details still intact."

Of white pine construction, two stories high, The Mansion House bears evidence of the Greek Revival style of design in vogue during the 1840's. This is shown by the pilasters and cornices of the façade. Now maintained as a museum by the Reorganized Church, the house contains numerous exhibits, such as Joseph Smith's desk, foreign editions of The Book of Mormon, early copies of Doctrine and Covenants, and bound volumes of the Times and Seasons.

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Page updated: 4 Dec 17