In 1846, an American librarian and explorer named Charles Lanman (1819-1895) took a canoe and made a voyage up the Mississippi. On his way, he stopped at Nauvoo for a very brief visit in July 1846, shortly after most of the Latter Day Saints had struck out for the west and while a few were still embarking on the trip. In his book about his journey, he included a chapter about his visit to Nauvoo, and due to its brevity and relative obscurity, I reprint the whole chapter here. The following is from Charles Lanman, A Summer in the Wilderness; Embracing a Canoe Voyage Up the Mississippi and Around Lake Superior (New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company, 1847), 30-33:
On my way up the Mississippi, I tarried a few hours at the far-famed city of Nauvoo; and when I resumed my course, I felt like one just awakened from an incomprehensible dream. Surely, surely Fanaticism is a most foul fiend, and we ought to rejoice with exceeding joy that He who ruleth the armies of heaven, is yet the protector of earth, and its inhabitants, and will not leave all mankind alone to the mercy of their idols.
The Mormon City occupies an elevated position, and, as approached from the south, appears capable of containing a hundred thousand souls. But its gloomy streets bring a most melancholy disappointment. Where lately resided no less than twenty-five thousand people, there are not to be seen more than about five hundred; and these, in mind, body and purse, seem to be perfectly wretched. In a walk of about ten minutes, I counted several hundred chimneys, which were all at least that number of families had left behind them, as memorials of their folly, and the wickedness of their persecutors. When this city was in its glory, every dwelling was surrounded with a garden, so that the corporation limits were uncommonly extensive; but now all the fences are in ruin, and the lately crowded streets actually rank with vegetation. Of the houses left standing, not more than one out of every ten is occupied, excepting by the spider and the toad. Hardly a window retained a whole pane of glass, and the doors were broken, and open, and hingeless. Not a single laughing voice did I hear in the whole place, and the lines of suffering and care seemed to be imprinted on the faces of the very children who met me in the way. I saw not a single one of those numerous domestic animals, which add so much to the comforts of human life; and I heard not a single song even from the robin and the wren, which are always so sure to build their nests about the habitations of man. Aye, the very sunshine, and the pleasant passing breeze, seemed both to speak of sin, sorrow, and utter desolation.
Yet, in the centre of this scene of ruins, stands the Temple of Nauvoo, which is unquestionably one of the finest buildings in this country. It is built of limestone, quarried within the limits of the city, in the bed of a dry stream, and the architect, named Weeks, and every individual who labored upon the building were Mormons. It is one hundred and twenty-eight feet in length, eighty feet wide, and from the ground to the extreme summit it measures two hundred and ninety-two feet. It is principally after the Roman style of architecture, somewhat intermixed with Grecian and Egyptian. It has a portico, with three Roman archways. It is surrounded with pilasters; at the base of each is carved a new moon, inverted, while the capital of each is formed of an uncouth head, supported by two hands holding a trumpet. Directly under the tower in front is this inscription, in golden letters: "The House of the Lord. Built by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Commenced April 6th, 1841. Holiness to the Lord." In the basement room, which is paved with brick, and converges to the centre, is a Baptismal Font, supported by twelve oxen, large as life, the whole executed in solid stone. Two stairways lead into it, from opposite directions, while on the other side are two rooms for the recording clerks, and, all around, no less than twelve preparation rooms besides. On the first floor are three pulpits, and a place for the choir; and on either side eight Roman windows. Over the prophet's pulpit, or throne, is this inscription: "The Lord has beheld our sacrifice; come after us." Between the first and second floors are two long rooms, appropriated to the patriarchs, which are lighted with eight circular windows each. The room of the second floor, in every particular, is precisely like that of the first. Around the hall of a spacious attic are twelve small rooms, with circular windows and a massive lock on each door. At the two front corners on the edifice are two winding stairways, which meet at the base of the tower and lead to the summit, - while the roof of the main building is arranged for a place of promenade; and the walls of the noble edifice vary from four to six feet in thickness.
Estimating the manual labor at the usual prices of the day, it is said that the cost of the Temple was about $800,000. The owners now offer to sell it for $200,000, but it will be a very long time, I fancy, before a purchaser is found.
The Mormon, who took me over the Temple, and gave me the above information, was nearly broken hearted. Like the majority of his brethren, remaining in the city, he was without money, and without friends, and yet, it was to be his destiny, in a few days, to push his way into the wilderness, with a large family depending upon him for support. It was in a most melancholy tone, indeed, that he spoke to me the following words: "Mine, sir, is a hard, hard lot. What if my religion is a false one, if I am sincere, is it not cruel, in the extreme, for those, who call themselves the only true church, to oppress me and my people as they have done? My property has been stolen from me, and my dwelling has been consumed; and now, while my family is dependent upon a more fortunate brother for support, my little children cannot go into the streets without being pelted with stones, and my daughters cannot go to the well after a pail of water, without being insulted by the young and noble among our persecutors. I do not deserve this treatment. I am not a scoundrel or a foreigner; - far, far from the truth is this supposition. My grandfather, sir, was killed at the battle of Yorktown, as an officer of the glorious Revolution; my own father, too, was also an American army officer during the last war; and all my kindred have ever been faithful to the upright laws of the government. Knowing, therefore, these things to be true, and knowing, too, that I am an honest man, it is very hard to be treated by my fellow countrymen as a 'vagabond.' O, I love this sacred Temple, dearly, and it makes me weep to think that I must so soon leave it to the tender mercies of the Christian world."
Thus far had the poor man proceeded, when his utterance was actually choked with tears, - and I was glad of it, for my own heart was affected by his piteous tale. I gave him a dollar for his trouble, when he was called to attend a new arrival of visitors, and I was left alone in the belfry of the Temple.
Then it was that I had an opportunity to muse upon the superb panorama which met my gaze upon every side. I was in a truly splendid temple, - that temple in the centre of a desolate city, - and that city in the centre of an apparently boundless wilderness. To the easy lay in perfect beauty the grand Prairie of Illinois, reaching to the waters of Michigan; to the north and south faded away the winding Mississippi; and on the west, far as the eye could reach, was spread out a perfect sea of forest land, entering which, I could just distinguish a caravan of exiled Mormons, on their line of march to Oregon and California. As before remarked, when I went forth from out the massy porches of the Mormon Temple, to journey deeper into the wilderness, I felt like one awakened from a dream.