Contact us for more information:
Bishop Hill Arts Council
P.O. Box 47
Bishop Hill, IL 61419
Bishop Hill State Historic Site (309) 927-3345
Bishop Hill Heritage Association (309) 927-3899
Road Map & Directions To Us
Programs of the Bishop Hill Arts Council are partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency
Bishop Hill Colony was founded in 1846 by a group of Swedish religious dissenters who believed that the Bible was the only true book of God and the simplicity was the way to salvation. Those beliefs brought them in to conflict with the state church of Sweden and led to the imprisonment of their leader, Erick Jansson. Pooling their resources in a common treasury, Jansson and his followers emigrated to the United States.
The first settlers arrived on the Illinois Prairie in the fall of 1846 after walking 160 miles from Chicago. They purchased land and literally "dug in "for the winter. Shelters half cave, half timber were built into the side of a ravine running the town site. Inadequate food and shelter took its toll that first winter. Ninety-six Colonists died.
The arrival of more immigrants from Sweden expanded the Colony and laid the groundwork for remarkable economic gains during the 15 years the communal village existed. Erik Jansson, considered by his followers to be a second Christ, supervised all of the Colony's activities. The industrious Colonists prospered under his leadership, and permanent buildings were begun in 1847. 20 large commercial buildings were erected and 12,000 acres of land put into farm production. In 1850, the religious unity of the Colonists was disrupted by Jansson's murder, and management passed to a seven-member board of trustees.
The community thrived economically, though, and in 1853, Bishop Hill was incorporated to improve efficiency in its tremendous business enterprises. Colonists produced virtually everything that the village needed and marketed fine linen, furniture, wagons, brooms, and farm products. In the period 1848 to 1861, Bishop Hill was the major center of commerce between Rock Island and Peoria.
The Civil War and charges of financial mismanagement led to the dissolution of the Colony in 1861, and the property was divided among its members. Public interest in Bishop Hill's restoration prompted the State of Illinois to declare a portion of the village a state memorial. The village was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1984. Today the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency owns and maintains the Colony Church, Colony Hotel, Bishop Hill Museum, and the village park.
The first permanent building at Bishop Hill -the church- also contained living quarters. The basement and first floor each contained 10 rooms that housed one family per room. That minimal space was, adequate, however, since everyone ate in a communal dining room.
Walls were lined with sun-dried adobe, a mixture of clay and wheat straw with excellent insulating and sound proofing qualities. The basement and first-floor rooms were heated by individual fireplaces. By 1850s, standards the founders of Bishop Hill were housed in modern, comfortable apartment buildings, while other western Illinois pioneers were living in comparatively primitive log dwellings. The sanctuary on the second floor of the church reflects the Janssonists' belief in simplicity of worship. Light-blue walls contrast sharply with the black walnut pews and pulpit panels, which were painted to resemble marble. A center divider separated the men's and women's pews, a custom in churches of that time. The church is not Swedish in design, although the wood and wrought-iron chandeliers are copies of the brass fixtures the Colonists had seen in native churches. The church is open to the public.
By the mid-1850s, Bishop Hill has as many as 20 visitors a day. Salesman, journalists, lawyers, and immigrants lodged overnight in the Colony Hotel, which was owned communally by the Colony. Sven Bjorklund, the hotel's second proprietor, lent his name to the commodious lodging house, which has a third-floor ballroom that is being restored.
The architecture of the hotel complemented other Colony buildings, and the interior was nicely furnished. The hotel was operated privately after the Colony's dissolution in 1861. In the 1920's, it was converted to an apartment building. The state purchased the former hotel building in 1968 and began restoring it. It is open to the public.
The village park was created by the Colonist in 1853 on the site of the original dugouts. It contains two monuments-one to the settlers of Bishop Hill, the other to the army company including Bishop Hill men who responded to the Union call for troops at the outset of the Civil War. The park also features a reconstructed gazebo. The park is open to the public.
The paintings of Olof Krans provide one of the best chronicles of daily life and personalities at Bishop Hill. Krans came to the village in 1850 at the age of 12 and remained until its dissolution as a communal enterprise. He served in the Union army during the Civil War. In 1875, he began painting local scenes as he remembered them. He presented the collection of work scenes to the village during it fiftieth anniversary observance in 1896.
Krans's primitive style and his attention to detail make his paintings valuable historical documents. They constitute a unique record of communal life on the Illinois prairie in the 1850s. The stern faces in his portraits reflect the determination that enabled the Janssonists to begin a new life in America.
This remarkable collection of Olof Krans paintings is exhibited in the Bishop Hill Museum. Though the works of this nationally recognized folk artist, the story of the Bishop Hill Colony is told and preserved for future generations. The museum is open to the public. The Museum is open 7 days a week Memorial day through Labor Day.
Bishop Hill State Historic Site is open Wednesday to Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. March to October 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. November to February
Closed New Year's, Martin Luther King, Jr, Presidents, Columbus, Election, Veterans, Thanksgiving and Christmas days. Groups of 25 or more must have reservation. The museum park and restroom are handicapped accessible. There is limited accessibility to historic structures.
For additional information, write Site Manager Post Office Box 104, Bishop Hill, IL 61419, phone 309-927-3345.
D. A. Shaver Graphics & Web Design
LMOD: June 24, 2006 4:49 PM