Bishop Hill was the site of a utopian religious community founded in 1846 by Swedish pietist Eric Janson (1808-1850) and his followers. Many consider the Jansonist emigration as the beginning of Swedish America. A number of historically significant buildings have survived and are scattered throughout the village, four of which are owned by the state and managed as part of the Bishop Hill State Historic Site. The Colony Church (1848) is a two-story frame building. The basement and first floor each contain ten rooms, once used as single-room apartments by Colony residents. The second floor contains the Jansonists’ sanctuary, complete with original pews.
The three-story stuccoed-brick Colony Hotel (1852-ca. 1860) served commercial travelers and provided a link to the outside world. The “Boys Dormitory” (ca. 1850) is a small two-story frame structure believed to have provided housing for boys making the transition to working adulthood. A Colony barn (mid-1850s) was relocated behind the Hotel to the site of the original Hotel stable.
In addition to the historic structures, the state owns the village park with a gazebo and memorials to the town’s early settlers and Civil War soldiers. The brick museum building houses a valuable collection of primitivist paintings by colonist Olof Krans (1838-1916).
The site’s historic buildings are located within the Bishop Hill Historic District, added in 1970 to the National Register of Historic Places and listed in 1984 as a National Historic Landmark.
Visitors can make self-guided tours of the Colony Church, the Colony Hotel, and the Museum. Only the first floors of the Museum, Church, and Hotel are accessible to persons with disabilities. An orientation video at the Museum provides information on and images of the non-accessible areas. The tour brochure “Bishop Hill Colony—Of Faith and Freedom” guides visitors through the town and the Colony’s history.
The site sponsors several special events: “Jordbruksdagarna” (last full weekend in September), a traditional nineteenth-century harvest festival with demonstrations of harvesting and processing of crops, "Lucia Nights," a Swedish holiday tradition, and “Julotta,” a Christmas morning (6 a.m.) service at the Colony Church.
The following are available for the visitor to the site:
The museum has an oil and chip paved parking lot. Paved street parking available at Colony Church and East side of Park. Gravel and grass parking on other sides of Park and at Hotel. Two accessible parking spaces at Museum only. Nearest sidewalk at Museum, immediately adjacent to parking lot. 11 feet to sidewalk from street at Bjorklund Hotel. 10 feet from street to sidewalk at Park. 8 feet from street to sidewalk at Colony Church. The ramp provides immediate access from accessible spaces to the Museum. North and south ends of sidewalk at Park, North and West end of Hotel, and North end of Colony church are all built to ADA standards.
Type of sidewalk surfaces
Wheelchair ramps are available to the office, which is located inside the Museum. It is accessible by ramp.
Motorized wheelchairs and scooters are welcome in Museum, First Floor of Colony Church, First Floor of Hotel and within Park. Segway’s in the Park only.
Accessible restrooms are located at Museum and Colony Church.
Service animals are welcome. No outdoor water fountains for service animals.
The museum doubles as a Visitor Center. Parking lot is paved with oil and chip. There are two accessible spaces. A boardwalk ramp leads directly to the sidewalk from handicap spaces. A water fountain is accessible. Benches and chairs are available to sit on. None of the exhibits are tactile or have braille information plaques, nor have audio or headphone for the visually impaired.
Museum: Entrance is accessible for a wheelchair. A small ramp leads directly from handicap parking spaces to the sidewalk. The museum is all one level. Tour is self-guided. Chairs and benches to sit on.
Colony Church: South entrance is accessible. Wheelchair ramp located on South entrance. Required to climb stairs to view sanctuary on second floor. Tour is self-guided. Chairs available on first floor and church pews available on second floor.
Bjorklund Hotel: West entrance is accessible. Wheelchair ramp located at West entrance. Required to climb stairs to view Hotel rooms on second floor. Tour is self-guided. Chairs available on first floor.
There is a 10-minute video available about the site in the Museum for people who are physically unable to access the second floors of the Colony Church and Bjorklund hotel. However, it is not close captioned. Paving bricks and boardwalks surfaces may be uneven. Boardwalks are slippery when wet.