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Kennicott
House

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

by
John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Lorado Taft
House

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.


[image ALT: A photograph of a three‑story rectangular house, with a gabled roof pitched at about 30° and one chimney visible at one end (a second may be concealed by a tall tree on the right). On both the front of the house and the side we can see, to our right, the main door is in the center of the second floor, with a railing and a staircase up to ti. It is the Bishop Hill Colony House in Bishop Hill, Illinois.]

Historic American Buildings Survey

Bishop Hill Colony House, Bishop Hill, Built 1840's.

p133 Early Communistic Community

Farthest west, but still to the south of the park, are three large brick structures faced with cement. Square, and three stories high, they are unlike any houses to be seen in correspondingly small towns. One of these was the hotel, each of the others, identical in arrangement, provided living quarters for several families, and thus they present, as do many of the other buildings, an early form of the modern apartment house.

These words, appearing in an article by Margaret E. Jacobson in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (Vol. 34), describe the few remaining dwellings of the Bishop Hill Colony, pioneer religious-communistic community founded on the Illinois prairie by Swedish immigrants. Some eighteen miles west of Kewanee, this colony attempted to be a utopia in the New World similar to the colonies established by the French at Nauvoo and by the English at Albion.

In recognition of the historical significance of the spot, the state of p134Illinois has placed a bronze marker on highway 34 at the intersection of the road that leads to Bishop Hill. It reads: "At Bishop Hill, two miles north of here, Eric Jansen and Jonas Olson founded a colony of Swedish religious dissenters in 1846. Organized on communistic lines, the colony at one time had 1,100 members and property worth a million dollars. Dissolution and the end of the venture came in 1862."

Now shaded by great old elms, walnuts, and maples that completely arch its streets, Bishop Hill Colony still retains most of its principal houses and public buildings, although their great age is apparent. Here is the Steeple Building, built in 1854 and containing a clock in its tower that has been running continuously since it was constructed in 1859. Here, too, are the Old Colony Church, the bakery and brewery buildings, cheese factory, hospital, and Bishop Hill Cemetery.

Gone, however, is "Big Brick," which was a four-story brick communal dwelling built in 1848‑1851. It had ninety-six rooms. The kitchen and dining hall were in the basement. This building was destroyed by fire in 1928 and its site is occupied by a ball park. Just east of this is Old Colony Church, a two‑story frame edifice built in 1848.

"The settlement," wrote Miss Jacobson, "was a Christian communistic organization, so property, responsibility, and work were shared. Starting with sixty acres, the project accumulated a 'balance stock on hand' of $770,630.94, according to the treasurer's report in the annual statement of the Board of Trustees on January 9, 1860."

It is recorded that the colonists worked eighteen hours a day in the fields. Women labored side by side with the men. All ate their meals in the dining halls of the various communal houses in which they lived. Clothing was furnished from a community storehouse. Among the principal products of Bishop Hill during its heyday were linen, made from flax grown by the colonists, and broomcorn, which was exported in large quantities.

At the peak of its existence, however, dissension broke out in Bishop Hill. This break led to the murder of Eric Jansen in 1850. His widow became head of the colony but subsequently she, too, met opposition and soon was ousted from office. Affairs went from bad to worse and in time the colony lost its original identity. Today, Bishop Hill is a state park and descendants of the Swedish colonists live near by.

Although there are few firsthand, written accounts of life at Bishop Hill, an unusual record of existence in the colony survives in the collection of paintings displayed in Old Colony Church. These paintings are the work of one of the colonists, Olaf Krans, who is acclaimed by art critics as an outstanding American "primitive" painter.


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Page updated: 10 Dec 07