Spinning wheel at the Steeple Building, Bishop Hill, Illinois

On our visit to Bishop Hill, my friend Barbara and I spent a considerable amount of time in the Steeple Building, built in 1854 and planned as a hotel for the colony. It ended up serving various other purposes, among them a school for children. These days it houses the Bishop Hill Heritage Association and its wonderful museum of artifacts. We both love artifacts, so this was our place to sniff around!

A board in the Colony Church museum shows the stately architecture of the Steeple Building and tells its history.


Leaving the Colony Church sanctuary, I stepped on one of the characteristic Swedish rag carpets. A display room in the Steeple Building explained the importance of those rugs:




Loom used for weaving fabric and rugs.

Linen and rugs were woven in the colony and sold as a source of income. Often older women cut and sewed rags and considered it an easy life because they were spared the heavier labor in the fields.


Speaking of heavy labor, here’s is a scan of a postcard of a painting by Olof Krans called “Harvesting.” Much of what is known of Bishop Hill Colony life is based on the paintings of this folk artist, who came to Bishop Hill when he was twelve, and later painted colony life as he remembered it.  Many of his paintings are now on display at the Bishop Hill Museum.


Many of the colonists were skilled craftsmen. Here a cobbler’s bench.


A cradle – obviously somebody knew a lot about wood working.


What to bring from the old country for life in the new? A whole exhibit in the Steeple Building is devoted to that question. In letters, settlers who had already arrived urged those embarking on the trip to bring practical stuff like warm coats and tools, but clearly one settler thought it more important to bring ice skates. You gotta have some fun, too, right?

This phone station is from a later time when the Steeple Building was used for various offices. It is still historical enough in that my kids for sure cannot fathom a time when an operator had to plug in these cables to connect phone calls.


Barbara and I both fell in love with these Swedish ovens on the second floor of the Steeple building.


Oh the intricate detail!


We could also have sat down for a game of checkers.


Kitchen cupboard detail. Aren’t those cutouts lovely?

Which reminds me: Before we investigated the Steeple Building, we had a lovely lunch at the Bishop Hill Bakery & Eatery:

OK, so I usually don’t photograph my food, but this lingonberry iced tea (above) and rhubarb pie (below) were just too perfect and picturesque. And delicious, of course!

Alas, at some point in the late afternoon it was time to say good-bye to the bucolic serenity of Bishop Hill, to walk down the brick sidewalk (I love those!) along Bishop Hill Street, climb into our car and make our way back to the big city. Looking back, however, I have to say that that day in Bishop Hill looms larger in my mind and memory than the few hours we actually spent there. It was not only a dip into another way of life, but also another time.