Although the Saints had to leave the Kirtland Temple after sacrificing to build it, they showed the same dedication and joy when they built another temple in Nauvoo. Relief Society sisters each gave one penny a week and sewed and cooked for the temple workers. Men gave “time-tithing” by working on the temple one day of every ten. Many Saints sacrificed much to provide the estimated one million dollars needed to build the temple.
The building was made of limestone from a quarry on the outskirts of the city. Blocks of stone 1.2–1.8 meters square in dimension were roughly cut out of the quarry, then hauled to the temple site, where they were polished and put in place. White pine for the temple was floated down the Black River and the Mississippi River from Church-owned logging camps and sawmills in Wisconsin.
When the temple construction began in March 1841, the people hoped that at last they had found a place where they could live in peace. But four years later the temple was not yet finished, Joseph Smith had been martyred, and the Saints were preparing once more to leave their homes and find a place where they could worship in peace. Even so, they worked hard to complete the temple.
People outside the Church wondered why these people would spend so much time trying to finish the large, beautiful building if they were moving. But the Saints knew very well what they were doing. More than anything else, they wanted to receive their temple ordinances before they moved west.
The temple capstone was laid on 24 May 1845, but the interior was still unfinished. The Saints were so eager to receive the temple ordinances that rooms were dedicated as they were completed so that temple work could be started.
The attic of the temple was dedicated for ordinance work on 30 November 1845. Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball began helping faithful Saints receive their endowments on the evening of 10 December, and so many people were eager to receive them that the work did not end until three o’clock the next morning.
When enemies of the Church saw this increase in temple activity, they renewed their efforts to drive the Mormons away. They obtained a warrant for the arrest of Brigham Young and eight other Apostles. On 23 December, officials went to the temple to arrest Brigham Young. Knowing they were coming, Brigham asked the Lord for guidance and protection so that he could “live to prove advantageous to the Saints.”
Soon afterward he noticed William Miller in the hall. He proposed a plan to Brother Miller, who fortunately was about the same height as President Young. Brother Miller put on President Young’s cloak and left the temple in his carriage. The waiting marshals thought he was Brigham Young and arrested him. He was taken to Carthage and held until someone who knew Brigham told them they had the wrong man. In the meantime, Brigham Young and the others had gone safely into hiding.
As the time to leave Nauvoo drew near, the Brethren redoubled their efforts to help as many Saints as possible receive their endowments. Brigham Young wrote, “Such has been the anxiety manifested by the saints to receive the ordinances (of the Temple), and such the anxiety on our part to administer to them, that I have given myself up entirely to the work of the Lord in the Temple night and day, not taking more than four hours sleep, upon an average, per day, and going home but once a week.”
But it was not just the Apostles who were working hard. Many faithful Saints gave freely of their time by washing the temple clothing each night so the temple work could continue the next morning.
The Brethren planned to stop the ordinance work on 3 February 1846. President Young left the temple to make final preparations to leave Nauvoo, but upon seeing a large crowd gathered to receive their endowments, he returned. This delayed his departure for another two weeks, but it meant that 5,615 Saints were endowed before they left Nauvoo.
Work on the temple continued even as the Saints began to leave. Finally, on 30 April 1846, a special nighttime dedicatory service was held for the finished building. The following day a public service was held in which Orson Hyde, one of the Apostles, dedicated the building to the Lord. By the end of the year, however, most of the Saints were gone and the building stood unused.
The beautiful limestone temple was a dramatic sight, standing on the brow of a hill, its tower rising 48.2 meters. But the beauty was not to last. In 1848 an arsonist started a fire that destroyed the interior, and two years later a tornado knocked down three of the walls. The remaining wall was purposely leveled in 1856 because of the danger of its falling.
Today visitors to Nauvoo can see the depression that once housed the foundation of the temple, one of the sunstones from the outside wall, and a few other remnants. These few physical remains are enough to remind those who visit of the sacrifice the early Saints made in order to obtain the ordinances of the temple.