A once-thriving resort community, Vishnu Springs has captured the imagination of Illinoisans as much in its afterlife as it did in its heyday. What remains of its three-story hotel, once majestic and full of exuberance, has become a haven for students from Western Illinois University looking for a thrill. Some of these unwanted visitors have returned with stories of harrowing encounters with the unknown (as well as with law enforcement, who routinely patrol the grounds). Many are unaware of the location’s rich history.
In the 1860s and ‘70s, a farmer named Ebenezer Hicks began to notice the unusual taste and mineral quality of an artesian well flowing in a forest on his land north of the town of Colchester in McDonough County. Attracted to the natural spring’s healing properties, a Doctor named J.W. Aiken attempted to sell the water as a cure-all to local coal miners, but made a negligible profit. After the landowner passed away, his son, an entrepreneur named Darius Hicks, inherited the land and built a hotel he called the Capital Hotel, which opened in 1890.
Others soon arrived to live and work there, but the isolated nature of the resort impeded its growth. Darius named the place “Vishnu Springs” after the Hindu god Vishnu, who is said to support and sustain the universe. At its height, the resort contained a few dozen houses, a carousel, a pond, sports fields, and even a small race track. 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 Vishnu Springs into a commune. Today, all that remains is the old hotel. 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.
According to Troy Taylor, Vishnu Springs is home to a number of restless ghosts. It is rumored that Darius’ wife, Maud, died in childbirth in one of the rooms of the Capital Hotel, an event that left an “impression” behind. Aside from the woman in black who wanders the grounds and vanishes when approached, in Haunted Illinois (2004) Taylor claimed “Visitors also told of sounds from Vishnu’s past, echoing into the present.” These sounds are remnants of earlier, happier days.
Since the late 1890s, visitors, including a former state senator, have written their names into the wooden walls of the Capital Hotel.
While the site has become a perennial subject for the Western Courier, preservationists have so far prevented the hotel from being demolished. Donations have been raised, and not even threats of arrest and fines have not abated the public interest in this fascinating place.
Legends and Lore of Illinois Vol. 4 Digital Edition
Order all 11 issues of the Legends and Lore of Illinois from 2010 in a special digital edition for your favorite e-readers. Places covered in Vol. 4 include Western Illinois University’s Simpkins Hall, the Seventh Avenue Dead End, Willow Creek Farm, Vishnu Springs, the Cambridge Death Curve, Crybaby Bridge, Archer Avenue, Rockford College, and more. Plus, read letters from our readers, the latest adventures of The Fallen, skeptic’s corner, and put your knowledge of these locations to the test with challenging trivia questions. Don’t miss these classic issues from the archives of the Legends and Lore of Illinois.