Sunday, September 11, 2011

You don't have to be a descendant to love Bishop Hill Old Settlers' Day!

Bishop Hill is small in size – just a half mile wide. The population hovers around 125, but the spirit that drives folks here to celebrate the past is enormous. I am not an Old Settler and do not belong to the Association. But each fall when the group members assemble from all over the country to picnic, give speeches, perform skits, and walk the cemetery, I take a moment to reflect on past generations in my own family tree and give thanks for their sacrifices that built the scaffold on which I live a rich and beautiful life today. 

Old Settlers’ Day 2011 marked the 165th anniversary of the Bishop Hill Colony as well as the 115th year of the Old Settlers’ Association. A grand celebration was held throughout the village including a Founders Parade.  Elected Officials waved and tossed candy, farmers drove their restored antique tractors through town, businesses and organizations sponsored floats that depicted historical scenes. I stood roadside and cheered. Click here for a short parade video.

To those who have never lived in a small community, I’m not sure I can fully convey the harmony and solidarity created by such an event. The warm embrace of society makes me feel as if I’m in a movie. My ears strain to hear the soundtrack rising to meet the credits proclaiming: Noodle Salad Was Enjoyed By All! I acknowledge these fleeting moments as residual karma left by the wake of the utopians who struggled to build a better life here for themselves and their descendants. The experience gives me the strength to face the larger world and all its uncertainties. Next week the usual disputes will arise again in Bishop Hill and cooler winds will blow. But for now we are all smiling at friends and neighbors and life is good. What a wonderful day in the neighborhood!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

We will lose more than a Post Office if Bishop Hill 61419 closes.

The pending Ross-Issa Postal Reform Act of 2011 before Congress will create two commissions – one to focus on post office closures, excesses, and unnecessary administrative offices, and the other to take charge of the USPS’ finances if it goes into default and take whatever measures are necessary to bring it back into the black. In anticipation of implementing this Act, the financially struggling U.S. Postal Service announced it will study closing 3,653 post offices, many in rural areas with populations under 300.

This statement is certain to trigger a battle with the targeted communities. In fact, the residents here in Bishop Hill have already held an organizational meeting to discuss the strategy for demanding  postal officials and legislators take a closer look at Bishop Hill and consider its unique and valuable assets beyond our local interests to that of its national and international significance.

As in any small town, our Post Office provides us with a social hub, a place to gather vital community news as we pick up our mail. What sets us apart is that our village is designated a National Landmark. Beyond serving its residents our Post Office also provides conveniences to more than a dozen dependent downtown businesses, two regional Museums, an Illinois State Historic Site and the Vasa National Archives. Bishop Hill’s postmark is prized by visitors from around the world and specially designed commemorative envelopes produced in partnership with the Bishop Hill Post Office have proven to be an effective marketing tool used to bring Bishop Hill to world prominence.
In international circles, Bishop Hill is held in such high regard that the Swedish Postal Authority included the artwork of Bishop Hill Artist, Olof Krans, on a set of commemorate stamps celebrating the 350th anniversary of  New Sweden 1838 - 1988.
It would be a loss to our struggling community to forfeit our post office but it would be a greater loss to our county, state, and nation. Our historic building is open to the public and serves as a silent reminder of the proud tradition that is rapidly being replaced by electronic communication. While it is necessary to close some, I believe a select few historically significant Post Offices deserve to remain open and intact. A link to the past is crucial in crafting a new postal policy.
CLICK HERE to track the bill as it moves through the Legislature.
If you agree that the Bishop Hill Post Office should remain open, please click on the names of the Postmaster General and these Illinois elected officials to voice your opinion. A letter would be a nice touch, but in this case, an email will be equally effective.

Mail has been delivered  in Bishop Hill since 1848

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Big Brick / Little Brick

In 1848 Swedish immigrants and followers of religious leader Eric Janson began firing their own brick, using clay from the banks of the nearby Edwards River. The first part of the Bishop Hill Colony Residence Hall, known as Big Brick, was built in 1849; the second section was completed in 1851. BIG BRICK stood 3 ½ stories high with 96 rooms. It was located in what is now the Village Park, a few blocks from the Colony Church. Each room housed a family or group, and below the living quarters there was a full basement that served as a communal dining area. Here residents took turns preparing and serving meals for as many as 1000 colonists at one time. When it was built, Big Brick was the largest brick building in the US west of Chicago. 

