Sunday, September 25, 2016

A trip to a haunted Cemetery

Between Sublette and Amboy lies the St. Michael's cemetery. Also known as Sandy Hill, this cemetery was established in 1840 and sits in a quiet patch of ground surrounded by farmland and windmills. There's a nice little chapel on site, a score or more of unusual and unique headstones and, supposedly, it's very own resident spirit.

While on a photo excursion recently in the company of Kimberly Watley we were told of an experience a local gentleman had there. He and some friends had gone to the place and in the course of the evening the wind suddenly picked up out of nowhere, and the man's hat kept getting plucked off his head.

The culprit in this case was supposedly the restless spirit of Margaret McGowan. People say that if you stand near her marker you'll hear strange whistling sounds, and odd things happen. Nothing huge or noticeable, just minor trivial things.  Now the day we were there the wind Was blowing but not overly so, and we made several comments, jokes really, about the 'ghost' and how she should put in an appearance.

I examined my photo's afterwards but found no ghostly images, no mysterious orbs of light, no lens flares or unexplained shadows. So maybe it just IS a legend after all. But that night at home I discovered not one but Two of my camera body caps were gone. Lost accidently? Or...... I'll let you decide.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Little House(s) on the Prairie

Just outside Franklin Grove is a recreated pioneer settlement called Chaplin Creek. When we stopped at the Lincoln Highway headquarters the staff there kindly reccomended it to us as a place we'd want to visit.  It was very easy to find and has several buildings, all authentic mid nineteenth century structures that had been saved from various locations and moved to this site.  An interesting side note is the name 'Chaplin' was a small settlement located just north of this village.

There are several historically significant buildings here including:

A replica log cabin that was built on site with local timber and constructed using early 19th century tools and methods. it's an authentic recreation of what a typical prairie cabin would have looked like.

Hedgerow Forge is an early 20th century blacksmith shop that was built originally in Ashton IL. by brothers Charles and Frank Howard. When it was donated to the project it was carefully disassembled and reconstructed by volunteers making it the first building to be placed here. During the Summer Harvest festival, it is open and working.

The Scott barn was built in 1855 in rural Kane county and is a 3 bay structure used for milking cows, stalls for horses and room for hay and other supplies. In 1999 a historically correct stone foundation was laid, the barn taken apart and reassembled on site.

The Sullivan-Lindsay house is a saltbox design and one of the few saltbox houses remaining in the entire state. It was moved from it's original location in Rochelle in 1989 in three sections and reassembled on site.

The Chaplin Creek village jail is a recreation of what a typical mid 1800's jail would have looked like. While this is not the original jail, the original jail Cells from the Franklin Grove jailhouse are inside, a double cage affair of Iron.

The Yorty schoolhouse was relocated to the village in October of 1990 and has the distinction of being the last remaining country school in Ogle county. Originally built in 1893 it also has the distinction of not having been moved once but Twice. When the Lincoln Highway was built in 1919-1920 the school was too close to the road in it's original location and was moved across the road.

If you ever needed a reason to visit Franklin Grove now you have not one but Two destinations to see. The buildings are only open during festival season and special events thruout the year but the  village is open year round to drive thru and take pictures. I highly recommend a visit soon!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Driving along the Lincoln Highway

In the early 1900's a need for a nation wide highway was plain to those in the burgeoning automotive industry and Carl Fisher, who manufactured the carbide gas headlights in most auto's of the period as well as being one of the founders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, organized a meeting in 1911 at which he proposed building a transcontinental highway declaring "Let's build it before we're too old to enjoy it!".  Projected to cost a handsome sum of 10 million dollars (250 million in today's money) within a month he had one million raised from his friends. Other contributors included Thomas Edison, Theodore Roosevelt and the then current president Woodrow Wilson. Interestingly Henry Ford refused to contribute, believing the federal government should foot the bill rather than private donors.

Construction began in 1912 and by 1916 the highway was built and available for travel. According to a road guide at the time the trip would take 20-30 days and a motorist would need to average 18 miles per hour for 6 hours. Driving was only done during daylight hours and drivers were advised to bring: a shovel, an ax, jacks,chains, tire casings and tubes, tools and of course a pair of Lincoln Highway pennants. The guide also mentioned topping fuel at every opportunity as gas stations were few along the route in the early days. And finally "Don't wear new shoes".

There were few hotels unless you passed by a town and there's many a story about sleeping beside your car (Or under it in case of rain)  with only the evening stars as company. The highway's heyday was from the late 1910's thru the early 1950's with president Dwight Eisenhower signing legislation creating the National Interstate system in 1956. After the interstates were built, many directly over the Lincoln roadbeds, the rest of the highway fell into disuse and was largely forgotten.

In Franklin Grove stands the National headquarter for the Lincoln Highway association. Formed in 1992 to identify and preserve the portions of the highway that still existed along with historic sites and monuments that had been built during the highways lifetime. The headquarters is located in a building that had been owned by Harry Isaac Lincoln, a cousin of Abraham.  It's a massive stone block building right in the center of town and of course, along the highway's route.

If you ever get up that way the staff inside are friendly and knowledgeable and eager to talk. Souvenirs of all kinds are available as well as display cases filled with memorabilia from the glory days. It's a short drive on what once was America's very first highway.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Lee county Infirmary

Earlier this year I posted an article about the Green River Ordnance plant. At the time I posted several photo's of what I had identified as an 'Administration' building for the plant. I have since found out I was wrong. It was in fact, the Lee county Infirmary.  The Infirmary, also known as the Lee county Poor farm, was built in the early 1900's and constructed in Three parts. It replaced an earlier structure that had been wood frame. The East wing was strictly for male patients, the West wing was for the females and the Central hub had the superintendents quarters and offices.

Morrison Vail of Dixon was awarded the contract to build the facility at a final cost of $55,800.00, a handsome sum at the time. The building ended up being 162 feet long and 104 feet deep with what were then state of the art facilities. In addition to private quarters for the superintendent there was space provided for doctors offices,an operating theater located behind the doctors office and a private dining room for staff.

The residents each had their own dining rooms, keeping men and women completely separated and two rooms in each wing were reserved fro patients judged to be insane. Four rooms were double sized and meant for couple, married individuals or to be used as sitting rooms if so desired. In addition to a complete kitchen to serve the facility there was a bakery and an outside 'Icing' chamber.

The East wing had a Tuberculosis ward with its own bathroom and screened in sun porch isolated from the rest of the building.  The total occupancy of the building was set at 45 men and women in addition to staff, doctors, nurses, attendants, etc.

Like all institutions such as this people occasionally died.  Since this was an almshouse or poor house, often the deceased had no family to claim the body for burial. A small cemetery was located near the building to inter those who went unclaimed.

Today the building stands empty and forlorn. The other shell still looks good, but the interior is ruined. Windows are broken out, doors are missing, the barn beside the almshouse has fallen in. An effort was made back in 2005 by the Roberts family to restore and preserve the cemetery and the headstones that are visible today are only so due to their efforts. Though there are 102 people interred there we only found a few that were legible.

The stones we were able to identify are:

Charles Rudolph- D. Sept. 24th,1898
Lewis Alexander-D. Feb 22nd,1898
John McNeal-D. Jan 19th,1898
Casper Ott-D. Sept.15th,1895

This is an interesting chapter of Lee county history and if you ever get up that way be sure to stop for a moment and reflect on how much things have improved since then. Note: The property is in disrepair and there are No Trespassing signs posted. Stay on the public road.