The Nauvoo Temple no longer stands, having been totally destroyed during the nineteenth century. Descriptions of the building's exterior must be based on a few photographs, renderings and drawings by its architecture, drawings and paintings by contemporary observers, and a few surviving limestone blocks--particularly its symbolic stones.
When completed the Nauvoo Temple was an impressive building. The Temple stood on the highest bluff overlooking lower Nauvoo and the Mississippi River, and, when completed, was easily the most prominent building along the upper Mississippi River.
Built of native light-gray limestone, the Temple was 128 feet long and 88 feet wide, rising 65 feet to the top of its front roof line. An octagonal tower rose in three stages an additional 100 feet.
The walls were reportedly three feet thick at the ground level and two feet thick at the roof line. The stone work was finished with a great deal of attention, and was "worked down to a perfect surface."
Initially the Temple was to have a triangular pediment with a large semicircular window, but this was subsequently changed to a fenestrated rectangular flat-roofed fore-attic, with shallow pilasters dividing it into five bays wide and two bays deep. Running eastward from the attic story was a pitched-roof rear-attic, with the gable end lighted by the semicircular window initially designed for the abandoned pediment.
The Temple exhibited a somewhat singular architectural style, with an overall classical motif, but with anomalies that made it quite unique.
In a classical sense, the Temple could be described as a peristyle (having pilasters around its four exterior walls) dressed limestone structure: hexastyle (having six pilasters) front and rear, and enneastyle (having nine pilasters) on its flanks. The temple's thirty pilasters were composed of a moonstone base, polished shaft, and a sunstone/trumpet capital. Above the capital was an entablature with an uninterrupted architrave and a frieze divided into triglyphs of inverted five-pointed stars, metopes with circular windows, and running cornice. Above the cornice was an eave trough, which had been lined with sheeted lead, reported weighing 6,500 pounds, which could hold some thirty barrels of water. The soffit was also decorated with six-pointed stars.
Above the entabluture the building abandoned its classical motif with its bi-attic sections: a rectangular flat-roofed fore-attic and a pitched-roof rear-attic. The rear-attic was enclosed by an ornamental balustrade, having spacing panels with six-pointed stars, running along the flanks of the building. Between the balustrade and the rear attic exterior wall were four nonfunctional, decorative limestone chimneys, two on either side.
The main body front of the temple was divided into five bays by six pilasters. The bays contained either archways or windows. The main body was two stories high with a wooden attic story above.
The only access to the Temple was by a broad flight of eight steps to a landing, which ascended to five feet above ground level. The three central bays were composed of thee round-archways, with an additional two steps, which lead to an open vestibule. The archways were nine feet wide and twenty-one feet high. The vestibule was forty-three feet wide, running north and south, and seventeen feet deep, running east and west. There were four doorways in the vestibule. Two on the north and south walls opened to the landings of the circular staircases in southwest and northwest corners of the building. The other two, double-doors, opened to the interior of the first floor.
The two corner bays contained two large, eleven feet high, round-arched windows. Two circular windows rested between these two windows. Three similar windows occupied the bays above the archways. Beneath the lower round-arched windows were two semicircular windows, rested at the ground level between the moonstone bases. In the frieze were five round windows, corresponding to the five bays in the main body, and six star stones.
The rectangular attic, also divided into corresponding five bays, had four double-hung square windows. The central bay contained an ornamental tablet of bright gilded letters, which read: "The House of the Lord / Build by the Church of Jesus Christ / of Latter Day Saints / Commenced April 6th 1841 / Holiness to the Lord." A similar inscription was also carved into the east wall of the vestibule, between the two doors. At the roof line of the front attic ran a balustrade.
Each of the two sides of the Temple continued the architectural style of the facade, nine pilasters, dividing the main body into eight bays.
Each flank was the same. At the ground level were eight semicircular windows, resting in the bays between the moonstone bases. Above these windows were two large round-arched windows separated by circular windows. In the frieze were eight round windows, corresponding to the eight bays in the main body, and nine star stones. Above the cornice rested the lead-lined eave trough. At the west end of the Temple rose the two-bay-deep flat-roofed attic, with its two windows. The balustrade ran along the roof-line from the fore-attic to the east, with the two ornamental chimneys. The rest of the space to the east was occupied by the pitched-roofed attic.
The eastern end of the temple reflected the general style of the western facade, five bays divided by six pilasters. There were five semicircular windows at ground level between the moonstone bases. Four of the bays contained the same arrangement of two rounded-arched windows with a circular window between them. The central bay had no windows but was a two-story rounded niche. The frieze contained six starstones with five circular windows with between them. The gable end the rear-attic, which resembled a pediment, had a spectacular twenty-one foot semicircular window.
The fore-attic had a nearly flat roof of matched white-pine wooden shingles, as well as a number of octagonal skylights for lighting the rooms below. Likewise the rear-attic with its pitched roof - its apex near the same height as the fore-attic - had the same wooden shingles, as well as six rectangular skylights for illumination.
Resting on the fore-attic was the octagonal tower, which was divided and into four sections, each reduced as it rose. The first was the base, some twelve and half feet high. Above the base rose a twenty-foot high belfry with double-arched shuttered openings in all eight of its sides. Eight freestanding pillars also rested at each of the eight corners. Above the belfry was a clock section with four clocks and four shuttered windows. Above the clock section was the sixteen-foot high observation deck with eight windows. The tower was capped by a tin-covered dome, some thirteen feet high, out of which rose a rod bearing a weathervane, fashioned in a horizontally positioned gilded angel some five feet in length. A metal ladder rose from the west side of the observation deck, over the dome to the base of the weathervane supporting rod.