THE STORY OF THE BISHOP HILL HERITAGE ASSOCIATION
The Bishop Hill Heritage Association (BHHA) seeks to appreciate and preserve the rich history of the Bishop Hill Colonists and the town they built. The Bishop Hill Colony began in Sweden when a group of religious dissenters dreamed of creating a utopia-a place where they could live in harmony with their beliefs, free from the dogma of the established church. In 1846,Erik Janson and his followers, sailed from Sweden to New York, made their way to Chicago and walked the last 160 miles to Bishop Hill. They established a communal Colony on the prairie that grew in numbers and prospered, even though the Colony suffered a major loss when Erik Janson was killed in 1850. In the 15 year history of this religious collective, over a thousand immigrants journeyed from Sweden to join the Colony. The Bishop Hill Colony was one of the most significant forces in the later immigration of millions of Swedes. The Colony is still evident today in the form of historic buildings and artifacts as well as in its 130 residents, many of whom are descendants of the original settlers.
In the summer of 1961, the abandoned Colony Bakery/Brewery building was demolished by the village of Bishop Hill. This was the catalyst that led to the formation of the Bishop Hill Heritage Association. In 1962, a small group of descendants met and resolved to preserve their Swedish heritage and ensure that no more colony buildings would be lost. BHHA was organized to preserve and protect the remaining buildings associated with the Bishop Hill Colony (1846-1861). The first of these, the Steeple Building, was acquired in 1963. It is a three story, 24 room Greek Revival structure now housing the main museum, offices and archives of the BHHA. The second acquisition, the Colony Blacksmith Shop, was purchased in 1966 following the collapse of a major truss which allowed the roof to cave in. This building now houses demonstrators, craft persons, and their shops. In 1969, the Colony Store was acquired after one wall and corner of this brick building collapsed. Now restored, it houses the BHHA gift shop. This store features Swedish foods and gift items and provides an outlet for local crafts similar to those produced in the Colony. BHHA acquired the Cobbler Shop in 1971, the Colony Hospital in 1976, the Colony Dairy Building in 1985 and the Colony Apartment House in 1987. All are original Bishop Hill buildings that have been repaired and/or restored by the Heritage Association. In 2012, the 1908 Albert Krans Livery Stable was rebuilt and turned into a museum.
Today, the Bishop Hill Heritage Association provides a variety of services to promote and protect our Bishop Hill and Swedish heritage:
- Raise funds for the repair and restoration of historic buildings. We also organize and supervise these construction projects.
- Provide guided tours of Bishop Hill for all large groups. These groups include college classes, educator workshops, international and US tour groups.
- Conduct family research for individuals seeking information about their Colony ancestors.
- Assists in the organizing and promotion of most major Bishop Hill festivals, including Ag Days, Christmas Market, Lucia Nights, and the Midsommar Music Festival.
- Conduct a variety of workshops, such as the Swedish Folk Art Workshop, on Swedish topics.
- Host school fieldtrips and conduct educational programming with our Astrid Lindgren Festival.
- Bring in demonstrators on a regular basis to show visitors the traditional ways of broom making, weaving, spinning, and so on.
- The Steeple Building has two floors of exhibits that share the story of Bishop Hill to our visitors. The Krans Livery Stable is a recently open 2nd museum that depicts an early 20th century stable.
- Preserves thousands of Bishop Hill and Swedish artifacts, some dating back to the early 1700’s.
- Acts as a source of information for people seeking information about Bishop Hill events and businesses.
- Sell items in our store that reflect our Swedish heritage.
BHHA online exhibits are located at http://bishop-hill-heritage-association.culturalspot.org/home
YouTube Video about the Bishop Hill Colony (created by Troy Swanson of Moraine Valley Community College): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4zXP4w0tVE
YouTube Video about Bishop Hill today (by Dr. Adam Kaul of Augustana College): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDwH-wFIOZ0
Downloadable pdfs of books and articles about the history of the Bishop Hill Colony (from the Internet Archive):
Link to online Swedish American Newspaper database (access to over 300,000 pages from 28 Swedish-Am. Newspapers from 1859 to 2007): http://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/swedishamerican