The Hotel Nauvoo brings together history and hospitality for relaxing atmosphere in Illinois small town
In the town of Nauvoo, Illinois, history whirls all around. From its basis in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) to utopian settlers called Icarians to an influx of German settlers, Nauvoo is notable for attracting unique settlers. There is one place where the history of all of these settlers comes together: Hotel Nauvoo.
According to its website, Hotel Nauvoo is on the land of J.J. Brendt, who erected a building there in 1841, which was then completed by a German immigrant named Adam Swartz. In 1885, William C. Reimbold bought the property and turned it into a hotel called Hotel Oriental. The hotel was also used as an antique shop where Mormon and Icarian wood and various metals were sold. After Reimbold’s death, the building was in disrepair until it was bought by John Kraus. Two years later in 1948, after extensive renovation, John’s son Elmer opened the property as Hotel Nauvoo.
Today, the hotel embodies even more of Nauvoo’s history than it did before. Several bricks from Joseph Smith’s Red Brick Store were incorporated into the building and the end of one room holds a German-era marble top sideboard. The Heritage Room also has the wall of an Icarian frame house and bricks from a Latter-day Saints era house, the website goes on to say. All of these amenities show the various factors that have gone into making the house.
Debbie Allen is a current co-owner of the establishment. She inherited the hotel with her brother around 35 years ago and, aside from helping run the hotel, also helps oversee the kitchen.
“We continue to do everything just right, as excellent as we can so the customer gets a good quality product,” Allen says. “It’s not just going out to dinner at McDonald’s. It’s an evening, and it’s with family and friends.”
With a place as full of history as Nauvoo, the hotel attracts a wide array of visitors while it is open from March to November.
“Half of our customers come here to visit Nauvoo to see the temple and the historic area,” Allen says. “And we also attract 50 percent base from surrounding communities.”
However, it also does have a strong base from returning customers as well.
“We do have 700 [dining] reservations for Easter Sunday,” Allen says. “It’s the same families that come year after year after year and different generations. … We’ve seen a lot of people grow old and bring their new kids with them to dinner.”
“It is really fun watching the different generations come,” says Matt Kraus, Allen’s nephew who helps look after the hotel. “It’s like that with the employees, too. You’ll run into somebody’s grandpa who’ll say, ‘Oh, I worked there when I was a kid.’ It’s really neat to see that.”
Allen says the dining crew consistently provides about 40,000 meals per year.
“We have someone in here at six or seven in the morning and we have a crew here at nine or ten at night cleaning. It takes a lot of hands to make light work,” Allen says. “Everybody does a really nice job and we have a lot of really nice people working for us.”
Allen thinks that Nauvoo is unique in its clientele for being based in a such a small town.
“We see an awful lot of tourists and they’re always curious about where is this or where is that,” Allen says. “They have lots of questions about directions. … We hand out a lot of maps.”
Much of this outside clientele visit on tour buses that focus on the history of the LDS Church.
“We see a lot of church history tours come in on buses. We see lots of youth groups come in from different states across the country. Their leaders will bring them here for supper,” Allen says. “We might average 50 buses a year that come through with tourists. And they’re always eager to get our food and they’re always very friendly.”
Photos and video by Zach Duff.