A Walk Down Parley Street
A WALK DOWN PARLEY STREET
by James W. Petty, AG, CGRS (Brother Petty is a Professional Genealogist living in the Sandy Utah Crescent Park Third Ward).
On the evening of April 30, 1846, a small group of Church leaders, under the direction of Elder Joseph Young, met in the Nauvoo Temple to formally dedicate it as the House of the Lord. Most of the Saints that had resided in Nauvoo, had already left two months earlier with Brigham Young, beginning their historic trek to the Salt Lake Valley. Wilford Woodruff, recently returned from a mission in England, attended that special service, along with Orson Hyde and seventeen others, all dressed in white to dedicate a building the members of the Church had covenanted to complete. Following the martyrdom of their Prophet Joseph Smith in 1844, and the subsequent persecution, the Saints in Nauvoo realized they would soon be leaving their beautiful city and temple. Never the less, completing the temple represented a sacred promise they had made with their Heavenly Father. They labored on the temple with all of their might; gave their china, silver, and other precious belongings to decorate the interior of the building, and sacrificed their time, wealth and lives to this House of God. Most had to leave before the final details were completed, and the finished work could be given to the Lord, but they left with promises of new temples, where they would receive sacred ordinances.
One hundred and fifty six years later, on June 27-30, 2002, twenty thousand members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, many of whom were descendants of those early residents of Nauvoo, returned for the dedication of a new Nauvoo Temple. Stories of Joseph Smith and his death, and accounts of numerous saints of that day, stirred the hearts and focused the attention of hearers on the experiences, struggles, and sacrifices of those early fathers of the Church. President Gordon B. Hinkley conducted thirteen dedicatory sessions over a four-day period. During the final dedication service, as reported by the Church News, he extended a heartfelt request that members of the Church present in Nauvoo, take time upon leaving the services, to go and “walk down Parley Street”. He asked that as they did so, they should think of a young pioneer family, and imagine the difficulty of leaving their comfortable homes, taking their few belongings and departing for places unknown. He emphasized that only by great sacrifice would the Church and the World be blessed, and he reminded everyone of the promises made to their pioneer fathers.
The Church News stated that Members of the Church present at the dedication received his invitation with enthusiasm. It was a spiritual snapshot, the capturing of “a moment to remember forever” as thousands of saints poured out of the Temple and nearby meeting places, and proceeded down the length of Parley Street to the site of the old Nauvoo Ferry from which the early members of the Church began their trek to the Great Salt Lake Valley. Fathers carried children on their shoulders; mothers pushed babies in strollers. Some older members were pushed in wheel chairs, and some people walked the entire length of cobbled and graveled road on crutches. The stream of people continued until after dark. It was a beautiful yet rather somber occasion.
For tens of thousands of other Saints, like myself, listening or watching in chapels across the United States and around the World, President Hinkley’s invitation to “Walk Down Parley Street” offered two meanings. First, it was an invitation, should we ever have the chance to visit Nauvoo, and attend the temple there, to take the time to actually walk down Parley Street, as other saints had done on that historic day. But secondly, and most important, his invitation was a metaphor, for whenever we attend a temple, any temple, anywhere in the world, that ” Walk Down Parley Street” meant we should take time to ponder on the lives and sacrifices of, and the promises made to the people for whom we are attending the temple.
As I contemplated this powerful message, I thought about my ancestors who had lived with the Saints in Nauvoo. I began my own walk down Parley Street, but as a genealogist, my walk did not take place on cobblestone or a graveled road. I made my walk through the old records and maps of Nauvoo, and the journals, letters, and diaries of people who lived there in 1845 and 1846. As I read these historical documents, a picture began to form in my mind. My Great, great, great Grandfather William Atkins Gheen and his wife Esther Ann Pierce Gheen, heard the gospel in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and were baptized in 1840. A year later they sold their home, and with their children, left family, friends, and all that they held dear, and moved to Nauvoo where they could worship and live the new religion they had adopted. William and Esther had eight children, all of whom lived to adulthood, a rare blessing in that day. William died in the Summer of 1845, at the young age of 46, following a severe illness, leaving Esther to raise and care for the family.
As each new tidbit of information in my research came to light, Esther Ann Gheen and her story began to unfold before me. She became more than a name on a pedigree chart. She became a personality, a woman of strength, with friends and family, and as my heart turned to her, her testimony of the gospel was expressed to me with powerful import. What follows are my impressions of what Esther Ann Gheen’s “Walk Down Parley Street” must have been like:
Like many of the families leaving Nauvoo in February 1846, the Gheen family were unable to sell their home prior to leaving it. With great devotion to the Lord, they simply walked away from their homes and lovely possessions. I imagine Esther Ann Gheen rearranging the crockery on the table one more time, and adjusting the curtains over the window before willing herself to look away from her parlor. Then gathering her four youngest children who were traveling west with her, she might have called out …”Come Children! It’s time to leave. Come Stephen! Do you have Levi? Does he have his mittens? It’s cold outside! Bring Sarah Ellen to me, Mary Ann. I’ll carry her. Good, You wrapped her in Grandmother Pierce’s blanket. Hurry! Tom is waiting in the wagon. Come Children!”
