Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

‘So they don’t forget who we are:’ Bishop Hill non-profit pushes for restoration of state-owned properties

The Colony Church in Bishop Hill was built in 1848. It's one of the state-owned properties in the historic village.
Google Maps
The Colony Church in Bishop Hill was built in 1848. It's one of the state-owned properties in the historic village.

The Preserve Bishop Hill Corporation was formed to promote the state's presence in town and come up with alternative revenue streams for restoration projects.

A new non-profit organization in Bishop Hill is calling attention to conditions of state-owned historic properties in the village.

The Preserve Bishop Hill Corporation was founded a couple years ago.

Its mission is to support the state’s presence in town – and come up with ideas for alternative revenue streams to fund restoration of state-owned buildings like the Colony Church.

“What you see is rotting clapboard siding. Sills that are rotten. Windows that are falling. In general, just a depressed look,” said Courtney Stone, who founded the non-profit after circulating an online petition that called attention to the deferred maintenance in the village.

Bishop Hill was founded in 1846 by Swedish immigrants as a utopian community. Today it’s a community of under 150 people that depends heavily on tourism.

Stone said there’s a clear difference between the state-owned historic sites in Bishop Hill and those managed by other organizations.

“Bishop Hill is square but this is a ribbon going from north to south, bisecting the entire town. You can’t go anywhere without seeing or walking through state property. That affects tourism. People see that, and when they don’t see a town looking prosperous, they question whether they should come back," Stone said.

The state-owned properties – including the Colony Church, Ox Boy’s Dormitory, Colony Park, and Bjorkland Hotel – are managed as state historic sites under the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which is part of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

There’s an estimated $1 billion in deferred maintenance for historic sites and parks across the state.

Stone said his organization is coordinating with lawmakers and DNR administration to make restoration efforts in Bishop Hill a reality.

"It was very clear the way into all this would be to create relationships, recreate them, reaffirm them, so they don’t forget who we are,” Stone said.

The Preserve Bishop Hill Corporation also aims to support public history regarding the historical, religious, and cultural significance of the community.

The organization is hosting its first event from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11 at the state-operated Bishop Hill Museum, with oil paintings on display by Olof Krans depicting childhood memories of the Bishop Hill Colony and music by classical guitarist Kole Shuda.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Jane Carlson is TSPR's regional reporter.