16 December 2013

[map] Tales of the Grid: Zion, An Illinoisan Erstwhile Utopia

Brenda Balin over on the Book'o'face recommended this town to me, while I was going on about The Grid two articles back. This is a good one. She's written about it before and knoweth whereof she speaketh.

There is a town in northeastern Illinois, not-quite-but-almost snugged into the northeastern corner, on the Lake Michigan shore just south of the Wisconsin state line, called Zion. A name like that suggests a churchgoing pioneer, and that would be correct: the founder of the city, a man named John Dowie, who formed a church there on the city's founding, in 1901.

In Zion, numbered streets run east and west, named avenues (most of which in the town proper and all but one in the original city itself had been drawn from the Bible) ran north and south. A map view of the town plan shows a distinct, yet half-realized pattern:

Satellite view of Zion, Illinois. Credit: Google Maps Satellite View
Image courtesy Google Maps satellite view (of course) 
A circle at the center, with four wide boulevards converging from the cardinal points and three diagonal streets aiming that general direction but never quite getting there. There is a suggestion of a fourth, in pointing northeastward from the central square, but zooming in in Google satellite view suggests that the only thing that ever got built in that right-of-way was a foot- or bicycle-path.

The piety of the original founder is preserved in that there is a church there in the central circle, in Shiloh (another biblical name) Park.

Zion was completely planned out before it was built; a 'planned city' from the get-go, and the plan's inspirations were twofold. One was the Biblical inspiration for the names. The other was from the planner's heart – he was a import from the Commonwealth, specifically Scotland, and his graphic inspiration was, specifically, this:

… the Union Flag of Great Britain. When viewed on the modern-day planning department's zoning map, the image of the flag is perhaps a bit clearer:

Zion in at the beginning must have been quite a place. The founder not only envisioned a perfectly-planned physical town (eventually hoped to contain as many as 200,000 people) but also envisioned it as a religious utopia here on Earth:
Dowie owned everything personally, although settlers were offered 1,100-year leases (i.e., 100 years to usher in the Kingdom and 1,000 for Christ's millennial reign — after that, seemingly, you were on your own). The leases specifically forbade gambling, dancing, swearing, spitting, theaters, circuses, the manufacture and sale of alcohol or tobacco, pork, oysters, doctors, politicians — and tan-colored shoes. The city police carried a billy club on one hip and a Bible on the other; their helmets were adorned with a dove and the word "PATIENCE." At the height of his power and influence, Dowie was worth several million dollars and claimed 50,000 followers, 6,000 of whom lived in Zion City.
I couldn't make it there myself. I mean, I can do without circuses and oysters, but pork and tan shoes? I draw the line at pork and tan shoes, man. If there were a just God, he'd not want me to do without my tan shoes.

A top of the hat to the Wikipedia page who provided the basic historical skeleton, and for a more thorough exploration of the man John Alexander Dowie (a man, whom I'm sure if God were asked would opine Now, that one is a piece of work, and how) read this unexpectedly-compelling page at a site about music in the works of James Joyce: http://www.james-joyce-music.com/extras/dowie_bio.html. He started out a piece of work and built himself into a towering and rather absurd edifice, but isn't that a classic American story?

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