Whether you visit Bishop Hill, Ill. for a quilt show, antique market, Christmas market or just because you want a weekend out in the country you will have an unusual getaway. You will be exploring a village where time has merely paved the streets and exchanged farmers’ horses and buggies for autos and pick-ups.
Founded by Swedish immigrants as a commune in 1846, Bishop Hill is a small village in Western Illinois that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and has a church, hotel and museum listed under the Bishop Hill State Historic Site designation for Illinois.
The commune, often called the “Colony,” disbanded in 1861 but the village has retained and conserved its Swedish heritage. Meander into mid 19th century buildings including its original church.
Start, however, with the 1854 Colony Steeple Building to see artifacts, a school room and recreated bedroom. If the Visitors Center is not open you can pick up a walking guide and other information in the Steeple Building foyer. As you can tell from its name, you can’t miss the building. Just look up.
Save time for shopping and tasting. Most places are within a few blocks. You’ll find antiques, friendly shopkeepers and picturesque spots for lunch or an afternoon break.
Be sure to go into the Prairie Arts Center which contains an artisans crafts area, Colony Pottery and the Vagnall Galleri in the former Blacksmith Shop at 203 N. Bishop Hill St. north of the Steeple Building.
Jeff Goard can usually be found at his wheel, out back with his kilns or teaching a pottery class. The Arts Center also sells the kind of old-fashioned corn brooms that you might have seen being made in the Steeple Building.
If into antiques, explore the rooms of Sweet Annie Primitives. To be surrounded by an antique atmosphere, drop into the Colony Store for Swedish and other treats.
For lunch, check out PL Johnson’s, a lunch-only place that serves Swedish meatballs, good sandwiches and soups and sells antiques. PL’s as it is known is on the north side of a park that serves as the town square. Or stop in at Bishop Hill Bakery & Eatery for something to take back home or nosh while there. The Bakery also does a light lunch.
Try to be in town on a Saturday or Sunday morning when from 7-10 a.m. the Filling Station (north of the Prairie Arts Center across from the Colony Church) dishes out some of the best Swedish pancakes you’ll ever taste. Any time is a good time to lunch here if you brought the kids (grilled cheese, chicken strips) or want a substantial lunch of burger or tenderloin and fries.
Bishop Hill can be a day’s outing if coming from the Quad Cities (think Davenport, Iowa or Moline, Ill.) less than an hour west. It can be a weekend in the country if coming from Chicago, about three hours east.
If staying overnight, book a room at the Bishop Hill Gallery Inn for small but convenient overnight lodging or at Aunt Daisy’s B&B for spacious suite-style lodging in nearby Kewanee. Either way, a drive over to Kewanee is warranted just to see Good’s a mega furniture store that really is like a big city furniture mart.
You might want to plan your outing to catch one of the village’s popular festivals. The Quilt Show, May 18-20 and the Antique Market, July 14 are held in the Colony School. Julmarknad (Christmas Market) Nov. 23-25 and Dec. 1-2 is held throughout the village. For more event information visit Bishop Hill Calendar.
Current photos by Jodie Jacobs, archival photos courtesy of Bishop Hill Heritage Association and administrator Mike Wendel.