Sunset Haven Demolished!

Sunset Haven from the Gravel Driveway, c. 2008

Sunset Haven along a gravel driveway, c. 2008

Another landmark is destroyed as bulldozers level one of the few remaining almshouses in Illinois

Carbondale, Illinois ( — Between October 25-27th, a crew from Southern Illinois University dismantled one of the few remaining almshouses in Illinois. Known as Sunset Haven, “Building 207,” Vivarium Annex, or just the “old asylum,” this rectangular red-brick building has attracted numerous tales, trespassers, and vandals since its abandonment in the late 1980s. Southern Illinois University has owned the building since 1957 and has used it for a variety of purposes.

Geoffrey Ritter wrote an article about the demolition for the Carbondale-based Weekend Times (2-8 November 2013). He interviewed Kevin Bame, SIU’s vice chancellor for administration and finance, who said, “It had been vandalized. The windows had been broken out. It was spray painted. The building really wasn’t structurally sound. We couldn’t keep it locked up.”

Bame also said that the university took precaution not to disturb any of the nearly 100 burials on the property. 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 the Jackson County Poor Farm almshouse. The graves are supposedly located in a grove of trees behind the building. Bruce Cline has independently identified 87 known burials that took place there between 1877 and 1943.

SIU does not seem very interested in memorializing the dead, and plans to simply leave the location as an empty patch of land unless someone comes forward with a restoration plan and the funding to carry it out. “[I] think we would entertain it, but we’re not sure,” Kevin Bame told the Weekend Times. “We’re going to leave it alone.”

Sunset Haven has long been considered haunted. Those who ventured down the long driveway at night for a look inside the notorious building got more than they bargained for. “Rumors about the place get bigger and bigger each year when some brave crowd of teenagers gather up the courage to walk the 2.5 miles all the way down the back drive in absolute darkness,” Courtney Cruse wrote in her high school newspaper, the Terrier Times (October 2005). “The ones who do stay… are almost mesmerized at how many scary artifacts are left in the eerie building.”

The demolition of Sunset Haven is an ignominious end for this allegedly haunted location. Sadly, several such places around Illinois have been demolished or threatened with demolition in recent years, including the former Charles A. Lindbergh School along Shoe Factory Road in late 2007. Earlier this year, there were rumors that the Bowen Building at the former Peoria State Hospital would be sold off “limestone block by limestone block.” Thankfully, that turned out to be an empty threat.

Copyright Black Oak Media, 2013. You do not have permission to copy this post.

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