You’ll want to add Bishop Hill to your list of Fall places to visit. It’s located on the prairie about 55 miles north of Peoria, and looks much the same as it did 160 years ago.
Bishop Hill Colony was founded in 1846 by a group of religious dissenters from Sweden. It’s a typical immigration story – a leader had the vision for a better life, a scout came over to secure the land, and then the people followed.
Initially, about 1,000 citizens left Sweden to settle in Bishop Hill. Many died that first winter, but within a few years, the industrious group had built several impressive buildings.
As you would expect, a church was the first building. The sanctuary was located on the second floor, and a divider separated the men’s and women’s pews, a custom in churches of that era.
The colony was set up as a Utopian community where everyone shared in the work and the proceeds. In keeping with the promise of equality, the labor of women and children was also valued.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t Swedish paradise. Leader Erik Jansson was murdered after a squabble with his cousin’s husband, and soon there was more trouble in the camp. New leadership was unsuccessful, so the colony finally dissolved in 1861 after fifteen years of existence.
Today the entire village (population 125) is an historic landmark. The original buildings have been nicely restored and offer shops, restaurants, museums, and homes. Historic looking signage in front of each structure explains its original purpose, the year it was built, and whether or not it is open to the public.
Several buildings in town are now museums where you can learn Bishop Hill’s interesting history. The 1854 Steeple Building houses the archives for the Heritage Association as well as a museum.
At the Prairie Arts Center, check out the handmade goods and see demonstrations of broom making, weaving, and pottery making.
One of my favorite businesses is Peasant Works, located in an 1882 barn called the Poppy Barn. There you’ll find an eclectic mix of vintage items and handwoven baskets.
The Colony Store is a fun place to shop. The aroma of coffee is wonderful as you enter the building. They have real Swedish food items, gourmet coffee beans, a candy counter, lots of gift ideas, and Dala horses in every color.
For lunch, try the Swedish meatballs at P.L. Johnson’s Dining Room, and the rye bread pudding for dessert. They’re both delicious! And the resident kitties will greet you at the front door.
Another dining option is the Bishop Hill Bakery. Their spinach bisque is excellent, in addition to a great selection of baked goods and lingonberry iced tea and flavored coffees.
The Bishop Hill motto is: Expect Enchantment. I would enthusiastically recommend a visit to this Utopia on the Prairie. There are plenty of festivals and events throughout the year to keep you coming back. And they’re Cubs fans!