In 1903, Mrs. James Browning wrote a letter to Joseph F. Smith, the then President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, offering to sell her home. This was no ordinary home, for it was the old county jail in Carthage where Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Joseph F.'s father, had been killed in 1844. President Smith readily agreed to the purchase, and the eyes of the Restorationists began to turn again to their heritage at Nauvoo.
At the World Conference of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in April of 1917, a call came over the pulpit to protect and preserve the Nauvoo home of Joseph Smith, "the Martyr." Answering the call were three families: John and Ida Layton, the Clyde Fusselman family, and the August Lee family. They came with the mission to help stop the ravages of time on the former Smith family properties. This project came just in time for the Mansion House of Joseph Smith, for it was nearing the point at which it would need to be demolished if something was not done.
The construction of a dam at Keokuk, Iowa was also of immediate concern. The rising water had covered approximately 50 linear feet of the south side of the Nauvoo peninsula, dangerously encroaching on the properties. In December of 1927, it was decided that the then unknown whereabouts of the remains of Joseph, Emma and Hyrum Smith should be located and reinterred in a safe location from the rising river waters. The project was immediately undertaken, and within a month the remains had been found and reinterred in their present location near the Homestead.
The Smith family properties turned out to be quite an attraction for visitors. In 1923, the first of the annual Nauvoo Reunions of the RLDS Church were held, where members of the faith could gather together and renew their old acquaintances and make new ones.
A marker was placed by the LDS Church at the site of Joseph Smith's Brick Store commemorating the organization of the Female Relief Society in 1933. This Society, with some interruptions, has continued to grow since their founding in 1842 to become the largest women's organization in the world.
Nine years and a month after the reinternment of the remains of Joseph, Emma and Hyrum Smith, a Salt Lake City man named Wilford C. Wood purchased a large portion of the original Temple Block on February 20, 1937.
Over the next two decades, more and more people came to Nauvoo desiring to see the properties of "Joseph the Prophet." In 1944 a memorial service was held on the centennial anniversary of the Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. This event, where both the LDS and RLDS Churches were in cooperation, proved to be a successful bridge between the two and continues to this day. By 1956 there were so many visitors coming to the sites that major improvements were done to many of the RLDS sites over the next few years.
Nauvoo Mayor Lowell Horton was also one instrumental person in creating the Nauvoo of today. Horton owned a service station on the corner of Robinson and Mulholland Streets, where it was often said, "At Horton's you get a tank full of gas and an ear full of Nauvoo." As a tireless promoter of Nauvoo and the town's potential, Horton worked to organize event after event, bringing in all interested parties to make things successful.
Chicago artist Lane K. Newberry was one of those enchanted by Horton's vision for Nauvoo. With Newberry's high profile, he made contact with Bryant S. Hinckley, the then President of the Northern States Mission of the LDS Church. Together these visionaries created successful events for the centennial anniversaries for Nauvoo's Mormon past. In 1939 for the Mormon arrival in Nauvoo there was a special meeting of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the Temple Block, at which Newberry declared his hope that the edifice would one day be reconstructed. Then in 1944 for the Martyrdom anniversary, a memorial service was held at the Graves of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. And in 1947 for the arrival of the Mormon Pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley, a Centennial Caravan was put together with the Sons of the Utah Pioneers, who drove Chryslers dressed as wagons instead of oxen.
With interest growing, Salt Lake City Dr. J. LeRoy Kimball purchased his great-grandfather's home in 1954 as a summer vacation home. While he was restoring the property he was overwhelmed with visitors who wanted to see the home of the famed Mormon Apostle Heber C. Kimball. Seeing that he would never be able to sleep a night in the home, Kimball donated the property to the LDS Church and began a quest to have many of the old Mormon sites restored. Using his many contacts in Salt Lake and Williamsburg, Virginia, Kimball organized Nauvoo Restoration, Incorporated on 27 July 1962.
Nauvoo Restoration, Incorporated, or NRI as it has come to be called, immediately set out to acquire as much of the Nauvoo Flat as possible that they did not already own. However, they not only purchased properties, but they began extensive archaeological excavations, restorations of still existent buildings, and reconstructions of some of the more significant structures in LDS history. For a time it was even proposed that the south west corner of the Nauvoo Temple be rebuilt up to where the stone portion had reached to be a viewing platform for visiting tourists.
That idea was soon dropped and plans for a new visitor center were developed in its stead. This new center, called the Historic Nauvoo Visitors Center, was dedicated on 4 September 1971, and for the occasion Maughan McMurdie and R. Don Oscarson wrote a pageant of the Mormon sojourn in Nauvoo entitled "City of Joseph." Although it was performed previous to the completion, the pageant was performed by a 35 member cast inside one of the new center's theaters. Over the next few years the pageant was performed on special occasions, until in 1976 an outdoor amphitheater was constructed just to the north of the center, which became the City of Joseph Pageant's official home.
In preparing for the sesquicentennial anniversary of the founding of the original Mormon faith by Joseph Smith, a new statue garden was constructed at the Historic Nauvoo Visitors Center in 1978. Then on the anniversary date, 6 April 1980, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints dedicated a reconstruction of Joseph Smith's Red Brick Store on Water Street. Less than a month later they were also able to dedicate a new visitors center, the Joseph Smith Historic Site Visitors Center, further east on Water Street.
In 1989, for the sesquicentennial of the Mormons coming to Nauvoo, the LDS Church restored and dedicated several more historic sites, including a complete renovation of the Carthage Jail and the block on which the historic structure sits. In 1994 for the sesquicentennial of the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the presidents of both The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints came to Nauvoo for several memorial services. Then in 1996, two wagon trains – this time with actual wagons – left Nauvoo to commemorate the great Mormon Exodus.
At the final service of the April General Conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that the Nauvoo Temple would be rebuilt on the original Temple Block. Ground was broken shortly thereafter, and in June of 2002, the reconstructed Temple was dedicated.