NAUVOO, Ill. -- Digging into the history of early Nauvoo residents Orson and Marinda Hyde as part of restoration work on their home, Trisha Willmore found a family connection that touched her heart.
"He was great friends with my great-great-grandfather Allen Joseph Stout," Willmore said. "The meaning of the home just sinks a lot deeper. Our hearts entwined with it."
Willmore is finding similar stories tied to William Weeks, William and Esther Gheen and Edward and Ann Hunter -- other early residents -- whose homes are being restored in the first phase of work on a new master plan for Historic Nauvoo by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Work began in May on the Weeks, Gheen and Hyde homes and is yet to get underway at the Hunter home, where only the foundation still stands.
"We're in the demolition stages right now. Hopefully we're getting ready to turn a corner where we can start putting things back together," said Regan Willmore, who with his wife oversees the restoration work being done by Salt Lake City-based Okland Construction.
Wet weather and wet basements have been a challenge to the project as well as "just being able to fix the things that are old, that are rotted or damaged and get them back to a state where they will be original to each one of the houses," Regan Willmore said.
That challenge has been especially great at the Hyde home, which "is mostly a wooden house. The others are brick and mortar. Brick and mortar homes last better and weather the aging better than actual wood homes do," he said.
Plans call for the homes, all built in the early 1840s, to be open for tours in summer 2020.
They will be part of the temple district tour to "give the visitor an experience of the importance of the temple to the members of the church and just what that means to them," Regan Willmore said. "The Gheens, the Weeks and the Hunters were all integral in helping to build the temple."
In the meantime, scaffolding surrounds part of the Weeks home, where the more modern eastern section "has been taken off so the house can be restored to what it originally was built as," Regan Willmore said.
A new concrete wall will be poured to support the home's east wall, then "they can re-lay brick on top of that concrete wall to give it the look that it had," he said. "They'll put a new roof on it so it's more watertight and all of the fascia boards, the drains, the rain gutters will come off too and be replaced. Everything is going to be brought back to as close to original as they can get yet using some of our modern technologies to make it last."
Not far away at the Hyde home, work has been done in layers.
"We have to get the basement and first floor solidified and then work on the second floor, then work on the roof," he said. "We have to take it step by step to get a good finished product."
The front porch, a kitchen and a second porch have been removed and only the front porch, original to the home, will be rebuilt.
Timbers ravaged by dry rot and termites have been removed and will be replaced, but Aaron Niemann, project superintendent with Okland, admires the work of the original builders.
"It's impressive what they were able to do back then. No doubt we can do things easier and better now, but for what they had to work with, they were very talented people – very skilled and extremely hard-working," Niemann said. "It's restoring history."
The home's original foundation remained in good condition, needing little patching to prepare for new sills which will be put together "how it was originally built so it is correct for the home," Regan Willmore said.
Basements in each of the homes will be redone to improve drainage -- a key especially in this wet spring.
"This spring is probably a good reminder of we shouldn't cut corners. We need to do it right so if we have another spring like this we're not coming back and fixing things, so we can maintain the home for many years," Regan Willmore said.
Salvaged materials, including piles of bricks and limestone foundation stones at the Weeks site and flooring from the Hyde home, will be used whenever possible in the restoration work.
"The flooring, for example, wasn't necessarily original, but you can't buy distressed flooring like that anywhere. We'll refinish it, clean it up as much as we can and put it back down in areas that call for wood flooring instead of buying new materials," Regan Willmore said.
"We pull off lots of old wallpaper and see people writing their name sometimes or putting a date. It's just interesting to pull back the layers of all the different families that have lived there," Trisha Willmore said.
Over the years, the homes have been used for housing missionaries serving in Nauvoo.
"We've had quite a few come up and say ‘we stayed in this home,' " Tricia Willmore said. "They have such a tender feeling toward that place."
Along the way, the Willmores record the process step by step for the church's future reference.
"Ten years from now, if they need to go back in and rework something, they don't have to take the whole house apart," Regan Willmore said. "They'll know what's new versus what's old and know where different things are."