NAUVOO, Ill. — After six years of construction, much of it guarded at gunpoint by pioneer craftsmen, the LDS Church's original Nauvoo Temple was dedicated 156 years ago today as most of its constituency had already been forced to migrate West.

Yet its descendant stands today on the same plot and in much the same form as the original, greeting scores of reporters and cameramen here Wednesday for their first tour of the 113th operating temple to be built by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While a new building welcomes them, it is the legacy of its predecessor that will draw hundreds of thousands of people — from all 50 states and 70 countries — to this tiny town in the coming weeks.

The cost of the original, in human terms, was incalculable, church leaders say. The monetary price tag for the new temple won't be disclosed, at least for now, said Elder Donald L. Staheli, who presided at a press conference Wednesday. Early cost speculation placed the price at $23 million, but many have speculated it was well over that simply because of its scope and the hands-on craftsmanship required. Its 54,000 square feet includes five floors and a basement on 3.3 landscaped acres.

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Web sites:

Deseret Book's Nauvoo Temple cam

NauvooNet visitor planning site

Related stories:

April 27: Nauvoo visitors urged to be polite

April 30: Temple impact reaches far

As construction has progressed, old attitudes have changed, say LDS leaders, who have publicly asked the influx of visitors expected for the six-week public open house that begins here Monday to be considerate of the town's 1,200 residents. They're working hard to keep the past "in the past," said Elder Staheli, who praised the "cooperation and support" of town leaders, including Mayor Tom Wilson.

After enduring nearly 30 months of road closures, heavy equipment traffic, noise, dust and night-lighting, workers were literally rolling out the red carpet on the landing in front of the temple doors Wednesday morning. Men in suits swept the street in front of the temple as ushers scurried to put easels and their accompanying signs in place to direct visitors from the Joseph Smith Academy across the street toward the temple.

The welcome was not only for media but "more importantly for the residents" of Nauvoo, said Elder Staheli, the church's area president for the North America Central Area, who will oversee the open house. While visitors will enjoy their time here, he said, residents will see their lives and futures altered.

Especially in the next six weeks.

About 13,000 LDS volunteers from all over the Midwest will facilitate the public open house, which is expected to draw about 350,000 people before the final tour ends on June 22. (A story in Tuesday's Deseret News gave an incorrect ending date.)

After the open house ends, annual visitor traffic to Nauvoo is projected to increase dramatically, from about 250,000 per year in 2001 to more than 400,000 in the coming years, said R.J. Snow, director of the church's local historic-preservation arm, Nauvoo Restoration Inc.

In addition to dozens of restored homes, businesses and a visitors center the LDS Church began developing here in the early 1960s, the temple will provide a focal point for the Williamsburgesque setting whose full economic impact has yet to be realized.

Early reaction has been one of awe for newly arriving visitors, who routinely pull their cars to the side of the road around the temple block and stand on the sidewalk gazing upward, trying to take in the image that dominates the local landscape.

Built of more than 12,000 limestone blocks, the building's exterior provides a "vision" for Latter-day Saints who have cultivated a mental picture of its predecessor through paintings and copies of old daguerreotype photographs.

"For me the most striking feature is simply that it exists," said Richard Turley, managing director of the LDS Family and Church History department, who spoke at the press conference Wednesday morning.

Approaching Nauvoo from the south on Highway 96, "it was to me almost like a vision hovering above the landscape, as something from the past. I had to blink several times to convince myself it was real."

While the exterior is 95 percent true to the original building's features, according to temple construction department director F. Keith Stepan, Elder Staheli emphasized that the interior has been modified to be a "working temple."

A tiled entryway greets visitors inside the front doors, as does a painting donated by LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley. The painting hangs behind the recommend desk where faithful church members will be admitted to the building exclusively, following its dedication. The 160-plus seat Assembly Room, whose dark wood floors and furniture characterize the decor of the building, makes up the bulk of the first floor, with the baptistry in the basement.

"President Hinckley loves the dark wood," Elder Staheli said during an early morning tour, pointing out the various features that make the building unique. A circular staircase of dark wood in the southwest corner of the building is a re-creation of one found in the original, he said, and required a permitted variance from the building code because of its design.

Other features include loom-woven carpets, customized draperies and an unusually vibrant color scheme of yellows, greens, purples and browns, with lanternlike light fixtures harking to its pioneer heritage.


E-mail: carrie@desnews.com