Looking Back: Walking the “Trail of Hope” in Nauvoo

Contributed By Gerry Avant, Church News senior contributing editor

  • 27 September 2018

About 20 years before he dedicated the Nauvoo Illinois Temple, President Gordon B. Hinckley joined children on a walk down a street in Old Nauvoo, en route to Parley Street, which leads to the Mississippi River landing where Latter-day Saints crossed over to Iowa on their westward trek beginning in 1846.  Photo courtesy of Gerry Avant, Deseret News.

During the closing moments of the dedication of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple on June 30, 2002, President Gordon B. Hinckley noted it was “a very hot day” in Nauvoo. Nevertheless, he asked that those attending the dedication in Nauvoo to take a few minutes to “walk down Parley Street to the waterfront,” the landing on the Mississippi River from which the early Saints departed Nauvoo and crossed into Iowa on their westward trek.

He asked members to leave behind the comfort of their air-conditioned cars to walk and take time to read plaques along what is designated as the Trail of Hope and read about those who left behind the beautiful temple and the “city of Joseph” they had built in just six and a half years.

“Look across to Iowa,” President Hinckley said, inviting the members to ponder on those past events. He asked they imagine it not as a hot day in June but a day of bitter cold in February, the month when the first company of Saints left Nauvoo under dire circumstances in 1846.

Church members walk around the Nauvoo Illinois Temple, June 26, 2002. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

When the dedicatory session concluded, the temple’s doors opened. What happened next was a sight to behold. More than a thousand members exited the temple, some by its front doors from which they could see the late afternoon sun glistening on the Mississippi River. Hundreds who watched the dedication in the nearby Nauvoo Illinois Stake Center joined the throng walking down the hill. I fell in with them. With the new Nauvoo Illinois Temple to our backs, it wasn’t hard to imagine the scene as earlier Saints left the original temple for the last time.

What unfolded on that late afternoon/early evening on June 30, 2002, was as a spiritual snapshot, the capturing of a moment to remember forever. Church members heeded a prophet’s voice. It was 95 degrees Fahrenheit, as humidity readings hovered in the 90s. The distance covered, approximately a mile, wasn’t significant, but the walk itself was.

I walked with a mixture of emotions. Daylight was in its last moments; getting proper film exposures was difficult. Besides the fading light, I had trouble looking through the viewfinder because tears often blurred my vision. I felt spiritually elevated and emotionally drained.

Parents pushed baby strollers and carried infants in their arms and toddlers on their shoulders. Some members went to the waterfront in conventional or motorized wheelchairs. Some walked with the aid of crutches or canes. Mike Larsen, originally from Blackfoot, Idaho, who then lived in Iowa City, Iowa, made his way down the route on crutches. “It’s nothing compared to what the pioneers did,” he told me.

Latter-day Saints wait in line to attend a dedication session of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple, June 28, 2002. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Mary Hart of the Garden Park Ward in Salt Lake City and a descendant of two of Nauvoo’s original settlers, James and Drusilla Hendricks, walked as far as she could while using crutches, but eventually resigned to sitting in a wheelchair pushed by a young relative, LeAnn Hord of Mesa, Arizona. Every bump along the uneven verge caused pain. Still, Sister Hart persisted in going the distance.

Until after dark, a steady stream of people walked to and from the river. It was a beautiful, yet rather somber, occasion. The mood was contemplative. Many members stopped to read some or all of the 28 markers along the Trail of Hope.

President Gordon B. Hinckley talks prior to applying mortar to the coverstone at the Nauvoo Illinois Temple June 27, 2002. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

One marker bore a statement by Newel Knight: “Here we all halted & took a farewell view of our delightful City. … We also beheld the magnificent Temple rearing its lofty tower towards the heavens. … My heart did swell within me.”

There we were, 156 years later, gazing at a similar scene, feeling some of the same emotions.

The marker bearing words of Bathsheba Smith touched many: “My last act set in that precious spot was to tidy the rooms, sweep up the floor, and set the broom in its accustomed place behind the door. Then with emotion in my heart … I gently closed the door and faced an unknown future; faced it with faith in God.”

President Hinckley surely knew what that walk would mean to those who attended the dedication of the Nauvoo Illinois Temple. He had gone on that walk many times during earlier visits to Nauvoo. I was privileged to take along my camera as he walked down Parley Street to the water’s edge on one of those visits several years earlier.

President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the reconstructed Nauvoo Illinois Temple; he presided over 13 sessions June 27–30, 2002. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Church members wait to enter the Nauvoo Illinois Temple during one of 13 dedicatory sessions held June 27–30, 2002. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Crowds stand outside the Nauvoo Illinois Temple after its first dedication session June 27, 2002. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.