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.