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Bishop Hill Residents Worried As State-Operated Historic Sites Falls Into Disrepair

Stucco is beginning to fall off the historic 1852 Bjorklund Hotel in Bishop Hill. Its iconic tower is also beginning to let in water.
Courtney Stone
Stucco is beginning to fall off the historic 1852 Bjorklund Hotel in Bishop Hill. Its iconic tower is also beginning to let in water.

Residents of Bishop Hill are raising the alarm about the advancing deterioration of some state-maintained buildings in their historic community, about a hour northwest of Peoria.

The community was founded by Swedish immigrants fleeing religious persecution in 1846. They brought their culture and unique architecture with them to Illinois, making Bishop Hill a unique site in the Land of Lincoln.

Courtney Stone is a resident, high school teacher, and former Bishop Hill history guide. He says without imminent repairs, the community is worried some of the 175-year-old buildings won't survive after years of deferred maintenance.

"This is a true immigrant story that we need to preserve," Stone said.

Stone said the historic 1848 Colony Church's soffits and windowsills are rotted, and the clapboard siding is beginning to fall off. The nearby three-story Bjorkland Hotel is clad with stucco, which Stone said is beginning to crack, exposing foundation bricks to the elements. The tower on top of the hotel is leaking water inside as well, he said.

"What's difficult I think for people to understand is that in America, we're a fairly new country. And some of our structures that are 100, 200 years old are very precious to us," Stone said. "And we don't have things that are thousands of years old. So if we have to, for example, totally dismantle the tower or parts of the church, that's new construction. We want to keep as much of the old as possible."

Stone began circulating a petition last week calling for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Gov. JB Pritzker to make it a priority to repairs the buildings the IDNR has maintained for nearly 70 years.

In a statement, IDNR said Gov. JB Pritzker's Restore Illinois capital plan provides the funding for repairs at sites at Bishop Hill - though the agency offered no timeline.

"IDNR is appreciative of the interest in and advocacy for maintenance and preservation projects at Illinois State Historic Sites. After decades of unfunded and underfunded capital budgets, Gov. Pritzker’s Rebuild Illinois capital plan is providing IDNR with funds to plan and execute needed infrastructure projects at historic sites including Bishop Hill," said an IDNR spokesman.

"This is sort of, you know, an act now thing," Stone said. "This is not, 'hey, we're worried.' This is, 'OK, state, enough is enough.' I think this summer we need to start releasing funds to start maintenance before another winter goes by," he said.

So far, Stone's petition has about 1,800 signatures. He's aiming for 2,500.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.