The Voree Temple

The Planned Strangite Temple at Voree, Wisconsin
My conception of the planned Strangite Temple at Voree.

From October 6th through 9th, 1847, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints held its semi-annual General Conference in Voree, Wisconsin, under the leadership of President James J. Strang, “Prophet, Seer, Revelator, and Translator unto the church.” On the second day of the conference, the Saints met “on the Temple lot for the purpose of breaking ground for the Temple.”[1]

According to the conference minutes, “John E. Page, Pres. of the Twelve, acted as master of ceremonies, and arranged the congregation in the order of rank and priesthood, beginning with the First Presidency at the principal gate of the Temple.” After the congregation sang “How Firm a Foundation,” President Strang and President William Marks walked to the center of the Temple lot and offered the dedicatory prayer. They then returned to their original position and began breaking ground for the Temple. They were followed, in turn, “by the several quorums in the order in which they were placed.”[2]

While the priesthood quorums were excavating, “Pres. Strang explained the pattern of the Temple,” which differed from the Kirtland and Nauvoo Temples in several interesting respects. In the first place, the plan called for 12 two-story halls, positioned around an outer wall of the complex. These buildings, 32×32 feet wide each, were designated “for record offices, halls of quorums, &c.”[3] Nauvoo had a special meeting hall for the Seventies a dozen blocks from the Temple; in Voree, all the quorums would have halls that were part of the Temple complex itself.[4]

The space between the outer halls and the main building was designated as two “Outer Courts.” On the above diagram, the Temple complex faces north and the Outer Courts are to the left and right (on the east and west sides) of the main building. Pulpits were to be set up along the exterior walls of the main building facing each Outer Court, allowing for two very large congregations to meet simultaneously. Above the pulpits, resting in part on iron columns, were two of the main building’s three towers. The third and chief tower was to be built above the north entrance. It was estimated that from the top of the tower, an observer would be able to “overlook the country for some 20 miles.”[5]

The main building or “Inner Court” was more conventionally like the Kirtland and Nauvoo Temples “having two principal stories, each arranged in one entire room, about 170 feet by 100.” The Kirtland Temple faced east and had its entrance to the east, with pulpits flanking the east and west rooms on both principal stories. Nauvoo was the same except that it faced west. Voree, by contrast, faced north, had entrances both north and south, and had its pulpits on the east and west.[6]

As planned, the main building of the Voree Temple would have been larger than the Kirtland Temple, but smaller than the Nauvoo Temple. The additional outer buildings would have made the complete work much more substantial than either. Strang estimated that the construction would require “some 3,000 or 4,000 cords of stone.” As of the dedication, he and his church had 30 cords on hand.[7]

Like the early church’s temples in Independence and Far West, Missouri, the Voree Temple never got past the dedication and early foundation phases. The remaining minutes of the same General Conference hint at one of the factors that hindered the work. The church excommunicated and “delivered over to the buffetings of Satan till the day of the coming of the Lord” (or in some cases “until he repent and make satisfaction”) a large number of former Strangite leaders including: John C. Bennett of the First Presidency, William Smith the Presiding Patriarch, Apostles William E. McLellin and James M. Adams, along with Benjamin C. Ellsworth, John Greenhow, John C. Gaylord, and Jacob Bump.[8] It was not long before Voree was awash with dissenters, many of whom actively opposed James Strang and his organization.

Even more importantly, the Saints in Voree were horribly impoverished and the already settled condition of the surrounding farms meant that they were unable to pull themselves up by improving virgin land. As of the groundbreaking ceremony for the Voree Temple, 18 Strangites had become the first permanent Mormon residents of Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. The island lacked dissidents and had unsettled land in abundance—the opposite of Voree. Although Beaver Island was initially conceived of as a colony and a source for “cedar timber” for the Temple, it soon became much more. By 1849, James Strang himself had relocated to the island, bringing with him the headquarters of his church. After their prophet’s departure, the Strangite Saints maintained a presence in Voree, but the move all but assured that the Temple would never be constructed. With James’ martyrdom in 1856, even that remote possibility was extinguished.

Although unbuilt, the planned the Voree Temple was a fascinating proposal for a continuation of the Mormon Restoration. As with so much of James Strang’s ministry, the plan built upon Joseph Smith’s foundation while adding fresh innovations. I have often wondered and imagined what might have happened had Joseph not met an untimely end. James’ similarly deep well of inspiration leaves me pondering the same “what might have beens” about his own untimely end.

