William Weeks: Architect of the Nauvoo Temple

Museum Treasures

The original Nauvoo Temple was an inspired masterpiece of architecture and craftsmanship. The Prophet Joseph Smith directed the work, but architect William Weeks translated those directions into workable plans.

Front elevation of the Nauvoo Temple, drawn by architect William Weeks. See all of the drawings in the collection here.

The original Nauvoo Temple was an inspired masterpiece of architecture and craftsmanship. The Prophet Joseph Smith directed the work, but architect William Weeks translated those directions into workable plans. These architectural drawings demonstrate William’s skill and attention to detail, which later helped modern builders reconstruct the Nauvoo Temple.

Raised in a family of builders, William Weeks worked with his father and brother on building projects in the American Northeast and South.1 It is believed that he joined the Church while working in the South and that he left his family to gather with the Saints.2 When the Saints were driven out of Missouri, he moved to Quincy, Illinois, where he married Caroline M. Allen.3 He later moved his family to Nauvoo, where he built a brick home that still stands at Young and Partridge Streets.4

When the Prophet announced plans to build a temple, William and other architects submitted designs. William’s nephew, F. M. Weeks, recalled William telling him that “when [William] went in and showed his plans, Joseph Smith grabbed him, hugged him and said ‘you are the man I want.’”5

Joseph Smith received many instructions about the temple by revelation, and he was considered the chief architect for the temple. Weeks then drew up the detailed plans and supervised construction.6 However, the two did not always agree on the building details. When Joseph instructed William that the office windows on the middle floors should be round, William objected, saying that the building was too short for that style of window. Joseph replied, “I wish you to carry out my designs. I have seen in vision the splendid appearance of that building illuminated, and will have it built according to the pattern shown me.”7 William complied, and the temple was built with round windows.

Unfortunately, the Saints were forced to leave Nauvoo before the temple was completed. Brigham Young called William and his family to go with the first groups in early 1846, and responsibility for finishing the temple was transferred to Truman Angell. Brigham wanted William in the vanguard company of pioneers so that he could begin work on a new temple as soon as the Saints were settled in their new home.8 This plan, however, was never fulfilled.

Shortly after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, William and his family separated from the Church. The source of the conflict is uncertain, but William’s nephew believed it was William’s objection to plural marriage that caused the split.9 The family moved back to the Midwest for five years before returning to Utah and the Church for a few years. However, the family moved to California in 1857, and there is no evidence of their participation in Church activities there.10

Through all of these changes, William maintained a love for Joseph Smith and the gospel.11 He kept his drawings of the Nauvoo Temple and passed them down to his daughter, Caroline Weeks Griffin. She in turn passed them on to her son, Leslie. Drawing number 10 includes two sailboat sketches by Leslie’s sons, who used this page when they couldn’t find other paper.12

The drawings would have remained in obscurity if not for a “chance” meeting in 1948, when missionaries serving in the small desert town of Boron, California, knocked on the door of Leslie and Zetta Griffin. The missionaries built a good relationship with the Griffins, and Leslie, who was not a member of the Church, told the elders that they had William’s architectural drawings. The Griffins felt strongly that the drawings should be returned to the Church. They asked one of the elders, who was returning home to Utah in a few days, to give the drawings to the Church archives.13

Years later these same drawings were instrumental in rebuilding the Nauvoo Temple. Bishop Keith B. McMullin, then a member of the Presiding Bishopric, said, “Efforts have been made to reflect as closely as practical the original exterior designs and interior appointments. Brother Weeks’ drawings were an essential part of this study and research. The manner in which the Nauvoo Temple has been reconstructed would not have been possible without these original plans.”14

Although William Weeks’s name is not well known, his greatest work is still appreciated and beloved today.