When Latter-day Saints first began to settle here, they were poor, unemployed, and many had been robbed of nearly everything they owned. Because Commerce was barely a settlement, it had no civil government, so the Church functioned in its place.
Under ecclesiastical direction, property was purchased and platted, with additions growing the community as the population increased. Blocks were laid out with four one-acre lots, and streets were set according to the cardinal points. Commerce and Commerce City were platted over, but the continued existence of streets such as Broadway show that these efforts were not entirely successful.
In December 1840, the Illinois legislature granted Nauvoo a city charter, as well as a charters for a university, the Nauvoo House, and the Nauvoo Legion (militia). Civil government was officially instituted on February 1, 1841, with the election of a mayor and city council.
The city was divided into four political wards, and efforts were made to make Nauvoo a more attractive investment. Large scale construction projects were begun that both improved living conditions and employed people. The largest were the temple and Nauvoo House. A wing dam was envisioned to both tame the Des Moines Rapids and provide water power for industry.
A canal was dug on the east side of Durphy Street, diverting the streams coming from the “hill” or “bluff,” and draining the lower town. The Durphy Street canal still exists, and is about 8-feet deep by 11-feet wide.