At the Legends and Lore of Illinois, we spend a lot of time crawling around the ruins of some of Illinois most notorious and spooky abandoned hospitals, mansions, and schools. But what are the scariest abandoned places in Illinois? After much debate, we are happy to bring you the Top 10 Creepiest Abandoned Places in Illinois:
10. The Sweetin Home
Walkerville Township, Greene County
Otherwise known as “the old stone house,” the remnants of this manor were, at one time, part of a mansion built in 1848 by a stockman named Azariah Sweetin. Though nothing but a shell today, a grand ballroom once occupied the third floor, a ballroom that was the scene of murder. During a farewell gala for newly enlisted Union soldiers, two farmhands, Henson and Isham, got into an argument that ended with one thrusting a knife into the back of the other. The wounded man fell down by the fireplace and bled to death. According to legend, his blood seeped into the stone floor and formed an outline of his body. The stain could never be removed.
As the war raged, Azariah Sweetin didn’t want to take any chances, so he stuffed all his gold coins into jars and buried them around his property. Unfortunately, an equestrian accident in 1871 rendered him without any memory of where he had buried his money. After his death, his ranch was purchased by Cyrus Hartwell, who also lived there until he died. Treasure seekers soon tore the mansion apart, but no one has ever found Azariah’s gold. Storytellers say Azariah’s ghost—alongside snakes—now guards his lost loot.
There’s nothing unusual about the concrete bridge over Plum Creek along Old Post Road. In the woods to the northeast, however, sits a rickety steel bridge, currently collapsed into the water. It is tagged with graffiti. For years, local teens imagined that this was the scene of a gruesome axe murder. Some said the Axeman (or Ax-Man) killed a group of kids he caught trespassing on his property. Others tied the tale to the abandoned house nearby, claiming that the man had chopped up his family and then murdered two police officers who came to investigate. When backup arrived, they chased the man to the old steel bridge, where they shot him dead. Today, there are still remains of a house scattered in the woods.
The hospital began in 1885 as Bartonville State Hospital. No patients were ever housed or treated in that building, however, and it was torn down in 1897. The institution was rebuilt and reopened in 1902 with a new name and a new superintendent. Now called Peoria State Hospital, a progressive physician named Dr. George A. Zeller took over the facility and instituted new, more humane treatments for mental illness. During his tenure there, he recorded many stories of daily life, including some that were almost beyond belief.
The main story associated with the hospital concerns the unusual circumstances surrounding the death of one of the patients, A. Bookbinder. Dr. Zeller assigned Bookbinder to the hospital’s burial corps, and he performed his job admirably. Old Book, as he was sometimes called, mourned the passing of each and every person he helped inter in the cemetery. When Bookbinder died, Dr. Zeller wrote that four hundred staff and patients observed his ghost mourning at his own funeral just as he had for countless others while he was alive. They even opened the coffin to confirm that Old Book was really dead. His corpse was securely inside.
According to local legend, sometime in the distant past a private all-girls school stood behind the set of iron gates off of a sharp bend in River Road, deep inside what became the Independence Grove Forest Preserve. One day, a maniac broke into the school and abducted several of the girls. He killed each one and mounted their severed heads on the spikes of the gate. Every full moon, the heads reappear on the rusted spikes.
In reality, this property, known as the Doddridge Farm, passed through several incarnations as a summer camp. It opened as the Katherine Kreigh Budd Memorial Home for Children in 1926. Between 1936 and the early 1980s, the Catholic archdiocese operated it as St. Francis Boys Camp. The archdiocese then sold the camp to the Forest Preserve, who knocked down all the buildings and converted the nearby gravel pit into a lake. The gate to St. Francis still sits at the entrance to what is now a horse and bike trail.
Vishnu Springs was a once-thriving resort community. Attracted to the natural spring’s healing properties, an entrepreneur named Darius Hicks inherited the land and built a hotel he called the Capital Hotel. Other people soon arrived to live and work there, but the isolated nature of the resort impeded its growth. During the early 1900s, several deadly incidents and scandals tarnished the community, and when Darius Hicks committed suicide in 1908, no one remained who was willing to invest their energy in the resort. During the 1970s, a group of hippies made a short lived attempt to turn it into a commune. Today, all that remains is the old hotel—a shadow of what it once was. Some visitors have reportedly seen the ghost of a lady in black wandering the grounds. Olga Kay Kennedy, a Western Illinois University alumnus, inherited Vishnu Springs from her grandparents and gifted it to the university in 2003. According to her wishes, all 140 acres will be turned into a wildlife sanctuary.
