Zion City: Dr. John Alexander’s greatest achievement
Dowie’s first major achievement was the formation of The Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in 1896. By 1900 his vision and became a reality when he unveiled the map of Zion, a city developed for Christians.
His utopian dream of a Christian community where strict regulations regarding social behavior and morals could be enforced. He would ban liquor, taverns, the selling of tobacco and other merchandise he considered being injurious to Christian health. He believed in salvation, healing, and holy living, and Zion City was to exemplify these beliefs.
By the end of December 1899, 10 square miles of land adjoining Lake Michigan had been acquired. Dowie, with others, dressed as itinerant workers, ‘spied out’ this particular parcel and choose it when a dark December sky gave way to a bright and beautiful sunny day for 10 minutes and then clouded over for the rest of the day. For Dowie this was a sign of God’s approval of the land.
The land could be leased only to the members of the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church. The lease was for 1100 years and carried certain restrictions forbidding the manufacture, selling or use of tobacco, liquor, swine’s flesh, and shellfish. The operation of drug stores, theaters, and dance halls was also forbidden and even drinking coffee and chewing gum was frowned upon.
A civil engineer was given the task of laying out the city. Under Dowie’s direction, the streets were laid out symmetrically, with a great 1200-acre park named Shiloh (The Messiah). At its center was the Temple of the Christian Catholic Church, an edifice that would seat 16,000.
The major thoroughfares would lead to the temple in the center of the city and each street was to be named for something or someone in the Bible. The street names were laid out in alphabetical order from the east starting with Aaron and to the west starting with Lydia. Damascus, where the Lord spoke to Saul, Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, Gabriel, after the angel himself, Horeb, the mount where the Ten Commandments were delivered, Shiloh which means “The Messiah”, and many more. Only two avenues did not receive Biblical names; Caledonia, an old Roman name for Scotland, Dowie’s native country; and Edina, an old Roman abbreviation for Edinburgh, Dowie’s birthplace. Even though a few of the boulevards were never fully developed, a map of present day Zion looks much like it’s earliest ancestor. In 1901 the City of Zion was officially founded. The Zion City Land Office was one of the first administrative buildings erected in the community. Many of the transactions regarding land leases and the establishment of business interests was completed in this building.
Near the temple in Zion, was Shiloh House the residence of Dr. Dowie. This stately three-story 25-room mansion was built in 1901-1902. Paul Burkhardt, the architect was born and educated in Switzerland. Consequently the Swiss Chalet design in Shiloh’s upper stories was his personal signature. Remarkably unique, the $100,000 Shiloh House was built by the combined efforts of the town’s craftsmen. The brick masonry, the sandstone construction, the wainscoting and flooring were all contributions of these people. The tile roof is original, and has a distinct design depicting the triangular pattern of the Trinity, or lightning signifying the power of God.
Today, Shiloh House is the headquarters of the Zion Historical Society located at 2500 Shiloh Blvd. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Sites
Dowie Barn, also called Shiloh Cottage or the Carriage House is located at 2413 Elisha, catty-corner across from Shiloh House. It was erected in 1902 at the same time as the house for the drivers and caretakers, horses and carriages belonging to and working for Dr. Dowie. The north side of the barn included the carriage house and stable, with an upper loft where fodder was stored. The barn was quite unique, having four solid oak stalls and a large ventilating shaft that insured a constant circulation of fresh air. On the south side of the building were three floors with apartments for the drivers, caretakers and their families.
In May of 1902 Dowie presented the City with an official seal preceded by an address: (partial excerpt below):
I hold my hand upon the lever of that which is, perhaps, the most important outward sign of a city organization, and that is the seal which I shall presently ask the mayor and the council to accept as a gift from the General Overseer.
“I am glad that we have reached this place, where very quietly the municipal government of the City of Zion can organize, and become a factor, and adjudicate legal government. “I don’t think that the danger to Zion from without is worth considering. The only real danger that can ever come to Zion is from within. “With my hand upon this lever, I hand to you tonight and to the generations to come a seal which contains all that Zion wants to be. “Ordinance: Corporate Seal — That the common seal of the City of Zion shall be circular in form and be so constructed as to impress upon the paper the words Corporate Seal above and ‘The City of Zion, Illinois,’ below in the outer edge thereof, with a Zion Banner in the center, surmounted by the declaration, ‘God Reigns,’ such banner having the word ‘Zion’ below, and a dove with an olive branch above; a cross at the left, and a sword and a crown at the right, requiring that the same shall be and hereby is so declared to be the Corporate Seal of the City of Zion.“Look at the dove, which is the emblem of the Holy Spirit bearing the message of peace and love over the seas.
“The cross represents everything to us in Redemption, Salvation, Healing, Cleansing and Keeping Power.
“The Sword is the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. The crown is the crown of Glory, the crown of Joy, the crown of Righteousness, the crown of Rejoicing.
“I shall pass away — at the longest it will not be long but this seal is one that I hope will never pass away from Zion City, until the end shall come and a new heaven and a new earth be created.”
The first city election was on April 7, 1902 after Dr. Dowie had formed the Theocratic Party. “Theo” from the Greek meaning God, Zion was to be the City of God, for God fearing and Christ loving people, with the slogan, “Where God rules man prospers.”
Dr. Dowie surrounded himself with men of great talent and financial standings. Many experienced healing episodes and felt indebted to Dowie and his dream. With this support the city flourished. All economic, educational, social, political and religious activities were coordinated through church leadership. Besides residential homes, there was a manufacturing district to the east of the North Western Railway tracks (Bakery, brick kiln, Candy Factory Electric Plant, Lace Mill, Laundry, Lumbering Mill, and Printing Publishing House.
Dowie’s greatest achievement was to build a city of God, where his people could work and play, polarized from the so-called sins of the world. The dream was far-reaching and most ambitious.
And it took a dangerous turn when Dowie proclaimed that he was indeed Elijah the Prophet. It was about this time that Dowie after an ill-fated trip to New York, long standing financial mismanagement overtook the church and swept away the dreams. The 16,000-seat temple was never built. The industries began to suffer from lack of funds. The schools, located for the convenience of the children, graduated only two classes (1905 and 1906) before being closed.
In 1906 Dowie was terminally ill, and the city/church properties were in receivership. Population was declining and unemployment rising. These crises led to confusion and disagreement concerning the policies of Dowie’s successor, Rev. Wilbur Glenn Voilva. In 1907, the same year that Dowie died, the church filed bankruptcy.
This man who used to live in greater ease and luxury than is available to princes, was now reduced almost to beggary and was not provided even with the necessaries of life. He then had an attack of paralysis and the feet under which he had said he could crush the Promised Messiah like a worm were disabled. His troubles unhinged his mind and shortly after he died in great misery and pain. In 1907 the City of Zion and the Dowie holdings were thrown into bankruptcy.