Historic Shiloh House
1300 Shiloh Blvd. Zion, Illinois
A Brief History
The unique history of the City of Zion, as one of the most representative religious Utopias and planned industrial communities established in the 20th Century, affords the City an interesting heritage.
The City of Zion was founded in 1900 by Dr. John Alexander Dowie, a Scot by birth, who, for several years, was a Congregational minister in Melbourne, Australia. Abandoning the ministry. Dr. Dowie embraced the doctrine of divine healing and turned to evangelism. Coming to America to build a church based on his ideals, he began teaching near the entrance of the Columbia Exposition in Chicago and winning converts to his message of divine healing, personal repentance, and strict moral purity. His following increased rapidly and a church called the Christian Catholic Church was formed. In order to establish the headquarters of the church, Dr. Dowie founded Zion City, a city for God’s people, as a religious industrial community. He employed Burton J. Ashley of Chicago as his consulting engineer and planner. Reports were prepared concerning topography, drainage, water supply, rapid transportation, park land, and parcel size for the development of a city with a projected population of 200,000. The famous Zion Lace Factory, later purchased by Marshall Field of Chicago, came into being, as did a bank, a candy factory, a printing establishment, a cookie factory and various other industries. Dr. Dowie, in short, turned a wilderness into property worth several million dollars. The people paid a tenth of their incomes into the church and, in return, at the end of each fiscal year, the profits of the flourishing Zion industries and stores were divided among them.
Although Dr. Dowie received much criticism in his later years, the genius of the man must be recognized for the planning and development of a city and for the founding of a church which both remain viable today. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for one man to equal either of these accomplishments in today’s world.
Shiloh House was built in 1901 as Dr. Dowie’s residence, along with the “bam” across the street (east), at a cost of $90,000. It was originally styled as a Swiss Chalet and is constructed of red brick and Indiana limestone. The upper structured panels are of plaster and wood and the roof is colorfully tiled. Originally, there was only one screened porch. The upper porches were an addition by a later owner. Dr. Dowie lived in the house until he passed away on March 9, 1907. The “bam” across the street served as the stable where Dr. Dowie kept his horses and surrey. His deliveryman and other servants resided here.
Inside the house, nothing was spared to make the house unique. Both electricity and gas were installed for illumination. Light fixtures and bathroom fixtures were brought from Europe. The bathroom walls were decorated with white tile. Bathtub fixtures were designed as silver swans. A cedar closet was built on the second floor in the servants’ quarters. The house has two stairways, as was customary in the better homes in Europe; one for the Master, and the other for the servants.
Upon the death of Dr. Dowie, who died in his second floor bedroom, Mrs. Jane Dowie, who at the time was living in her home in “Ben Mac Dhui”, White Lake, Michigan, came back to Zion and found that the estate was bankrupt and that her husband had left nothing for her. She sold everything that she could not take with her. Friends bought furniture; Mr. Clendinen, the General Manager of Zion Industries, bought the table, chairs and sideboard. One family took the fireplace from the parlor and placed it in a house at 27th Street and Enoch Avenue. The Axminister carpets were bought by Mr. Benny Offner. Dishes and silverware were sold. Beautiful settees were taken to Waukegan. When Mrs. Dowie had everything placed in a railway car to be taken to Texas, she found that she did not have enough money to pay the freight. She asked a friend, Mr. Lindskog, for the money, but he refused. He did, however, offer to buy a piece of her furniture so she could raise the needed funds.
Following the departure of Mrs. Dowie, the house became a rental unit for some of the followers of Dr. Dowie. Included was Rev. W. D. Taylor and others, however, this did not last. The house was up for sale and Mrs. Gring, a wealthy lady from Philadelphia, bought it in 1910. She added the two upper porches and painted everything white, both inside and out, giving the house the appearance of a colonial mansion rather than a Swiss Chalet. She resided in the house until she passed away about 1942. The barn was not purchased by Mrs. Gring, and was held by the Zion Estate who rented rooms in the residential area. The barn was never used as such after the death of Dr. Dowie.
After Mrs. Gring passed away, the house and barn were both for sale. At that time, the Great Lakes Bible Institute was formed, and they bought the house and the bam, using the house for a school with the upper floors for a girls dormitory. The bam was remodeled and made into classrooms and a boys dormitory. This became a school for the Assemblies of God, and operated there until 1954 when the school was moved to Springfield, Missouri.
The house was up for sale again.
Loyal friends of Dr. Dowie, who claimed to be the original Christian Catholic “Apostolic” Church, were able to purchase the house, and it was used as a residence for Mr. and Mrs. D. C. Huntley, a small chapel, library, and a print shop where Mr. Huntley printed copies of Dr. Dowie’s sermons and articles. A few followers came, but it was not a growing venture. Mr. Huntley was getting older. At age 84, he was trying to repair the roof, fix the wiring and heat portions of the 25-room mansion. He could not keep up with the repairs. He passed away in 1967.
The house was up for sale again. Real estate agents tried to sell it for an apartment building. Zion jeweler, Wesley Ashland, overheard some discussion regarding the house and called Mrs. Huntley to see if she would sell it to him. He had dreams of making it into a historical building. She complied, and he arranged to buy it for $18,500. He called several people whom he thought would be interested in organizing and developing the Zion Historical Society. He was greeted with an enthusiastic response. The organization was formed with Mr. Ashland becoming the first President.
Work crews were organized to repair the building which was in very bad condition. The roof needed extensive repairs. Plaster was falling from the walls and ceilings. All the interior woodwork was dirty and in need of refinishing. The wallpaper needed to be removed and replaced with paper suitable to a house of the Victorian Era. The floors, which were of oak, had to be refinished. The foyer floor was tiled which needed to be removed. It was hoped that all the floors in the house could be restored to their original finish. Thousands of volunteer hours and thousands of dollars were needed to accomplish this great task. Letters were sent to the residents and friends of Zion soliciting donations and help.
After the first floor was cleaned, dinners were arranged. Visits were set up for people to see what was being accomplished. Lifetime memberships were created. Gifts were accepted. The government was approached for financial help with the restoration project. These were acknowledged along with funds from the goodwill of the City Fathers. Moneys that were given became tax deductible.
Today, Shiloh House is in presentable condition after many years of appreciative labor. The first floor of the house is frequently rented for special occasions. Not only does it stand as a silent tribute to Dr. Dowie, it also serves as the headquarters for the Zion Historical Society and Zion’s historical museum.