Bishop Hill Travel Guide: 16 reviews and 16 photos

Eric Jansson was considered to be the Second Christ by many of his followers. Swedish church and State authorities thought otherwise and put Mr Jansson in prison. Pooling their resources together, Jansson and his followers emigrated to the US, beginning in 1846 - not all at once, though. The first pioneers arrived in Fall and walked west from Chicago, 160 miles across the Plains to where they were to establish Bishop Hill. The first winter was very hard as they only had time to build mean shelters that were half-timber and half-cave along the side of a ravine running through their townsite. Almost a quarter of the colonists died that first winter.

With more immigrants and a lot of hard work, the community expanded and developed many businesses. Bishop Hill became a commercial center of local repute through the 1850's, despite the murder of their leader in 1850. One building lost to time, was called the Big Brick, the first part being built in 1849 and the second section completed in 1851. This was a 3 story high building that had 96 rooms ? within each a separate family lived ? and below there was a full basement which served as a communal dining area, large enough for 1000 people to dine at one time. At the time, the building was the largest brick building in the US, west of Chicago. Financial mismanagement, the economic depression of the late 1850's and the spiritual void leftover from the demise of their charismatic leader led to the dissolution of the communitarian aspects of Bishop Hill in 1861 with the assets of the colony being distributed among the members.

About 150 people still live in Bishop Hill, 25% descended from the original Swedish settlers. Many of the bulidings from the colony days are preserved still - several are owned and maintained by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (Not open Monday or Tuesday). There are several festivals celebrated - Jordbruksdagarna (a Swedish harvest festival the end of September) and Julmarknad (Swedish Christmas), a Quilt Show and a Midsummer Music Festival - and a fair number of folks come - several medium sized cities not being too far away: Peoria, Quad Cities, Galesburg, etc and Chicago is only 3 hours.

  • Intro Updated Mar 27, 2009
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Reviews (14)

Comments (4)

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Mar 26, 2009 at 3:54 PM

    I grew up in Illinois, but never heard of Bishop Hill before. Enjoyed reading your tips about it.

  • deecat's Profile Photo
    Jan 9, 2007 at 11:56 AM

    I see we enjoy similar interests as we travel...architecture, history, communal societies. Thanks for this wonderful tour.

  • karenincalifornia's Profile Photo
    Mar 2, 2005 at 8:57 AM

    The midwest certainly was a haven for socialist/religious movements in the mid 1800's, wasn't it? I see some parallels between Eric Jansson and our good friend Joe.

  • Jonathan_C's Profile Photo
    Oct 15, 2004 at 4:27 AM

    Communal societies fascinate me. But do they always require a charismatic religious leader to survive? Can comparisons be made between your Midwestern towns and the Sinaguan sites? I have many questions.


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