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Mike and Dina Carden started thinking about a career as innkeepers after staying at a Wisconsin B&B that was for sale. When Dina awoke at 4 a.m. one day, she had the idea to visit Bishop Hill, Illinois -- the first Swedish settlement in America.
"It was only 25 minutes from my husband's job," she said. "It was a quaint village of 150 residents, hundreds of thousands of tourists visit each year ... and there was no B&B!"
After deciding that they were ready to live on one income for a while, the Cardens purchased the old settlement hospital building (constructed in 1855) and converted it to an inn. The result is Colony Hospital Bed and Breakfast.
Although this Bishop Hill bed and breakfast is now owned by Judith and Lowell Gilbert, I had a chance to talk with the previous owners, who told me a little bit about the inn's history.
The Hospital Building was constructed in 1855; it was the first dedicated medical facility in the colony. The yellow building with white trim is located one block west of the park and overlooks what was the colony orchards and tannery operations to the west. This is actually the colony's second hospital; the first was a small building located north of the Colony Church that was also used partly as a weaving center.
The Greek-Revival style Hospital Building, a two-and-a-half story wood structure, was built and operated under the supervision of Dr. Olaf Nordstrom. The architectural style is characterized by the pillars used on the building's exterior.
Dina Carden said the interior was designed to facilitate the medical practices of the time period: isolation, fresh air and herbal medicine. "There were eight single access rooms that were used for isolation and two large west-facing porticos to provide the fresh air," she said. "There was also a barrel-roofed medical cellar located under the southwest wing of the building that was used to store the herbs and other perishables. The nurses' quarters were located on the third floor."
Seeing such a large hospital on the Illinois prairie is a testament to how hard life was for the early colonists, but also evidence of the prosperity that the colony achieved. The hospital, Dina said, "served colonists and noncolonists alike and was also used to house Union soldiers during the Civil War."
It remained in service until the death of Dr. Nordstrom in 1867, after the breakup of the colony, when it was divided among former colony members.
For more than 100 years, the Hospital was a multi-family dwelling. In 1976, the Heritage Association consolidated ownership, restored the building structure, and renovated the interior into four apartments. Dina said the restoration included a complete structural and mechanical upgrade.
"In 1995, we purchased the building from the Heritage Association," said Dina. "We continue to remodel the interior and upgrade the exterior. We opened to guests in 1996 and have received visitors from all over the U.S., Sweden, Canada and Brazil."
Dina was kind enough to answer several more questions for us.
What are some of the unique features of the Bishop Hill, Illinois, area?
The Bishop Hill area is unique in simply the fact that it was the first Swedish settlement in America. The village is declared a National Historic Site. There are many museums in the village, ranging from art, historic, Swedish, to the National Archives. There are many shops with antiques, quilts, pottery, artisians, crafts, woodworking, metalworking, handcrafted brooms, and Swedish imports. Wonderful restaraunts are in town, and there's a large park in the middle of the village where many annual events take place.
All this is nestled in a village of only 150 residents and beautiful countryside surrounding it. Bishop Hill is also close to several state parks, historic Seminary Street in Galesburg, and the Famous Good's Furniture Store in Kewanee.
What do you remember most about your first month as innkeepers?
The first month as innkeeper, I myself was very nervous but very excited we actually did it! We had in less than one year completly changed our lives. We found a place, moved, I quit teaching, remodeled and opened for business. On top of it all we, with great surprise, were expecting our first child within five months. Our plans were to start the business and within five years start having children. So, I believe my husband was quite nervous himself, but just as excited that we were greeting people from all over the world!
Is being an innkeeper tougher or easier than you expected?
Being an innkeeper is as tough and actually easier in someways than we had expected. We quickly realized that you have to design an inn to meet your needs as well as your guests'. Because of the fact that we have children, we decided to have a more private B&B. We have kitchens and kitchenettes in the rooms for the guests. The only common area for our guests is our large porches. This worked to our advantage, though; gentlemen travelers especially appreciate the privacy. This made things very easy on us, because we have just as much privacy.
It also made serving breakfast a very easy task, as I simply went to a continental breakfast with muffins, scones and Swedish Rye bread. The rest was in the rooms for them.
The toughest is our children. We had another surprise baby a year later. So, we currently have a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old and it's tough letting them not have their freedom. We have to get creative when they want to awaken very early and play airplane or when they are sick with an ear ache and can't be crying in the middle of the night.
What's your favorite part about being an innkeeper?
Our favorite part of being innkeepers is the vast number of people we meet from all over the world (Sweden, Canada, Brazil and all over the U.S.). They each have a story and it's wonderful to get the opportunity to know each one. We also have had the chance to meet other innkeepers who have become great friends and great supporters! There is a terrific bond between innkeepers.