Historical society tours Logan County founder’s home on Elkhart Hill

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[September 21, 2018] 

Elkhart Hill is a historic destination for several reasons. The Hill itself is a relic of the ice ages, and many of the well known founders of Illinois and Logan County built their homes on it. The Logan County Genealogical and Historical Society did a road trip to Elkhart Hill for their monthly meeting Monday evening to visit one of the spectacular historic homes.

Bob and Lynne Neal welcomed their visitors to the historic home that was first built in 1837, and has been their residence for the past decade.

The home was built by John Latham as a simple wood home. After living there for several years, it was then acquired in 1851 by John Dean Gillett who named it Crohurst. The home changed shape over the years, being enlarged by Mr. Gillett and then his youngest daughter Jessie Gillett. The last owner before the Bob and Lynne acquired it was John Gehlbach.

“We had just spent several years restoring and living in the Scully mansion northwest of Lincoln. We had not thought about a new project, but when John called and offered it to us, I guess we were ready for a new adventure in home restoration,” said Bob Neal. “The home had sat empty for two years and was falling apart,” said Bob. He and Lynne just could not stand by and let it fall down.

This house, and many others on Elkhart Hill, were homes to several of the renowned founders of Illinois and Logan County. Some of them were personal friends of Abraham Lincoln. Many of the residents of the Hill were related to one another, so it seemed more like a neighborhood. It also raised some competition among residents for the showiest additions to each house.

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At one time, there was an interurban station at the entrance to the long drive to the house. The electric trains were used by the residents to travel to Springfield and Peoria.

“I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I just like being here with the woods, flowers and wildlife. The sunsets are always spectacular, and I feel fortunate living here” said Lynne Neal. The Neal’s kept in mind an early 20th century vibe for the house of when Jessie Gillett owned it. The yellow stucco and old kitchen appliances enhance the feeling.

When asked about his bent for restoration of historic homes, Bob Neal paused a moment, and then said that he had grown up in a large older home. “They have always appealed to me. I especially like the history of the homes we have restored,” he said.

The Logan County Genealogical and Historical Society meet the third Monday of each month at the research facility at 114 North Chicago Street in Lincoln at 6:30 p.m. They always have an interesting speaker and the public is invited to attend.

[Curtis Fox]

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