The deteriorating remains of a 150-year-old home in Farmington, Iowa, served as both a classroom and community-service experience for students participating in the 1997 BYU Semester at Nauvoo, Ill.
Farmington is across the Mississippi River and about 30 miles west into Iowa from Nauvoo.The students and their faculty advisers undertook the strenuous task of razing the home and retrieving the bricks used in its construction. According to local tradition, the bricks were manufactured in the kilns of old Nauvoo, and Saints fleeing Nauvoo in 1846 built the home as a means of raising money for themselves and for those yet to come. It is certain that some companies forded the Des Moines River near Farmington, while others, including Brigham Young, went further upstream to the small town of Bonaparte, where they found a more convenient crossing point.
The home, which was damaged during the floods of 1993, was scheduled for demolition until owner Gary Cahill contacted Elder Grant Fry, manager of Nauvoo Restoration Inc., and offered him the bricks if he would haul them away.
"We verified that the bricks in the home were indeed from Nauvoo," Elder Fry said, "and so determined to retrieve them."
There were a half-dozen brickyards in Nauvoo during its growth, most located east of the temple site. The bricks were made of clay from local pits and were used to construct hundreds of structures as well as to pave the Nauvoo Temple's baptismal rooms.
Working with Nauvoo Restoration missionaries, the students pried the bricks loose, knocked the old sand and mortar off, then stacked them on pallets in trucks. Their work resulted in four truckloads of old bricks being returned to Nauvoo, where they will be used in repairing and restoring other period homes.
"While working on the dismantling of this old home, I felt grateful to be able to help, even in a small way, to further the work of preserving Old Historic Nauvoo," said Matthew Michels, one of the students. "I gained a better understanding of how hard-working and industrious the people of Nauvoo were, and how important it is for each of us to learn about and appreciate the tremendous sacrifices and indomitable spirit which accompanied the Saints in Nauvoo."
Student Kirsten Olsen added: "There's just something special about getting muddy while working with bricks that existed in the days of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. What a wonderful spirit there was. This feeling enabled me to work hard and enjoy every minute of it."
The mayor of Farmington himself came to the site to personally thank the workers for the thorough and well-organized activity and invited them to come back and work on other houses in the community needing the same kind of effort.
Each year, BYU sponsors a "Semester at Nauvoo" program during January, February and March. The students live in restored Nauvoo homes and attend classes in historic buildings. They are involved in classroom activities plus field trips and excursions to other locations important to Church and American history.