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Joseph Smith’s Red Brick Store

Of the various general stores built and operated in Nauvoo, the one operated by Joseph Smith, Jr. at the corner of Water and Granger Streets, was probably the most important in the life of the community. On December 22, 1841, the first supplies arrived by wagon from Warsaw, including sugar, molasses, glass, salt, tea, coffee, and other supplies purchased in St. Louis. Smith began opening, unpacking, and sorting dry goods on the second floor while workers were still busy completing the first floor of the building.

The building was opened to the public for the first time on January 5, 1842. On that day Smith wrote this letter to Bishop Edward Hunter:

I am happy that it is my privilege to say to you that the large new building which I had commenced when you were here is now completed, and the doors are opened this day for the sale of goods for the first time. The foundation of the building is somewhat spacious (as you will doubtless recollect) for a country store.

The principal part of the building below, which is ten feet high, is devoted exclusively to shelves and drawers, except one door opening back into the space, on the left of which are the cellar and chamber stairs, and on the right the counting room; from the space at the top of the chamber stairs opens a door into the large front room of the same size with the one below, the walls lined with counters, covered with reserved goods.

In front of the stairs opens the door to my private office, or where I keep the sacred writings, with a window to the south, overlooking the river below, and the opposite shore for a great distance, which, together with the passage of boats in the season thereof, constitutes a peculiarly interesting situation, in prospect, and no less interesting from its retirement from the bustle and confusion of the neighborhood and city, and altogether is a place the Lord is pleased to bless.

…The Lord has blessed our exertions in a wonderful manner. . .The store has been filled to overflowing, and I have stood behind the counter all day, dealing out goods as steady as any clerk you ever saw. . .for I love to wait upon the Saints, and be a servant to all hoping that I may be exalted in the due time of the Lord.

With sentiments of high consideration, I remain your brother in Christ.1

Joseph Smith

Many church members paid their tithing at Bishop Newell K. Whitney’s office in the back of the building on the first floor. His desk is displayed in that room. Two original “fancy goods” cases are displayed in the merchandise area of the store. Directly overhead, on the second floor, Smith established his office and study. This room has traditionally been associated with one of Smith’s several formal prayers of blessing on his son, Joseph III, given during the winter of 1843-44. By the terms of those prayers of blessing, Joseph III was designated to become his father’s prophetic successor in the church presidency at some indefinite time in the future.

The larger, front area of the second floor soon became a center of activity for church leadership, quorum and council meetings, and educational activities for youth and adults. Among the groups that met in the building were the Temple Committee and the Nauvoo House Committee. The Nauvoo City Council often met in this upper room, as did the Courts Martial of the Nauvoo Legion, which was the local militia organization. The Nauvoo Masonic Lodge met here from its beginning in 1842 until moving into its own temple on Main Street in 1844. “Endowments,” as later practiced in the Nauvoo Temple, were introduced here. The first official women’s organization of the church, the Nauvoo Female Relief Society, met regularly in this upper room. Emma Smith was elected the Society’s first president.

Although Smith discontinued active management of the store after 1842, the upper rooms of the building continued to serve as a headquarters for church offices and functions through most of the Nauvoo period, which ended in 1844.

After the murders of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the importance of the store declined. In 1890 it was torn down and the materials were used to build a meat market on Mulholland Street in upper Nauvoo.

THE STORE TODAY

Today the Red Brick Store appears much as it did when it opened in January 1842. The building has been restored as near to the original as possible through modern research and careful construction. The goods on the shelves are representative of the items sold in the store between 1842-44. The heart of Nauvoo’s social and religious life can be reminisced in the rooms of the Red Brick Store.

The restored building was opened to the public in 1980. Through its presence, the building illustrates many aspects of early Nauvoo life.

1 B. H. Roberts, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2nd ed. Revised, The Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, UT, 1956, p. 491.

Joseph Smith’s Red Brick Store is part of the Joseph Smith Historic Site. The Joseph Smith Visitor Center offers walking tours to the Homestead, Mansion House, and Smith Cemetery. These tours begin at the Visitors Center located on Water Street in Nauvoo.

For additional information contact: Joseph Smith Historic Site, P. O. Box 338, Nauvoo, IL 62354;
phone (217) 453-2246.

The Red Brick Store is owned and maintained by the Community of Christ World Headquarters, Independence, Missouri.