Stroll into history
While driving Henry County back roads, you will see rich farmland with picturesque agricultural vistas that seem to stretch forever. The fertile farm ground and the promise of the good life drew early pioneers to settle in Henry County. Dotting the scenery are small towns and villages telling the stories of the land.
Eleven different museums and several agri-tourism attractions offer authentic learning experiences to visualize the stories of by-gone days. A visit to Henry County will conjure thoughts of a simpler time while strolling past restored 1800’s-era buildings, watching farmers work the fields with mid-1900’s equipment, and experiencing historic shopping districts in many communities.
The Chapter House was built by the American Woman's League in 1911 it is one of nine houses in the State of Illinois and one of 38 in 16 states. All are cruciform in plan and combine stylistic characteristics of the prairie school arts and crafts movement both in their exterior massing/detailing and their interior.
This home of August Rehnstrom was built in 1861 by Eric Berglof, and served as a temporary haven for Swedish immigrants in the 1860s. It now contains memorabilia of early life in Andover. Showcased is a historic marker denoting the first post office in Henry County was located in the Andover Colony, May of 1837. Call ahead for individual or group tour appointment.
See the toys your grandparents use to play with. Over 5,000 toys are part of this passionate collector's collection dating from 1890 to 1990. A variety of antique toys, trucks, and cars including a mixture of hot wheels on are display in over 100 showcases. Vintage automobiles are on display too! Visitors call it the highlight of their trip and an amazing experience. Museum is open three times a year during the Cambridge Fest and Auto Show, Cambridge Homecoming and Christmas on the Square. Tours are available by appointment.
Historic school available for rental to use for meetings, special events, and even weddings. A spacious commercial kitchen in a historic hall provides the space for over 80 people comfortably. Call the Bishop Hill Old Settlers' Association to reserve your space.
IHPA Bishop Hill State Museum
The Olof Krans Bishop Hill Collection
Bishop Hill State Historic Site is an open-air museum. Visit Utopia on the Prairie.
Four historically significant buildings are owned by the State of Illinois and are maintained as part of the Bishop Hill State Historic Site. These architectural treasures are the two-story Colony Church (1850), the three-story Colony Hotel (1852-ca. 1860), the Boys Dormitory (ca. 1850), and the Colony Barn (the mid-1850s) that has been relocated behind the Hotel. Also, the central village park contains a reconstructed gazebo and war monuments. On the south edge of the village stands a new brick Museum to house a comprehensive collection of paintings by colonist and self-taught artist, Olof Krans (1838-1916) the largest collection of Olof Krans folk art in the world. Hours and days of operation change with the season. Please call to confirm your visit. Additional offerings include a 10 minute Bishop Hill orientation video, and visitor information.
Immigration History at the Bishop Hill Steeple Building
The Bishop Hill Steeple building provides a glimpse back in history to 1854. Architecturally intriguing, this three-story stucco Greek Revival structure with a two-story tower and 66 six-over-six windows was recently restored with a Save America Treasures grant. It was built to be used as a hotel, but instead was used as a dwelling, school, administration building, and later housed a bank, telephone switchboard and apartments.
The museum is home to the Bishop Hill Heritage Association offices. The rooms and exhibit showcase historic artifacts and photos of early Colony days and take visitors back through time to a quaint prairie village.
A plaque at the Pioneer Monument at Bishop Hill reads: "Dedicated to the memory of the hardy pioneers who in order to secure religious liberty left Sweden their native land with all the endearments of home and kindred and found Bishop Hill Colony on the uninhabited prairies of Illinois."
Group tours by appointment, small fee.
Bishop Hill, National Historic Landmark, will fill you with a taste of history and is an internationally recognized cultural location. The rich fertile farmland along the banks of the Edward's River became home to the Swedish spiritual leader, Erik Jansson's colony Bishhopskulla. In 1846, this communal society was born from the search of religious freedom. It was a hardy group who developed many firsts in the area, brick making, broom corn for brooms and a railroad.
Today, Bishop Hill is a cultural experience centered on western Illinois' Utopia on the Prairie. It is a State of Illinois Historic site and a National Historic Landmark.
The village and area are home to many of the descendants of the original Bishop Hill colonists. Bishop Hill Heritage Association is dedicated to preserving many of the original buildings which still stand stately and restored to their original appearance. They offer educational programming to instill visitors with a sense of pride in the past, present, and futures.
Travel the back roads to a quiet, serene and calming village that offers, culture, history, shopping, dining, and lodging opportunities. Spend the weekend enjoying one of the many Bishop Hill Festivals featuring, music, art, demonstrations and history! Join us for a cultural heritage day or weekend. Välkommen!
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History abounds at Cambridge Heritage Village Park which provides a glimpse into Cambridge past. The Village features an 1843 Court House, 1895 Sand & Lime Johnson Record Building, Henry County Sheriff's Horse Barn dating back to the 1880's and the 1871 former Depot. Buildings contain Cambridge and agricultural historical artifacts and memorabilia.
The Geneseo Historical Museum features displays of local people and places in an Italianate-style home built in the mid-1800's. Walk through the 27-rooms which tell the story of how people lived in the past and Geneseo's history.
Hanging in the main floor living area is a chandelier to take your breath away.åÊ Each room is decorated with history and one room you will want to visit is the basement. Geneseo was founded by a group of religious colonists that emigrated from New York. They left New York because they were opposed to slavery and were abolitionist. View the space used for runaway slaves escaping the north on the Underground Railroad.