___________________________
[1] Gospel Herald [Voree, Wisconsin Territory] 2, no. 30 (October 14, 1847): 122 [174].
[2] Ibid.
[3] Gospel Herald [Voree, Wisconsin Territory] 2, no. 32 (October 28, 1847): 135 [187].
[4] Although the twelve halls are not identified, we can speculate that they might be assigned to 1. The First Presidency, 2. The Quorum of the Twelve, 3. The Presiding High Council, 4. The Presiding Bishopric, 5. The Presiding Patriarch, 6. The Stake Presidency, 7. The Quorums of the High Priests, 8. The Quorums of the Seventy, 9. The Quorums of Elders, 10. The Quorums of Priests, 11. The Quorums of Teachers, and 12. The Quorums of Deacons.
[5] Gospel Herald [Voree, Wisconsin Territory] 2, no. 32 (October 28, 1847): 135 [187].
[6] Ibid.
[7] Gospel Herald [Voree, Wisconsin Territory] 2, no. 30 (October 14, 1847): 123 [175].
[8] Ibid., 122 [174].

Comments

  1. John, were there architectural drawings left?

    I finished reading Lisle Brown’s article last night on the architecture of the Endowment House from the recent JMH. It is an excellent example of what can be learned from a single building.

  2. John Hamer says:

    J: My copy of the JMH hasn’t arrived yet and you keep rubbing it in!

    The only architectural drawing for the Voree Temple that survives is a relatively crude woodcut from the Gospel Herald. It shows a groundplan for all of the buildings and the walls in proportion. It also indicates the location of details such as doors, stairs, pulpits, and wells. The rest I’ve gleaned from the published descriptions.

    Plan from the Gospel Herald

    There was no indication of the details of the facade or what the caps of the towers would look like. In my artist’s conception, I’m basing those on the previous temples and ultimately a healthy dose of my own imagination.

  3. Mark Brown says:

    John, What ever became of the site? Has it been developed for a different purpose, or is it still vacant, like Far West? Is the place marked at all, or are there visible reminders of what was intended for that spot?

  4. John Hamer says:

    Mark (3): The site is still vacant like Far West. The main Strangite church owns much of the nearby land but not the Temple site itself. The whole Voree site is commemorated by a marker that includes a map indicating the Temple.


    The marker is roughly placed where the map indicates a “tavern.”

    The Temple quarry still exists, although it is now flooded with water from the nearby White River.

    We can also get an idea of what the stone would have looked like from a number of houses that survive from the Mormon period.

  5. Joe Geisner says:

    Great post John. Thanks again for teaching me. I have to agree with you, you really have to wonder what would have been. The stone is absolutely beautiful, it would have made a stunning temple.

  6. Interesting, that design reminds me of the temple in Texas for the FLDS.

    John I really appreciate your additions of this information it certainly fills in some gaps I had in regards to these other Restoration churches.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Awesome as always, John.

    I too thought of the FLDS temple when I saw your design.

  8. Awesome stuff, John. Thanks.

  9. The 12 halls on the Temple complex are fascinating. Is there any more information on what they would be used for, besides “for record offices, halls of quorums, &c.”? How many quorums were there, at the time? Do you think one building would have been offered for the use of the sisters?

  10. John Hamer says:

    Jon W (6) and Kevin (7): The Eldorado, Texas, Temple (FLDS) has a castle motif, like the LDS Church’s St. George, Logan, Manti, and Salt Lake City, Utah, Temples.

    Although we don’t know if the Voree Temple would have had crenellations or other castle revival elements, the ground plan (see reply #2) is very reminiscent of the great concentric castle period of the high middle ages (13th century). You have an inner keep surrounded by an outer curtain wall with towers at the corners and gates in the middle. You even have the touch of four castle-like circular stairwells (marked “S”) in the keep itself.

    The Nauvoo Temple was designed and initiated before the restoration of the Kingdom of God on Earth. The Voree Temple was one of the first to be designed and initiated after the restoration of the Kingdom—a portion of Mormon doctrine that Strang ultimately emphasized and enhanced. As such, it seems only natural that the Voree Temple would include a symbolic representation of the concept of kingdom through the motif of a medieval castle. LDS Mormons in Utah Territory later drew on the same theme for the same reason.

    Likewise, the idea of the Kingdom remains critical to the FLDS Church and it makes sense that they have used the same motif—although their temple is also influenced by the four Utah pioneer temples.

