Lincoln’s Stomping Grounds – Broadwell, Elkhart, & Williamsville, Illinois

Broadwell, Illinois – 66 Farm Town

Pig Hip - Broadwell

The Pig-Hip Restaurant was a popular stop for Route 66’ers during the road’s heydays. Unfortunately, it burned to the ground in March 2007. All that’s left today is a stone marker. 

When traveling Route 66, some eight miles south of Lincoln, Illinois, you will come to the small town of Broadwell. Established in 1869, the community now supports only about 150 souls. Here in this small farming town, once sat one of the Mother Road’s more famous icons – the old Pig Hip Restaurant.

Ernie Edwards and his wife served thousands of barbeque sandwiches and fries at the Pig-Hip to travelers of the road from 1937 until 1991 when the couple retired. Ernie and Frances first opened a small, three-table cafe they called the Harbor Inn. The next year when a hungry farmer pointed to a steaming pork roast and blurted out that he wanted a sandwich “off that pig hip,” Ernie liked the sound of it and soon changed the name of the cafe to “The Pig-Hip.”

Over the years, the restaurant expanded, Ernie’s brother, Joe, built a filling station next door, and sister, Bonnie Welch and her husband added a motel. Suddenly, Broadwell was a full-service stop and business was booming on the Mother Road.

Broadwell Pig Hip Marker

Stone Marker at the site of the former Pig Hip.

In the 1960s, when Broadwell was bypassed by the interstate, Route 66 fell into disuse and disrepair. Eventually, the filling station and motel were sold, then closed. By the early 1980s, the handful of other businesses in Broadwell also shut down, leaving The Pig-Hip as the sole commercial business. In 1990, the Edwards’ retired and, unable to find a buyer for the restaurant, they closed the business. The next year, they turned it into a museum, which served travelers until the building was destroyed by fire on March 5, 2007. Today, the site is simply identified with a stone marker. Ernie Edwards died in 2012.

Elkhart, Illinois – Steeped in History

As you travel onward look for an old two-lane section of the Mother Road on your left about three miles south of Broadwell. Another mile will bring you to Elkhart Hill, a glacial ridge rising above the prairie, and the historic village of Elkhart, Illinois. Though just a small village of about 450 people today, this settlement is rich in history and provides a number of places to visit.

Long before a settlement of Elkhart was established, the area was called home to the Kickapoo Indians, where Elkhart Hill provided an excellent viewpoint for the natives, and as a landmark for westward-bound pioneers.

According to legend, the hill got its name from the Kickapoo Chief’s daughter, White Blossom. As the tale goes, the princess was wooed by two warriors, one from her own tribe and another from the Shawnee tribe. On one of their annual hunting trips, the two warriors insisted that White Blossom declare which one would become her husband.

When an elk passed by, White Blossom said she would choose the one who could pierce the heart of the large animal. The warrior from the Kickapoo tribe hit the heart of the elk and won the hand of the princess. When they married, the elk heart became their family badge. Since that time the hill and later settlement retained the name Elkhart.

Kentucky House Tavern Site

The James Latham home was later turned into the Kentucky Tavern
House. Though the building is gone today, the location has since become the site of an archeological dig.

In 1819, James Latham, his son Richard, and a friend named Ebenezer Briggs arrived in the area and built a cabin on the northwest slope of Elkhart Hill. Other settlers soon followed, clearing forested land for farms. These pioneers, from Kentucky and Tennessee, avoided the prairie land, believing it was not fertile enough for farming and their plows were unable to cut through the tough prairie sod.

In 1824, James Lathem was appointed to the position of Indian Agent at Fort Clark. Just two years later, Latham died and was buried on the hill at what is now known as Latham-Thompson or Elkhart Cemetery, not far from where his cabin once stood.

Later, somewhere between the years of 1835 and 1840, the Latham family converted their log home into the Kentucky House Tavern. Today, while the building has long since disappeared, the location has become the site of several archaeological digs that have produced significant samples of domestic artifacts of the area.

In 1838, a man named John Dean Gillette moved into the area, amassing large amounts of land and raising livestock. Gillette was noted for importing Durham cattle from Scotland and developing the Shorthorn cattle breed, soon shipping over 2,000 head of cattle and 1,000 head of hogs to Europe annually. The London Gazette dubbed him “The Cattle King of the World”. Together with his friend, Abraham Lincoln, Gillett laid out the town of Lincoln, Illinois in 1853. Both men courted Lemira Parke who later became Gillett’s wife.

Elkhart, Illinois

Elkhart, Illinois, by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

The town of Elkhart was founded in 1855 by John Shockey, one of many that sprouted up along the Alton and Sangamon Railroad. In 1870, the Gillettes built their home upon Elkhart Hill, but just one year later it was destroyed by fire. Two years later, the house was rebuilt and upon this land, the Gillettes raised eight children. By the late 1800s, the town of Elkhart became one of the largest shipping points on the Chicago and Alton Railroad, largely due to the success of Gillette’s livestock operation. Becoming prominent figures in central Illinois, the Gillettes made frequent trips to Europe.

Richard J. Oglesby, a three-term governor of Illinois and a close friend of Abraham Lincoln, married the Gillett’s oldest daughter, Emma, and built their home across the hill from the Gillett house. Known as Oglehurst, the 46 room mansion had a pipe organ in the Great Hall, a fourth-floor schoolroom, where the children were tutored, and a music room. Years later, the Oglesby mansion burned down.

Over the years, the large estate continued to receive improvements from the Gillette decedents including barns, orchards, gardens, a church, and major expansions and improvements to the original farmhouse.