The children stepped out of their toasty warm house into the bitter, cold Nauvoo morning, the snow crunching under their feet. It was February 24th, 1846, and word from passers by was that the Mississippi River had completely frozen over between Nauvoo and Montrose, Iowa; and families with their wagons had been crossing over since early morning. Esther would have been the last to leave the house, and as she turned to the wagon where her eldest son, Thomas Pierce Gheen was helping the younger children onto the buckboard, I imagine her stopping to gaze at the Temple. Her home on Partridge Street was at the foot of the rise that led up to the Temple two blocks away. And from her front door she faced the front of the Temple, and the beautiful spire that rose majestically above their little city. This was the view that had greeted her every day for the past year, and she probably realized then that she would never see it again.
Tender thoughts would have come quickly to mind when she looked at the temple. She had received her endowment two months before on December 18th, 1845. It would have been a wonderful day, and that the covenants she had made with the Lord would have filled her heart with hope, and indescribable peace. Then just three weeks earlier, on February 2, 1846, Esther was sealed for time and all eternity to her husband William. She had been promised the day would come, in another temple, when her William would also receive the promises and blessings she had been given; and someday their family would be sealed together for eternity. William Atkins Gheen loved the temple, and had worked on it nearly every day since their arrival at Nauvoo in 1841. I picture him sitting in front of his home, gazing at the Temple in the evening as it slowly rose over the city. William B she missed him so much. He had taken ill the previous Summer with a cold that settled in his lungs; and before anyone could believe it, he was gone. The Journal of Heber C. Kimall recorded that Brother Brigham, and Heber had come often to visit him, and gave him blessings. But on July 15th, 1845, Heavenly Father had called, and William always went when he was called. I think Esther would have gotten up early that morning and visited William’s grave site at the cemetery to tell him goodbye, and that she loved him. She knew he would always be with her, but it still would have felt like she was leaving her best friend behind… forever.
Esther pulled little Sarah Ellen close to her, and made certain that her face was covered so she wouldn’t be unduly chilled by the cold air. At fourteen months Sarah wouldn’t remember these trials; and if all went well, she might grow up in a new land, where there would be peace – that was another promise Brother Brigham had assured would come.
The wagon began moving down Partridge Street toward Parley Street where they would join a host of other families moving toward the ice covered river. A block away, I expect that her daughter Margaret and husband James Downing fell into step with them. The Downing family weren’t leaving Nauvoo, but they would have walked with their mother and brothers and sisters to the ferry, to spend a last short time with them and to wish them well in their journey. Esther’s son Thomas was also staying in the city and would return after delivering his mother and family to the camp of Heber C. Kimball at Sugar Creek near Montrose, Iowa. Heber Kimball had been a close friend to the Gheen family since their arrival from Pennsylvania, and had visited often during William=s illness. After William’s death, Heber helped in caring for the family, and in September, had asked Esther for permission to marry her daughter Ann Alice. As a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, and as councilor to Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball headed a company of family and friends in the vanguard of the Camp of Israel, leading the wave of humanity west from Nauvoo. As members of his family, Esther and her children would now be part of the nearly three hundred men, women, and children traveling in the Kimball Company.
The Gheen family passed the Kimball home at the corner of Munson and Partridge Streets. It was now empty and deserted, the family having moved to Sugar Creek eight days earlier. A block later they turned onto Parley Street, passing the home of Bishop Newel K. Whitney. I envision Bishop Whitney out on the street helping a family with their supplies. He was the second Presiding Bishop of the Church, succeeding Bishop Edward Hunter, and was remaining in town to assist the Saints as they closed their homes and prepared for the trek west.
(Note: Bishop Whitney finally left Nauvoo on April 24th, 1846. In his journal he recorded his emotions walking down Parley Street, saying: “…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.”)
Parley Street would have been filled with wagons and people, slowly working their way to the ferry at the western end of the street. At the corner of Hyde and Parley Streets, Gully’s Store was teeming with activity as emigrants made final purchases. Many families had put off planning for their trek, and were frantically purchasing goods and food wherever they could find it. Across the street to the north stood the beautiful home of John Coolidge, and next to it was William Clayton’s house, now empty. Brother Clayton had been the secretary for Joseph Smith before his death on June 27th, 1844, and now he served under President Young. He went to Iowa with the brethren, taking part of his family with him, but leaving his wife in the care of her parents, until the delivery of her baby. (Note: It was upon notification of the birth of that baby seven weeks later in April, 1846, that William Clayton composed and wrote the stirring and famous song “Come, Come, Ye Saints.”)
Lucy Mack Smith, who lived just behind the Clayton home, was probably out saying farewells, and providing bread and bake stuffs to passing friends. I sure Esther, like many others had thrilled to hear Mother Smith speak at General Conference the previous October 6th. She was the first woman ever asked to speak in general conference (and the only woman to speak in the conference during the first 158 years of Church history), and she encouraged the Saints to follow the Quorum of the Twelve, expressing her wish that she could go with them. But she was old, and her husband and four sons were buried in this place. Her surviving son William chose to remain in Nauvoo, as did many of her grandchildren. She wanted to go, but her ties to Nauvoo were too strong.
