In 1880, Ellen J. Strader, age 30 and a native of Illinois, was residing on College Avenue in Bloomington as one of two boarders with the family of Andrew and Martha Hoover. She worked as a teacher. When people learned that she was from Carthage, Illinois, only 22 miles from Nauvoo, she was often asked what she knew of the place. They were curious because Joseph Smith, Jr., an advocate of polygamy and the founder of Mormonism, established a Mormon community in Nauvoo and attracted thousands of devoted followers. In 1844, after being accused of treason and jailed, he was murdered in Carthage by a mob making it clear that the group could no longer remain in the area. Three years later, in 1847, 70,000 Mormon pioneers set out on a journey to a new home in Salt Lake City.
By 1886, Ellen had left Bloomington and returned to Carthage. From there, the very place where Smith had been murdered, she soon wrote an open letter to her friends in Bloomington. It was published in the Bloomington (IN) Telephone on August 13. In that letter she explained that, having never been to Nauvoo and having been asked so often about it, she determined to make a visit there and see for herself. Excerpts from that letter are noted below:
“The population, now numbering about 1,200, consists mainly of Catholics who support a large church and convent. The city is divided into upper and lower Nauvoo. The business and best portion is built upon the bluff back from the river. In this part is the site of the old Mormon temple, not a stone of which remains to mark the spot. Two modern buildings occupy the ground.”
“There is, however, a short distance from the site of the old temple, a storehouse built with the white limestone taken from the ruins. In the lower part of the city is the large, frame building occupied by Joseph Smith; this is quite dilapidated. Quite near this is a store building erected upon a part of the foundation Smith had prepared for a large residence. Preparations seem to have been made for some nine or ten cellars. These buildings constitute about all a visitor is shown of Mormon relics.”
More than a century has passed since Ellen’s letter was published. In the interim, much has changed. Nauvoo today is considered one of America’s premiere historic communities where visitors can explore more than 30 historic sites related to the Mormon community from 1839-1846, including the rebuilt Mormon temple on the original footprint of the building. It is located about six hours from Bloomington on the western border of Illinois and adjacent to Iowa.
Ellen remained many years in Carthage. In 1910, at the age of 60, she was enumerated there in the household of Marion A. and Bernice Munson. She worked as a seamstress. According to information at FindaGrave, she died in Arkansas on September 10, 1925, and was returned to Carthage for burial in the Moss Ridge Cemetery.
Blog post by Randi Richardson