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Broadwell to Williamsville - Page 2

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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 1800’s 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, 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 school room, 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 farm house.

 

 

Elkhart, Illinois today

Elkhart, Illinois today, Kathy Weiser-Alexander, October, 2010.

This image available for photo prints & editorial downloads HERE.

 

 

 

 

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Today, the 700 acre estate is in the hands of 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 1820's through the mid 1850's. 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 1700’s can be viewed at the "Under the Prairie Museum" located at 109 Oglesby Street.

In Elkhart, is also the historic cemetery, which is said to be haunted by the ghost of Emma Gillette Ogleby. 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.

 

Oglesby TombThe 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 land owner. By the end of 1855, Williamsville had a post office, several stores, a doctor and a one room school house.

 

Today, this primarily agricultural town with about 1,500 residents, features a number of historic buildings along it 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, is the 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.


Old Station, a converted 1930s service station surrounded by old cars and memorabelia. 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. Open most afternoons.

 

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.

 

The Old Station, Williamsville, Illinois

The Old Station, Williamsville, Kathy Weiser-Alexander, October, 2010.

This image available for photo prints & editorial downloads HERE.

 

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 June, 2016.

 

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