Mormons Return to Nauvoo

Pilgrims Boost Economy, Stir Tensions in Small Illinois Town

NPR/December 2, 2003

In the early 1840s, Nauvoo, Ill., was a thriving city of 10,000 people. Most were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as the Mormon Church. Mormon President Joseph Smith was Nauvoo's mayor and chief judge, and commander-in-chief of the town's militia. But by the end of the decade, angry mobs suspicious of the new religion and its theocratic city drove most of the Mormons out, sending them on a long westward trek to Utah.

Nearly 160 years later, about a million Mormons a year visit the small town their ancestors fled. Mormon tourism has sparked a revival in Nauvoo's economy, sending real estate prices soaring and filling up shops, restaurants, motels and bed and breakfasts. The Mormon influx has also changed the town's demographics -- nearly 400 of Nauvoo's 1,000 residents are elderly Mormon missionaries stationed at historic sites.

Many Nauvoo residents welcome the renewed Mormon interest in their town, seeing in it the key to their economic survival. But for some, the pilgrims have awakened old resentments -- and fears of a Mormon takeover. NPR's Howard Berkes reports.

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