Today marks the 165th anniversary of the first endowments being given in the latter days. At that time, the Nauvoo temple was still far from completion. Baptisms for the dead were conducted in the cellar font, but there was not yet a place for the endowment. The upper room of the Red Brick Store in Nauvoo would have to suffice. “Although on one occasion Joseph Smith stated that in the days of poverty the Saints could obtain their endowments on a mountain, there were no mountains in the vicinity of Nauvoo. Moreover, the surrounding prairie offered insufficient privacy for the administration of temple ordinances…. Apparently the one place where he felt he had enough control of access to insure the required privacy was in his own store.” (1) On 4 May 1842, Joseph Smith gathered nine men (2) and gave them the endowment.
Quoting from Lisle G. Brown (3):
Various ecclesiastical functions, such as the organization of the Nauvoo Relief Society and numerous priesthood councils, were held in the [upper] room. It was also used for secular activities, including municipal meetings, school classes, theatrical presentations, debates, lectures, staff meetings of the Nauvoo Legion, and Masonic degree work. The room went by a variety of names, including… the Assembly Room.
…On 3 May 1842 Joseph Smith began to prepare the Assembly Room for the introduction of temple ceremonies. Five or six men assisted him. Lucius N. Scovil, one of the men, later recalled that the Prophet “told us that the object he had was for us to go to work and fit up that room preparatory to giving endowments to a few Elders.” Another man who helped the Prophet was James H. Rollins: “The Prophet told me to assist in carrying water and other commodities to the room above the store. Afterwards I found out it was to give endowments to some of the brethren.” According to Brigham Young, the room was not well suited for the purpose, for Joseph Smith had to divide “up the room the best he could.” Although it “was arranged representing the interior of a temple as much as the circumstances would permit”, the Prophet told Brigham Young that it was “not arranged right but we have done the best we could under the circumstances.” The completed arrangements provided for washings and anointings to be given in the Prophet’s private office and the endowment in the Assembly Room.
By the forenoon of 4 May the men finished the room. During the rest of the day Joseph Smith initiated a number of brethren into the ordinances. By the time of his death Joseph had given endowments to over sixty individuals, both men and women. During this period the Prophet also used other places than the Assembly Room for the administration of temple ordinances, including the Homestead (his first residence in Nauvoo) and the second floor room in the southeast corner of the Mansion House. A number of ordinances were also given in the home of Brigham Young.
(1) Brown, Lisle G. “The Sacred Departments for Temple Work in Nauvoo: The Assembly Room and the Council Chamber” (1979) 19:3:361. Available online at http://byustudies.byu.edu/shop/pdfsrc/19.3Brown.pdf
(2) Hyrum Smith, William Law, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, Newel K. Whitney, George Miller, William Marks, and James Adams.
(3) See (1).