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

Today, the 700-acre estate is in the hands of the seventh generation of John Dean Gillette. While the family still lives in the big house, a three-bedroom guesthouse and a chapel are available for private bookings. Tours can also be arranged on an individual basis, where visitors can enjoy undisturbed Indian burial mounds, hillside pastures, walking trails, and perennial gardens while enjoying the spectacular views from the hilltop. The John Dean Gillett Memorial Chapel, built by Mrs. Gillett in memory of her husband is the only privately owned, self-supporting church in the state.

At the base of Elkhart Hill, the “Under the Prairie Museum” features one of the largest single collections of the frontier period and archaeological artifacts in the Midwest. It was here, at the base of the hill, that the Kentucky House Tavern sat from the mid-1820s through the mid-1850s. Originally the log home of the Latham family, the building was converted into the Kentucky House Tavern somewhere in the years between 1835 and 1840. Though the building has long gone, archaeological digs here have uncovered two pit cellars, an earthen-walled cistern, and a well, where a number of domestic artifacts have been found. These artifacts, as well as other items dating as far back as the 1700s can be viewed at the “Under the Prairie Museum” located at 109 Oglesby Street.

Oglesby Tomb

Oglesby Tomb

In Elkhart, is also the historic cemetery, which is said to be haunted by the ghost of Emma Gillette Oglesby. To reach the cemetery, follow County Road 10 that winds through Elkhart heading east. The interesting cemetery is to the right, just before the road passes under an old bridge. This beautiful place is the last resting place of Captain Adam Borgardus, expert marksman and performer in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, John Dean Gillette, the cattle baron in the area, and Governor Richard Oglesby, among many of the pioneers of Logan County. This cemetery is a beautiful wooded site with many distinctive tombstones, a rustic stone chapel, and the Gillette Memorial Bridge over the Elkhart-Mt. Pulaski Road.

The Oglesby crypt has been the long-standing subject of ghost stories. It is said that on certain nights, his wife still visits the tomb. However, as she kneels before the vault she is interrupted by a group of spectral Indians who chase her off across the bridge leading over the road by the cemetery. A number of photographs have captured weird phenomena as mist and apparitions, not seen by the eye, appear in pictures. A swirling vortex was photographed over one grave. At the back of the cemetery, there is a fence separating the grave yard from the woods. Here, people have reported seeing dark colored apparitions and hearing the sounds of voices and footsteps.

Williamsville – A Small Slice of 66

Just another seven miles down old Route 66, you will come to Williamsville. Established as another of the many villages along the railroad, the town was originally platted in 1853 by Abraham V. Flagg and called Benton. In the fall of that year, Jacob Flagg built the first house for his father, Abraham, and in 1854, the first store was opened by Peter Earnest. When the residents petitioned for a post office, they found that there was already an established town called Benton and the village was renamed Williamsville in honor of Colonel John Williams, a local landowner. By the end of 1855, Williamsville had a post office, several stores, a doctor and a one-room schoolhouse.

Today, this primarily agricultural town with about 1,500 residents, features a number of historic buildings along its vintage slice of Route 66. The Williamsville Depot, a former railroad depot located between the Norfolk and Western Railroad track and old Route 66, serves as a senior center and community gathering place. Next door, the Williamsville Historical Museum, constructed from two railroad boxcars, displays many historical artifacts of the town.

A block north on Elm Street you can still sit back and relax while you drink an ice-cold 25 cent soda pop at the Die Cast Auto Sales. Here, in this converted 1930’s service station, you can see a very large collection of hard to find die-cast models, Coca-Cola collectibles and Route 66 souvenirs.

Williamsville - Old Station

The Old Station, Williamsville, Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Old Station, a converted 1930s service station, is surrounded by old cars and memorabilia. The inside is a blast-from-the-past, with walls filled with a huge inventory of die-cast cars, Coca-Cola collectibles, and Route 66 memorabilia.

And, speaking of vintage cars, another must stop in Williamsville is the Route 66 Dream Car Museum. Owners, Phil and Pat Hawley have assembled an incredible collection of some of the most admired automobiles in history in this Route 66 themed museum.

Another five miles down the road on your journey, you will arrive in the small town of Sherman, where a long-abandoned stretch of early 66 forms the eastern border of Carpenter Park. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the curbed concrete provides a peek into the Mother Road’s vintage past.

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated February 2020.

Also See:

Illinois Route 66

Illinois – The Prairie State

Route 66 Main Page

Route 66 Photo Galleries