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One of the utopian colony's original buildings preserved at Bishop Hill

NO BISHOPS, JUST ROLLING PRAIRIE
Bishop Hill, Illinois

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It wasn't a resounding success or a complete failure. A subdued and melancholy place now punctuated by polite curiosity Bishop Hill, Illinois (www.bishophill.com) tells a familiar American story. A story of hope and sacrifice, reward and disillusion , sanctuary and strife. Bishop Hill once flourished and then all but vanished within a decade or so.

bishophill3In 1847-'48, Swedish Janssonists attempted to build a city of God on the Illinois prairie; a city devoted to prayer and collective ownership. The results were positive until events beyond their control and human frailty interceded. And by the beginning of the Civil War (1861) the dream had more or less unraveled and the colony began its slow descent into near oblivion.

Despite their errors in judgment and (some might say) their short sightedness, the Janssonists left behind an impressive architectural archive that's an interesting and informative Getaway out in a very beautiful part of Illinois. Erected between 1847-'61 most of the remaining and restored buildings are of handmade brick and, according to the Bishop Hill Heritage Association, built in the Greek Revival style. bishophill1Neil thought them more Federalist and Alan thought Neil (Mr. Wise Guy) was splitting hairs. Greek Revival vs. Federalist  one in particular was an oddity. With pediments, columns and pilasters, Steeple Building (1854) is far more ornate and ambitious than its neighbors; like a Palladio Villa dropped from the sky as per Neil. Federalist? Palladio? Typical of Alan, bewildered!

This once-upon-a-time place of hard work and God is easy to get to from Chicago. Via I-80 and U.S. 34 west. With time out near Sheffield to view Lock 22 of the Hennepin Canal it took the Getaway Guys about four hours to make the trip. The Hennepin Canal (another ambitious nineteenth century marvel destined to disappoint its believers) and its tow path are now part of the Grand Illinois Bike Trail; another possible Getaway idea.

Departing early the Getaway Guys made it to Bishop Hill in time for a late breakfast of (what else?) Swedish pancakes. Alan, perpetually concerned with his waist, thought his helping too large, but cleaned his plate anyway. They toured all the buildings open to the public, visited gift shops (much to Alan's relief, no antique shops), reconnoitered some promising restaurants and checked out the Colony Hospital Bed & Breakfast (www.bishophilllodging.com) for future reference. An absolute must see is the Colony Church (riveting for its comprehensive collection of artifacts) and the bishophill2Bishop Hill Museum, housing an outstanding collection of primitive paintings by Olaf Krans.  All in a leisurely afternoon (no kidding)!

On their way home, the Getaway Guys meandered along U.S. 6 to Utica for a late afternoon stop at Starved Rock State Park where it was Neil's turn to be bewildered and Alan's to be a wise guy. Mr. Know-Everything-About-Nature filled Neil in on topography and geology while Neil blathered on about the accomplishments of the Civilian Conservation Corp during the Depression as per the wonderfully restored Lodge and the Park facilities in general. September 2006

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