 Big Brick was destroyed by a fire in January of 1928. This displaced a large number of families. Folks sprang to action and efforts to salvage brick and board from the ruins began  immediately. Our cottage, which we affectionately call Little Brick, was built by members of the Spets family. The dated cornerstone was laid on a completed Little Brick by the end of that same year, 1928. It remained in the Spets family until my husband and I acquired it in 2002.

Little Brick was constructed from material gleaned from the ruins of Big Brick. The bricks, doors, dining room cabinet, and nearly all of the lumber used for trim are all reclaimed from the ashes. The attic rafters, floorboards, and basement brick still bear char marks from the 1928 blaze. As technology advanced improvements were made to the older structures in Bishop Hill. Little Brick, however, was the first house in the village to be built with indoor plumbing, a bathtub, and electric lights. It is a hybrid of styles. The spare, uncluttered nature of the cottage is a reflection of a modified Greek Revival style typified by the colonial era (1848-1861) buildings in Bishop Hill. With oversized doors and an abundance of windows, little brick also resembles a type of Scandinavian summer cottage called a stuga. These were built along the Swedish coasts and waterways. Stugas are small-scale dwellings built room-on-room without hallways. With the exception of skylights, the modifications and renovations we have made to Little Brick have been done in an effort to preserve its original appearance – but with inconspicuous updates that will ensure permanence.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sweet Corn Tassel Wreath Time

Face any direction surrounding Bishop Hill and you will see corn growing lush and green.  By August, sweet corn is at its peak here. This signals the start of my daily practice of making Tassel wreaths studded with husk dolls and giant roses.  I look forward to these sizzling days of summer when I lounge lazily on my front porch and, under the watchful eyes of my cats, turn the “field waste” into wonderful rustic decorations.
For those out there who wish to make one of these spectacular seasonal wreaths, I’ve posted a “how to”video on my youtube channel demonstrating the simple technique used to make them. 
The tassel wreath above has been approved by my little friend, Eddie. A limited few will be available for purchase in etsy shop as soon as the tassels are harvested next week.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer in Bishop Hill means Pie!

All those beautiful berry blossoms this past rainy spring yielded buckets of delicious raspberries. What to do with them? Pies of course! Each year in August the Bishop Hill Heritage Association holds a fundraiser called Pie in the Park. In past years this event was a competition in which local bakers vied for blue ribbons. After the winners were declared all the pies were doled out whole or by the slice to a hungry audience. My favorite has always been a pie for which Bishop Hill is known far and wide: Quad-berry Pie. After much negotiation I secured the recipe from a former winner of the fruit pie division and I make these pies every summer for as long as my berries hold out. I use sliced strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. I've made this with frozen fruit (thawed and drained) and it's nearly as good - but nothing beats the taste of fresh picked fruit!
Bishop Hill's Prizewinning Quad-berry Pie 
2 rolled pie crusts (homemade is preferred)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
White sanding sugar for topping crust
5 cups of mixed berries washed and hulled
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon tapioca flour
Pinch salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Roll out 1 sheet of the pie crust and put in a 9-inch pie plate, crimping the edges. 
  3. Roll  the second sheet and cut into 1/2-inch thick strips with a sharp knife. 
  4. In a medium bowl, mix together all of the filling ingredients and pour into the crust.
  5. Arrange the strips over the top of the pie in a lattice pattern, tucking in the edges. Brush the top with the melted butter and sprinkle with the sanding sugar.
  6. Bake the pie for 25 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees. Bake until the top is golden, about 30 more minutes.
  7. Let it cool thoroughly before cutting serving.
  8. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Rosy View of Bishop Hill

For as long as I've needed to wear glasses, I've owned a pair with pink lenses. Through them the world looks more inviting. It's how I prefer to see home, family, and friends. As I was checking this half-baked blog prior to publishing, my husband, was leaning over my shoulder. Reading my intro to Bishop Hill, he suggested there may not be a shovel large enough to serve up what I'm dishing out! Can't help myself though. I was born and raised in New York, but a quiet country life is for me! I find there is elegance to simple living that is too often overlooked. I dwell on it. And so, this what you can expect to find here: the highlights of life in the slow lane. Just ahead is Bishop Hill, Illinois. Hope to see you soon.