“Hartford Castle” is the colloquial name for a mansion that formerly stood on a tract of land just outside of Hartford, Illinois, across the river from St. Louis. The mansion’s actual name was Lakeview, but few besides the original owner referred to it as such. The original owner was a French immigrant named Benjamin Biszant, who built the imposing home for his bride, an Englishwoman whose name has apparently been lost to history. Eventually, Biszant’s wife died and, perhaps, the pain was too much for him to remain at Lakeview. He sold the mansion and moved west. A number of owners and tenants occupied the estate until the last owners abandoned it in the 1960s. In 1972, vandals destroyed the interior, and a fire ravaged the grounds a short time later. Today, the Hartford Castle is nothing more than a hole in the ground, surrounded by concrete debris and a shallow moat. Several of the original gazebos remain behind.
4. Old Milton School
East Alton, Illinois
Most recently home to a decorative glass company, from 1904 to 1984 this building served as Milton Elementary School. Locals whisper that during the 1930s, a dark event left a stain on the history of the school. According to legend, a janitor raped and murdered a girl in the gym locker room. Suspicion fell on the janitor after he failed to report to work the next day. Not long after, he returned to the school and took his own life. Since that time, female visitors have experienced very negative feelings in that area of the building, even if they have never heard the story. Up until the school closed in 1984, one educator in particular reported seeing and hearing the ghost of a young girl in her office. Others encountered a more hostile spirit—that of the murderous janitor. A psychic reportedly exorcised this negative presence.
Chanute Air Force Base opened in Rantoul in July 1917 and was a vital part of the local economy for nearly 76 years. After its closure in 1993, much of the base was divided up into residential and commercial properties, but most of the core buildings remain abandoned. Inevitably, local kids exploring the abandoned parts of the base in the past few years have begun to bring home unusual stories. Some visitors have, through the broken windows, reported seeing an officer working at his desk. Others say they have seen phantom airmen strolling the weed-choked sidewalks or sitting in the cockpits of the planes behind the Air Museum. On September 13, 2001, at 10pm, a police K-9 unit responded to a trespassing call at White Hall, one of the largest abandoned buildings on base. Dutch, an experienced canine with 957 drug arrests under his collar, pursued something up to the roof, where he suddenly and unexpectedly leapt 15 feet off the building and fell to his death.
The Jackson County Poor Farm became known as Sunset Haven during the 1940s when it was converted into a nursing home. The nursing home closed in 1957 and Southern Illinois University purchased the property to expand its agricultural program. During the 1970s, the university made an effort to locate all the unmarked graves of the dead that had been buried during Sunset Haven’s years as a poor farm. The graves are supposedly located in a grove of trees behind the building. Sometime later, the name was changed again, this time to the ‘Vivarium Annex,’ where sources say it was used for animal research. The building is currently abandoned, although emergency drills have been staged on the property. The building’s final closure and decay inevitably led to stories of ghosts and other horrors, and the atmosphere inside the structure lent itself to rumors of medical experiments gone awry.
Manteno State Hospital opened its doors in the early 1930s as construction on the sprawling hospital was still ongoing. Like Peoria (Bartonville) State Hospital, Manteno was laid out in a “cottage plan,” which meant that the patients were housed in a series of separate buildings rather than in one single institution. When it first opened, Manteno accommodated 6,620 total residents. Underground service tunnels linked all the buildings. In 1939, in an incident that Time magazine referred to as the “Manteno Madness,” 384 patients and staff came down with typhoid fever and more than 50 ultimately died.
Manteno State Hospital was later renamed the Manteno Mental Health Center and closed in 1985. The north side of campus became a veteran’s home. Other buildings were consolidated into the Illinois Diversatech Campus and rented to businesses. The main administration building became a bank. Despite public health concerns, a housing project called Fairway Oaks Estates was recently built at the location. Since the hospital’s closure, many people have visited its remains and have come away with strange stories. They have seen apparitions of patients and nurses, and have heard voices over the long-defunct intercom.
Check out these places and more in Michael Kleen’s Haunting Illinois: A Tourist’s Guide to the Weird and Wild Places of the Prairie State! Haunting Illinois contains 200 mystery sites and 85 individual illustrations. In this book, Michael not only examines the sites, but also the hobbyists and professionals who have devoted their lives to exploring the strange and unusual in our great state. Divided among eight distinct regions and listed by county, each location features a description, directions, and sources drawn from a diverse variety of books and articles. Haunting Illinois challenges you to get off the couch and start exploring our wonderful State of Illinois. Go here to order!
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