Bishop Hill’s Story: Steeped In History 

Like the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock and the Quakers who followed William Penn to Pennsylvania, the Jansonists were a group of Protestants who fled oppression seeking religious freedom on the shores of America. Eric Janson was known as the Wheat Flour Messiah. He had a debilitating illness cured by a miracle that reshaped the rest of his life. He began preaching about our personal relationship with the Lord, not one filtered by the state religion. After being jailed for his beliefs, he fled Sweden with more than 1000 followers. These people sold everything they owned, some families were divided, and they took the arduous journey across the North Atlantic to North America in 1846.


They sent Olof Olson as a scout to purchase property in what was then the western wilderness of Illinois. The first winter they lived in dugouts along the creek. Cholera claimed the lives of many. They soon built a church for worship, large dormitories for housing, a bakery and a brewery to feed their growing numbers.


They built industry: brooms, buggies, and woven rugs for income. They built a community that shared the wealth while harvesting the bounty of the land. They built a hospital, a school, and administrative offices. More than a town, they built what became a successful economic enterprise that valued the labor of women and men, educating their children.


The preaching and philosophy of Eric Janson is too complex for these few paragraphs, except to say that his convictions inspired many and caused consternation among more than a few. He was murdered in a Henry County Courtroom over a quarrel with his cousin’s husband. The community was then managed for a number of years by a board of trustees. The community eventually dissolved and the holdings were divided among the members with women and children also receiving shares of property, unusual in the 1860’s.


Bishop Hill became a hub for thousands of Swedish Immigrants who eventually settled much of the Midwest, from Galva to Galesburg, Minnesota to North Dakota.


At the turn of the last century many of the colony buildings were falling into disrepair. The Old Settlers, The Bishop Hill Heritage Association and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency stepped up to save the buildings still standing. Throughout the 1970s restoration and preservation became the call to arms. With help from the Swedish Royal family, descendants of the hardy pioneers and thousands of hours of volunteer labor, Bishop Hill became a thriving community once more. With tens of thousands of visitors every year, visitors from all 50 states, Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, Bishop Hill has a well-earned reputation as a place to step out of the hustle and bustle and back to a simpler time. Truly a Utopia on the Prairie, it is the kind of place where it is easy to expect enchantment!