The heart of the Colony, the Church was the first permanent structure built here. Due to a shortage of housing for the colonists, the basement and the first floor each contains 10 rooms and were used as apartments for 10 families - kitchens were not needed since everyone ate together in communal dining areas elsewhere. By 1850 standards, the family rooms were warm and soundproofed by adobe walls.
On the second floor was a simple sanctuary mirroring a belief in simple worship. Walls of a light blue, very similar to what you would find in Amana or Bethel - other 19th Century communal utopias found nearby. Men and women were segregated by sex, so as not to distract one another from the seriousness of the theme emanating from their leader at the front of the chapel. A distinguishing feature of the chapel here as opposed to elsewhere was that it was unheated. That is a very hard thing to endure come January on the plains of Illinois.
As Bishop Hill became a more established community - 1000 people at its peak - a communally-owned hotel was built. The hotel was run privately after the Colony's dissolution in 1861 but was converted to apartments in the 1920's. In 1968, the State bought the place and had restored it - the hotel was still undergoing major restoration when I visited and was closed, but maybe when you go, it will be open as grand as it was in the past.
Built in 1847, this 1 ½ story frame house was home to the unmarried men and orphan boys of the Colony. It is maintained by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and not open to the public. Conveniently, for the boys, it is located just next to the Church.
Built in 1853, the Colony Store was a portal to the outside World for colonists, serving both as a post office and a general store for outsiders. The Colony Store is owned and operated by the Bishop Hill Heritage Association and purchases help support restoration. The second floor was offices and living space for the storekeeper/postmaster.
Built in 1854 for dairy processing, dairy maids used to live on the second floor. From 1861 until 1982, the building was used as three separate apartments. The Bishop Hill Heritage Association is restoring the building.
Built in 1855, this building was used to house colonial families. It is a mirror image of the old Administration building next door. Behind the Apartments is the original Privy and Washhouse that used to serve the Apartments.
Housed in the old administration building for the Colony is an antique store. The building is adjacent to the Colony Store on its other side and fronts the Village Park. Built in 1856 to house administrative offices and apartments for the Colony, it was the mirror image of the Colony Apartment building on its west side.
This 2 ½ story brick building used to house the Colony’s blacksmith and wagon building shop. Built in 1857, there was a central hearth off of which six blacksmiths could work separately. The wagon shop was upstairs and featured steam-powered lathes and machine tools with an operation quite modern for its time. Today several craft centers – associated with the Bishop Hill Heritage Association – utilize the building.
Colonists created the Village Park in 1853. Around the Park are many of the important buildings of the Colony. On the north side of the Park, now filled in by the baseball field, was an extension of the ravine where colonists lived in dugouts the first horrible winter. The Park is a very pleasant place to ponder upon what was or just to sit and take in the quiet of what is now. There are a couple of monuments that were erected in the 1890’s – one memorializes the original Bishop Hill settlers and the other is for efforts during the Civil War.
With only 150 people and definitely off-the-beaten-path, Bishop Hill is a very quiet place most of the time. Walking the streets, you can just imagine an earlier time when there were over a thousand people living their lives here in what they hoped would be a Heaven on Earth – true Communism in action.
The Vasa Order of America is an organization commemorating Swedish ancestry among those Americans who can trace their roots back in time to Swedish forbears. There are local lodges spread throughout the US – many in the northern Midwest, as that area attracted many from Scandanavia. This building, built in the latter part of the 20th Century, holds genealogical archives, invaluable for Swedish-Americans who are tracing their family histories. The library is upstairs while the main floor is reserved for different lodge displays and functions
This three story brick building was originally built as a hotel, but became a multipurpose building, serving as a dwelling and for school and administrative purposes. Later, post-Colony, it housed a bank, telephone switchboards and apartments. Today it is a museum of the Bishop Hill Heritage Association with exhibits showing the history of the Colony and the little town – about 150 people live in Bishop Hill today – along with the history of Swedish-American immigration, in general. Not only here in Bishop Hill, but in surrounding areas, Swedish settlers came in good numbers in the mid-19th Century. A short 15 minute audiovisual presentation will introduce you to some of the history and life inside the old Colony.
The tower clock has two faces, each face with but one arm. Clock weights run from the tower to the ground. As many of the buildings here, the Steeple Building faces the Village Park and is next to the Post Office.
This was the last building built by the Colony – in 1861. It is currently a community center, but was used as a schoolhouse for the village from 1861 until 1953.