A wide variety of President Abraham Lincoln artifacts is the centerpiece of the museum.åÊ Items featured include an original 1860 Lincoln election tally, and a book of reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln and a desk from George Shaw, a Tremont, area attorney. View a dress was worn to one of Lincoln's inaugural ball.
The new carriage house built to reflect the grandeur of the Italianate-style home houses Geneseo's agricultural history. View a doctor's carriage, agriculture tools, and equipment.åÊ Tools used to build the Hennepin Canal and early Geneseo firefighters equipment. View the Native American and Chief Black Hawk display, Kent Feed and hog farming exhibit, and the record-setting harness racing horse, Dan Patch.
Geneseo continues to grow, and changes yet remains a city of beauty and beliefs. Learn about its founders and how they nurtured its growth into the 21st century. A visit to the museum and the carriage house is a delightful way to explore Geneseo's heritage.
Henry County was named for Patrick Henry. In 1843, the county seat settled permanently in Cambridge, Illinois. A grand Victorian structure of brick and stone the courthouse was completed in 1880. It stands three stories tall and features oak and black walnut woodwork throughout the courthouse. The second-floor courtroom contains oak panels; fireplace, antique jury, and court reporters chairs, and a judge's bench. Its grandest feature is the eighteen-foot-high ceiling that features a mural created by Frank Dirkson of Cambridge, Galva, Geneseo, and Kewanee. It is one of the finest courthouses in Illinois.
Henry County Historical Museum is the best kept secret. It is treasure trove of yesteryear artifacts that invite visitors to experience Henry County history. The agricultural collection features everything ag related, machinery, tools, a farm kitchen and country store exhibits, and one will even find a barbed wire collection. Military enthusiasts will enjoy the exhibit which features antique guns dating back to the civil war, and many military fashions and memorabilia.
Jenny Lind, left a lasting footprint in Illinois and was the first international "rock" star to visit America. Her generous donation of $1,500 to the Reverend Paul Esbjorn, pastor to a flock of Swedish immigrants who settled in Andover, the first community in Henry county. The donation provided the foundation to build a new church now known as the Jenny Lind Chapel. The "Swedish Nightingale" is featured in the museum below the Chapel and it also showcases early immigrant experiences through the exhibits, audio, and video available for viewing.
The Kewanee Historical Society showcases displays on the industries that built Kewanee (Kewanee Boiler, Walworth, and Boss). It also showcases Kewanee memorabilia from the U. S. military from the Civil War to the present. The additional collections of the Cornhuskers Hall of Fame and the "Lincoln lantern" that helped Abraham Lincoln find his way in 1858 from Toulon to Kewanee are housed in the Robert & Marcella Richards Museum, located in the historic 1868 Butterwick Building. Tours by appointment.
Preservation of Orion's Music Band Shell, in 2015 celebrated 100 years of community togetherness. The band shell sparked renewed interest in the downtown spirit. During the summer's concerts, music melodies of the Orion Community Band and regional artists fill the air and the band shell sparkles. It creates an atmosphere drawing return visits from visitors far and wide.
Ryan's Round Barn . . . See What's 'Round the Bend!
This is a must-see site at the entrance to the Johnson-Sauk Trail Park, located on Route 78, near Kewanee. Ryan's Round Barn, one of the nation's largest round barns, measuring eighty feet high and eighty-five feet in diameter, and one of forty-two remaining in the State of Illinois, is an architectural marvel. One outstanding feature of Ryan's barn is its sixteen-feet-wide silo with a moisture-resistant plastered interior located directly in the building's center. Modern efficiencies from the past include centrally located waste drains and a dual track and trolley system used for delivering feed and for removing waste. The barn's main floor houses an extensive collection of agricultural antiques.
St. Mary of the Fields Holy Shrine is nestled among the green field and golden grain it is a natural place for prayer and meditation. The grounds feature a "Rolle Bolle" rosary where the holy hour is held. The Shrine features numerous works of art, the walls are adorned with fourteen Stations of the Cross, and several statues are displayed. The Shrine is open daily. Gift shop open during holy hours held the first Sunday of each month, May through October.
Sharing Rich Heritage and Values of the Old Country
VASA provides sharing national Scandinavian heritage with fellow Americans, and helps others to learn or remember the meaningful ways and values of the Old Country.
The national archives museum is a dynamic facility housing the history of the VASA organization. The large library holds books supporting genealogy research. Also available are a collection of rare books written in Swedish though published in the United States. Visitors are able to view a large collection of Swedish artifacts.
Bishop Hill is considered a birthplace of the Swedish immigration to the US. The village is not a reproduction. It is very much the same town settled in 1846. An authentic village experience from a community who celebrates the seasons, Swedish holidays and traditions. Visitors become immersed in the past and let the present learn from the past.
Woodland Palace is an incredible find off the beaten path. You will find this unusual home was built way ahead of its time and filled with engineering wonders. Learn about the man who built and lived in the home, Fred Francis, a Leonardo da Vinci-like man, was an artist, poet, inventor, builder, mathematician, engineer, and a nudist. Fred started to build the home in 1890 and worked on it for the next 36 years. It features hand carved molding, a water purification system, and is the first house in the state of Illinois to have to air-condition without the aid of electricity. View the sophisticated achievements of disappearing windows, doors, and more. Visit a home where everything seems to work in harmony. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for kids 12 and under. Open for tours and to the public end of April through September.