OverviewFamily HistoryMain HouseAccommodationsSt. John the Baptist ChapelEventsToursElkhart Grove Forest PreserveOld Kentucky House TavernAttractionsPhoto GalleryContact UsOld Gillett Farm - Elkart, Illinois

The Kickapoo Indians were the first to live in this area. "The Kickapoo Chief's daughter, White Blossom, had two lovers. One, a warrior from the Shawnee tribe from Ohio and the other a warrior of her own tribe, the Illini. During one of their annual hunting trips, they insisted White Blossom declare which one would become her husband. An elk passed by and White Blossom said, "the one who can pierce the heart of the elk will be my husband." the Illini arrow pierced the heart of the elk. They were married and took the elks heart as their family badge. Thus the name Elkhart (AKA Elkheart) has stayed with the hill."

The first settler was James Latham. In 1824 he was appointed by President John Quincy Adams to the position of Indian Agent at Fort Clark (now Peoria). He moved the family there and in two years took ill and died. They brought him back to the hill and buried him in Latham Cemetery (not far from where his first cabin was built) which has the distinction of being the oldest cemetery in Logan County.

John Dean Gillett moved into this area, buying a lot of land, becoming very prosperous and a very prominent figure in the area.

For many years in the late 1800's the town of Elkhart was one of the largest shipping points on the C&A (Chicago & Alton) Railroad, due to the large stock raising farms of John Dean Gillett. Noted for importing Durham cattle from Scotland and developing the Shorthorn cattle breed, Gillett shipped over 2,000 head of cattle and 1,000 head of hogs to Europe annually. The London Gazette dubbed him The Cattle King of the World. Gillett and his grandson Hiram Keays won numerous awards at the Chicago livestock show.

Together with his friend, Abraham Lincoln, Gillett laid out the town of Lincoln, Illinois . Both men courted Lemira Parke who later became Gillett's wife. They built their house on Elkhart Hill in 1870. In 1871 the home was destroyed by fire and rebuilt by 1873. Here they raised eight children. The Gilletts traveled extensively in Europe and their daughter Nina lived for over 20 years in Paris. One of their grand daughters, Felicite Oglesby, married Count Alessandro Cenci from Rome . The couple divided their time between Elkhart and a home in Venice, Italy. Many of their Parisian and Venetian pieces are now located in the Big House at the farm.

The Gillett's youngest daughter, Charlotte married Dr. William Barnes. Dr. Barnes amassed the largest collection of butterflies and moths in North America . This remarkable collection is on display at the Smithsonian Museum .

Richard J. Oglesby, 3 term governor of Illinois and a close friend of Abraham Lincoln, married the Gillett's oldest daughter, Emma. They built their home across the hill from the Gillett house. Known as Oglehurst, the 46 room mansion had a pipe organ in the Great Hall, a fourth floor school room where the children were tutored and a music room with a musical score detailed in the gesso work around the ceiling. The Oglesby's are buried in a tomb on Elkhart Hill.

After John Dean Gillett's death, his grandson Hiram Keay's continued raising cattle and expanded the agricultural operations. He and his wife Lucy added a 22 room addition to the original farm house. German wood carvers and stone masons began work in 1906, using walnut from timber on the farm for the interior paneling and staircase. A stone water tower was constructed at the some time. By 1908, the Big House as it exists today was completed. Hiram Keays was known for his dedication to land stewardship, promotion of educational opportunities and commitment to family. Property from the farm was donated to the town of Elkhart for the grade school and he paid college tuitions for his tenant farmers children. Extensive orchards and gardens were planted. The working farm raised all its own produce as well as dairy cattle, chickens, hogs and beef cattle.

Hiram's oldest daughter, Elizabeth, married William Drake of the Drake Hotel family in Chicago. Elizabeth and William lived at the Drake Hotel for several years until the family lost the hotel during the Great Depression. Returning to the farm, the couple raised two children. Elizabeth was an avid collector of antiques and worked as an interior decorator for friends and family. Her creative touch is evident in both the lovely interior of the Big House and its terraced courtyard gardens.

The Drakes daughter, Susan, married Gordon Bent and raised two children in Lake Forest, Illinois. Summers and holidays were enjoyed at the farm.

The Bent family is well known in the western states for the two brothers William and Charles Bent. The brothers built Bent's Fort in Colorado , which was used as a supply post for pioneers. Sympathetic to the plight of the American Indians, the brothers worked with the government to establish Indian rights. One of the brothers married an Indian woman; the other went on to become the first governor of the Territory of New Mexico. Both Bents' Fort and the governor's house in Taos, New Mexico are popular tourist sites.

Another relative was Arthur Cleveland Bent, one of the great ornithologists of America . He was president of the American Ornithologists Union, the recipient of its William Brewster Award and an Associate in Ornithology at Harvard. He held the Asher Chair of Biology at the Smithsonian Institute. In 1910 be began work on his Volumes of Life Histories of North American Birds. These books are still considered by bird-lovers to be the most thorough authority available.

Susan and Gordon Bent's two daughters, Elizabeth and Catherine own and operate the family farms today. Historic preservation, environmental protection and continuing the legacy of Old Gillett Farm are commitments they share with their children as they pass on the responsibility to the seventh generation.

  • Edward's Trace
  • The Kentucky House
  • Durham Cattle from Scotland
  • Shorthorn Development
  • Chicago & Alton C&A Railroad
  • Dr. Barnes, Largest Collection, Butterflies & Moths in North America
  • German Wood Carver & Stone Masons
  • Oglehurst, Elkhart
  • Drake Hotel Family, Chicago
  • Culver Stone & Marble Company, Springfield
  • Bent's Fort, Colorado
  • Governor of Illinois , Oglesby
  • Governor of New Mexico , Bent
  • American Ornithologists Union
  • William Brewster Award
  • Asher Chair of Biology, Smithsonian
  • Associate in Ornithology, Harvard
  • Life Histories of North American Birds
  • Sangamo Archaeological Center
  • Under The Prairie Archaeological Museum
  • Elkhart Grove Forest Preserve, Elkhart
  • Walking Trails

Cattle King of the World - J.D Gillett - Click for Larger View

Pen & Ink Drawing of Main House by Ranson - Click for a Larger View
Lithograph of Elkhart Hill - Click for Larger View

Nina Gillett in England - Click for Larger View

Water Tower - Click for a Larger View

Drake - Keays Wedding - - Click for a Larger View

Susan Bent Drake and Daughters - - Click for a Larger View

John Park Gillett - Click for a Larger View

Mrs. John B. Drake - Click for a Larger View