Moving downstate from Rock Island, there is another worthwhile attraction in Illinois on the Mississippi River, Nauvoo. The closest town to it is Fort Madison, Iowa. Mormons established a colony here starting in the late 1830s. Joseph Smith, their leader, died here either by falling or being shot in 1844, and Smith’s religiously persecuted followers led by Brigham Young headed west during a bitter cold snap that, according to legend, allowed the Mississippi to freeze so they could cross. They found a home in Utah. After they left Nauvoo, the Mormons’ temple was totally destroyed by a purposefully set fire in 1848.
Today, the temple has been rebuilt on a high bluff. It’s a working Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. There’s a large Visitors’ Center in Nauvoo with an introductory video, museum-like displays, and active Mormons to talk to who are ever eager for new members. There are wagon tours of Old Nauvoo, historic homes in town to visit including Brigham Young’s, etc. “All Sites, Tours, Shows and Rides at Historic Nauvoo are FREE!” touts historicnauvoo.net.
Across the State is Champaign/Urbana, home to the enormous University of Illinois. The campus is beautiful. Our favorite on-campus attraction is the Krannert Art Museum. To save frustration, download a campus map or use GPS to find it. It has active curators who mount interesting, provocative shows of a temporary nature. It’s permanent collection is so-so. The two towns have grown together seamlessly and are both pleasant places. Urbana’s Silvercreek is the area’s best restaurant.
On the Illinois side of the Mississippi in the St. Louis area, the 3 best attractions are the previously blogged National Rivers Museum in Alton, Cahokia Mounds, and a scenic river drive. By 1,250 AD, Cahokia, now Collinsville, was one of the largest cities in the world. The roughly 20,000 Mississippians who lived there built 120 mounds for a variety of purposes. The 80 that remain have become the largest archeological site north of Mexico. In 1982 UNESCO named Cahokia Mounds a World Heritage Site, one of only 21 in the United States. It’s, therefore, a cultural treasure in the same league as far more famous Mesa Verde. Check out the instructive museum before visiting the mounds. The river road from Alton to Pere Marquette State Park is a sensational drive. Places to check out along the way include: the quiet, ghostly town of Elsa, Principia College, whose alumni include actors Joel McCrea and Robert Duvall, the Pere Marquette Lodge and Conference Center, etc.
Tomorrow: Springfield and Evanston.