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One of the best-known traditions of the annual Nauvoo Grape Festival is the Grape Fest Pageant, which portrays the history of Nauvoo from the Native Americans to the present day.  The script for this historical pageant is based upon the timeline of Nauvoo history. It has been presented each year since 1939 during the Grape Festival in the natural amphitheater, called the Sod Stage in the Nauvoo State Park. This is just a stone’s throw from the Rheinberger Museum and it’s 156-year-old vineyard where Nauvoo’s wine industry began.

Nauvoo’s first name was Quashquema named by Native American inhabitants in honor of the Chief who headed the Sauk and Fox settlement, which numbered nearly 500 lodges. The first frontiersmen knew it as “Head of the Rapids” and by 1829 a post office was needed to serve the Irish, Scotch, and English pioneers who came to the US government agriculture school and trading post. The city was named Venus. Pioneers had begun to settle the land and in 1834 the city’s name was changed from Venus to Commerce and about 100 settlers lived, worked, and traded on this land.

In 1839 the Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith, led his people here from Missouri.  Within 7 short years these pioneers built a larger city, and renamed Commerce to “Nauvoo.” They constructed a Temple on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi, but they were forced to leave Illinois in 1846 due to religious, political, and cultural conflicts.

      Etienne Cabet and his Icarian compatriots came to Nauvoo from their native France & established a commune on Temple Square and resettled the city in 1849.  Their goal was to live together and share and share alike.  By 1856 the commune disbanded, but many Icarians stayed in Nauvoo and took up the cultivation of grapes, imitating the success of their Swiss/German neighbors. Soon there were over 600 acres of vineyards and the hills of Old Nauvoo were dotted with stone arched wine cellars. This was the way of life in Nauvoo until Prohibition went into effect in January 1920 and the wine industry in Nauvoo shut down.

After the repeal of Prohibition, the wine industry was revived. About the same time Oscar Rhode helped perfect the process of Blue Cheese from cow’s milk, which started the business of “blue cheese” in Nauvoo. Soon Nauvoo became famous for both Nauvoo Wine and Nauvoo Blue cheese.  Each year, at harvest time, Nauvoo celebrates the grape harvest with a Grape Festival.  A highlight of the Nauvoo Historical Society pageant is an old French ceremony, The Wedding of the Wine and Cheese, uniting two of Nauvoo’s most famous products – wine and cheese in holy matrimony.