  11. John Hamer says:

    BiV (9): As far as I can see, women have been forgotten in the plan. However, I can’t imagine that if the plan had actually been executed, one or more of the halls wouldn’t have been assigned for the use of women. Strang, of course, ultimately conferred the Aaronic priesthood on women and ordained them to Aaronic offices, including especially teacher. (Note: the practice of systematically ordaining teenagers to Aaronic priesthood offices developed later in Utah. In the early church and most restoration churches today, the offices of deacon, teacher, and priest, are primarily held by adults.)

  12. Velikiye Kniaz says:

    I have to disagree with the above brethren regarding their view that John’s conception of the Voree temple resembles the FLDS temple in Texas. The FLDS temple appears to me to be an extremely crude attempt at a variation of the St. George Temple. John’s design is vastly superior to that concrete behemoth. I believe that the earliest LDS Temples display our architecture at its best and that from the 1960′s on our architecture has become increasing pedestrian, culminating in the ‘tract’ temples that have proliferated across the world within the past two decades. (I overheard one non-LDS visitor to Temple Square comment to his non-LDS guest, “Yes, this Temple has striking architecture but now they’re building cookie cutter Temples to match their cookie cutter churches.” We are now preparing to build a Temple in Rome, a city that has nurtured some of the greatest architects in history and possesses some of the best examples of their work. I hope and pray that we will not permanently shame ourselves in granite or marble. It could be said that excellent design really doesn’t matter compared with the ordinances performed within the Temple and that is true, but our Temples remain a powerful missionary tool. Even my own architecturally unaware Catholic parents were deeply moved by their visits to Temple Square and the Temple. They called the Temple ‘magnificent’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘inspiring’ and it caused them to ask many questions about the Temple, it’s purpose, the ordinances and our doctrines, more than they had in the previous 10 years. How wonderful it would be if we had a Church architect who was visionary enough to receive revelations from the Spirit to guide his/her designs for each new House of The Lord. James Strang should have had John Hamer as his architect. John’s design handsomely integrates elements from both the Kirtand and Nauvoo Temples and would have been fine starting point for a most remarkable and memorable structure of that era.

  13. 9 and 11: I’m not sure women would have been allotted meeting space within the halls of the Voree Temple. In the early days of the Relief Society, separate buildings were built and devoted to its purpose. It was not until later that the Relief Society was pressured to move its location into one meeting room of the normal chapel. Following this physical move to a building under the auspices of male authority came the designation of the Relief Society as an auxiliary.

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    Somehow I had never heard that Strang ordained women to the AP. Fascinating!

  15. John Hamer says:

    Here’s a diagram of the FLDS Temple for comparison.

    Velikiye (12): Thanks very much for your vote of confidence. I hate to be critical of buildings that faithful people consider sacred, but I have to admit that I was very disappointed by the execution of the FLDS Temple. In a similar vein, I don’t have high hopes for Rome. With the exception of the new Nauvoo Temple, the last great LDS Temple was Washington, D.C.

    (As an open notice to the Apostolic United Brethren, the Latter Day Church of Christ, the Centennial Park group, or any other Latter Day Saint church that may be considering building a Temple: I would like to donate my services as a consultant prior to the execution of your project. My advice would be free and you can take it or leave it once given.)

  16. John Hamer says:

    I was reading through more of the Gospel Herald today and I saw that at the April 1849 General Conference, the Strangites again assembled on the Voree temple lot to consecrate the stone and foundations. The choir sang a hymn to the Temple written by one of the builders:

    On Zion’s sacred ground we stand,
    And humbly bow at God’s command,
    To lay a sure foundation stone,
    Which myriads yet unborn shall own.

    We’ll rear a Temple to our God,
    And here be taught his holy word,
    And incense from our hearts shall rise,
    A humble, broken, sacrifice.

    And Ephraim’s children soon shall come,
    From western forests, to their home,
    To chant with us Jehovah’s name,
    And tell the nations of his fame.

    Our walls and towers shall surely rise,
    Like lofty mountains to the skies;
    And Gentile nations yet shall gaze,
    On Zion’s walls and gates of praise.

    O Lord, thine aid we now implore,
    Never will we this work give o’er,
    Until God’s Temple here shall stand,
    Upon this peaceful, promis’d land.

    _______________
    *Gospel Herald IV, no. 5 (April 19, 1849):17 [605].

  17. a random John says:
  18. Timburriaquito says:

    I think the San Diego Temple is a pretty good design. Not a traditional, cookie-cutter temple. I think I heard that a non-LDS person assisted in the design. Of course, I recognize that I could be biased, having lived in San Diego for so long, and having all my kids sealed to me in that temple.

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