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Bishop Hill, Illinois

These Parts

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Bishop Hill rests quietly in south Henry County, about 20 miles northeast of Galesburg. The most direct drive from Chicago--roughly three and a half hours--is to take I-55 south to Joliet and west to Illinois highway 82; then take 82 south for about 25 miles to the marked turnoff for Bishop Hill and drive north about 3 miles. To catch a little more heartland, leave I-80 earlier, at the interchange with Illinois highway 34 outside Princeton, and take 34 south and west through Sheffield, Kewanee, and Galva. About 5 miles west of Galva, take the turnoff for Bishop Hill and drive north about 3 miles.

The best place to get oriented once you arrive is probably at the Steeple Building, which houses the Bishop Hill Heritage Museum, operated by the Bishop Hill Heritage Association (309-927-3899). Abundant literature is available there on the Colony, its people, and Swedes and utopians in general. A permanent exhibit documents the saga of the Bishop Hill colonists, and additional exhibits and artifacts fill other rooms of the museum. A slide show is offered periodically throughout the day. Be sure to pick up a map of the town and, preferably, the Heritage Association's "Official Walking Tour" pamphlet. Inquire about guided tours at the desk. The museum is open 9 to 5, seven days a week.

A must-see, besides the architecture, is the new Heritage Association museum on the south end of town, where the Olaf Krans paintings are on display. Another excellent source of Colony literature and paraphernalia is the Colony Store (309-927-3596), on the diagonal corner from the Steeple Building.

Bishop Hill is no low-cal town: there is much food to enjoy. The Red Oak and P.L. Johnson's Dining Room offer tastefully prepared luncheons and teas with a Swedish touch, as does Olson's Family Tree, not far from the town park. (Respectively: 309-927-3539; 309-927-3885; 309-927-3304.) A slightly homier lunch can be had at the Valkommen Inn Restaurant (309-927-3531), which connects with the Colony Bakery and its offering of Swedish baked goods. Next to the Valkommen Inn is the Filling Station (309-927-3355), probably the last place in town where it's relatively safe for locals to eat undisturbed by tourists or carrot cake. If you want to venture in and watch the soaps over a Wallyburger, however, you'll find the' service friendly and seed caps aplenty. The town's only bar and package store, the Colony Inn (309-927-3335), is directly across the street from the Filling Station. As far as we could see, the Colony Inn isn't too burdened with artifacts or gifts, but the Buds were real cold.

Approximately every five steps on the main drag will lead you past a different craft or gift shop. Unlike other places, however, the commercial element blends in carefully here, and more often than not the proprietors are serious, knowledgeable craftspeople themselves. This is the Swedish Rodeo Drive, from quilts and Swedish-made shirts to baskets and homemade brooms. For overnight accommodations, the options are limited at the moment, but what's there is comfortable. Holden's Guest House (309-927-3500) on East Main (really at the edge of a field) offers semiprivate and private accommodations in a lovely restored farmhouse that has all the comforts you'd want (including central air-conditioning) combined with a truly rural setting. For a modest extra charge, Steve Holden will assemble a "hospitality package" that you can prepare in the farmhouse kitchen or barbecue outside, The Holdens soon plan to open an inn above their store in the Colony Administration Building.

Outside of town about a mile and a half is the Country Hills Bed & Breakfast (309-932-2886), operated by Don and LaWanda England. We didn't stay there but it looked nice on the drive-by. The Englands offer two antique furnished rooms, air-conditioning, and "old-fashioned hospitality." If you can't stay in or near Bishop Hill, Galesburg and Kewanee are not far away.

If you want to see native costumes, craft demonstrations, traditional music and dance and the like, Bishop Hill offers a smorgasbord of special events. Sommarmarknad is an annual August summer market, in which crafts and produce dominate the town's picturesque square. Jordbruksdagama (according to the Utopian, the local free guide paper, that's pronounced YORD brewks dog ah nuh), is the annual harvest celebration, usually held in late September, it features the gamut of traditional Colony activities, and, of course, Swedish baked goods and other belt looseners. Julmarknad, the Colony's Christmas festival, purports to offer an authentic experience of Swedish Christmas, including carolers and children's programs, this year it will be observed on November 25 through 27 and December 3 and 4. On Lucia Nights, December 9 and 10, the town is decked out in white candles while "Lucias" roam the streets serving coffee and cookies.

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