Wednesday, January 13, 2010
The Zion Hotel Dome
The founding of the City of Zion is a remarkable tale of one man's will. The charismatic preacher and faith healer, John Alexander Dowie (1847-1907) founded the Christian Catholic Church, and the city of his dreams, Zion. John Alexander Dowie, official portrait, 1903 (LCDM)
Born in Scotland, Dowie came to Illinois in 1893 when he preached outside the gates of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. By 1899, his followers numbered in the thousands, and had a Temple in Chicago.
It was Dowie's ambitious plan to create a theocracy—a city of God. He worked with a land agent to anonymously buy 6,000 acres in Benton Township, Lake County. Dowie was savvy enough to realize there might be opposition to his church claiming so much land. The local newspapers were quick to speculate on the flurry of purchases, suspecting one of the railroads or the Armour Meat Packing company.
In July 1901, lots in several of Dowie's newly platted subdivisions were made available for lease, and the boom was on. The caveat, you had to be a member of Dowie's church. Families set up tents to live in while they built their homes.
Early in 1902, Dowie had a large "hotel" constructed, called the Elijah Hospice, to accomodate workers who would build the new city. The Hospice was located on Sheridan Road and 26th Street. The above photo was taken at Elim Avenue and Sheridan Road looking north, circa 1905 (LCDM).
It took 500 workers two months to complete the three-story building, which at the time was the largest wooden structure in Illinois. Painted white, the Hospice seemed to be the very icon of Dowie's message of "clean and faithful living." The bus in the foreground's destination sign is for Kenosha. (LCDM, c 1930).
In the 1950s, the Zion Hotel, as it came to be known, was a residence for senior citizens.
At left is a rare interior photo taken at the Zion Hotel in 1939 at the annual dinner of the Booker T. Washington Club (LCDM 94.26.1)
By the 1970s, the building was in such need of repair it had to be condemned. In 1979, it was razed, but Zion's citizens donated $20,000 to save the dome as a reminder of the city's extraordinary past. Zion Hotel, circa 1965 (LCDM 97.5.1)
Since 1980, the dome has been maintained through private and public funds on the same property where the hotel once stood.
The dome is one of the city's oldest landmarks, and sits prominently along Sheridan Road where it is seen by thousands of people each day. This is the only surviving remnant of Zion's early wooden structures, which were all destroyed by fire or bulldozer.
Two other significant Dowie-era buildings are also preserved in Zion—Dowie's former residence, Shiloh House, and Shiloh Cottage, both brick Victorians. The Shiloh House is home to the Zion Historical Society. Postcard view of Dowie's residence, circa 1907 (LCDM 96.6.4)
In recent months, the dome's deteriorating condition has again caused concerns. There is renewed debate about who should pay for its maintenance.