I believe that memories of friends and acquaintances in this beautiful city on the river flowed through Esther=s mind as she passed home after home on Parley Street. Many of the families were moving out with the Saints, but some remained behind. Simeon Dunn’s family were leaving their home behind Zunkell’s Pottery, and the Hatfield Cabinet Shop; while across the street Brother Nathaniel Ashby’s family were moving out with President Young’s Company. His neighbor, George B. Wallace had already left, and was heading his own Company. Next to him Ezra Oakley was gathering his belongings to start the trek. Across Parley Street from them was the home of Robert Snyder, who was also joining President Young’s Company.
Passing Main Street, Esther would have seen the Mansion House, two blocks to the south, on Water Street. This was the home and Inn where their beloved Prophet, Joseph Smith had lived with his family. His widow Emma remained there with her sons; and like her Mother in Law Lucy, she was bound to this city by bonds she would never break. Esther recognized the home of John Taylor on the corner of Parley and Granger Streets. Elder Taylor’s home was empty, as was the home of Brigham Young right behind it. Across Granger Street, the Webb Brother’s Blacksmith shop was the most active site along Parley Street. They too were helping families with final preparations, and last minute emergencies. A horse had thrown a shoe. Wheels needed new iron, and axles required new supports. The bellows were pumping, and heat from the kiln could be felt out into the cold street. Across the street was the home of Lucian R. Foster. Brother Foster was well respected in Nauvoo, as a photographer, and had captured a number of beautiful images of the temple.
The last imposing structure on Parley Street was the Seventies Hall, where many of the brethren of the Church met for instruction. It was a stately two story brick building, and her husband William Gheen had visited there often to learn more about the priesthood and other gospel principles that he then shared with the family.
They arrived at last at the Mississippi River. The old Elm Tree at the ferry, which was the landmark for steamboat captains and their crews during most of the year, was bare of leaves, and stood as a stark sentinel for the departing Saints. The ice was thick and solid, but everyone climbed out of their wagons to lighten the load as they crossed the two mile stretch between Nauvoo and Montrose. The oxen stepped uncertainly onto the frozen expanse but gained confidence when the ice held their weight. An unbroken train of animals, wagons, and people stretched out across the great white highway. In Iowa, the train continued up the banks, and over the Bluffs. Like many others, I imagine Esther Ann Gheen turning for a final look. Even in the harsh cold of Winter, Nauvoo was Beautiful, and the temple rose above the city like a diamond tiara. As the scene plays out in my mind, I imagine ten year old Stephen tugging on his Mother’s coat, and says, “Mama, do we hafta go?” “Yes, Stephen. We are going to find a new home. Heavenly Father has promised that our family will be together again, someday. Then we can have peace, and all will be well.”
Esther and her children made the trek to Salt Lake City. Her children grew and married, and enjoyed the peace promised them. Esther passed away in 1858. Daughter Margaret remained in the east with her family, and Son Thomas P. Gheen served the Union cause during the Civil War and was killed at the end of that conflict. But Promises were fulfilled. Years later, when new temples were built, their childrens’ children remembered the promises made to their fathers. William Atkins Gheen received his temple ordinances, and he and Esther, and their children were sealed as an eternal family. As I ponder this “Walk down Parley Street”, I realize I can never think of these beloved ancestors again, without thinking of walking down Parley Street with them.
“Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.”
An extract from the words of the angel Moroni to Joseph Smith the Prophet, …on the evening of Sept. 21, 1823. (Doctrine and Covenants 2: 1-2)
Recommendations for Artwork:
1. I have a small portrait of Esther Ann Gheen, that might be grouped with a picture of their home in Nauvoo. Their home was restored several years ago, and is used as a home for missionary couples in Nauvoo. A picture of the Gheen home looking up to the temple would be dramatic.
2. The Photograp” by the white out building in the foreground) is said to have been taken by Lucian R. Foster, who lived on Parley Street. This picture is from the Charles R. Carter Collection, in the Church Archives. It is identified as taken from the rear of the home of John Coolidge which was located on the northeastern corner at Hyde and Parley Streets.
3. Several maps are available. I recommend an illustrated map of Nauvoo by Steven K. Rogers, “A Bird’s Eye View of Old Nauvoo, The City Beautiful,” an unpublished pencil drawing, 1995. It is in the possession of the artist, but portions appear in the new book, Nauvoo – A Place of Peace, A People of Promise by Glen M. Leonard, director of the Church History Museum. Another good map is “A City for Sale.” Research by Roweva J. Miller, “Mormon Period, 1839-1846,” platted in 1968 on Gustavus Hills=, Map of the City of Nauvoo (drawn 1842), NRI archives. Cartography by Robert Spencer, BYU Press.
4. Picture of a number of the homes and buildings still standing, or restored, on Parley and Partridge Streets, can serve as an interesting illustration of the buildings mentioned in the article.
5. As a possible sidebar, Esther Ann Gheen was the Great Grandmother of President Spencer W. Kimball. He was a grandson of Ann Alice Gheen Kimball, the second daughter of William Atkins Gheen and Esther Ann Pierce.