From 1857 until 1869, the Coles County Poor Farm was located in Charleston Township near the small town of Loxa, Illinois. In 1870, the county purchased 260 acres from A. N. Graham in Section 35 of Ashmore Township for a new farm, which sat astride the Indianapolis & St. Louis Railroad. This small timber and brick building, constructed by H. B. Truman, was the first to sit on that property. It was 38×58 feet and two stories tall, with an attached kitchen.
Many residents, or “inmates” as they were called, died at the farm, and the county maintained a small cemetery somewhere north of the grounds. In 1879, Joshua Ricketts, superintendent of the county farm at the time, had recorded 32 deaths out of the roughly 250 inmates who had stayed at the farm between 1870 and 1879. Another pauper cemetery, established a few years later, still exists south of Route 16 and now contains the graves of between sixty to one hundred persons.
The Board of State Commissioners of Public Charities visited the poor farm in 1902. As for the condition of the mentally ill at the farm, they wrote: “There is no special provision for the insane … None are locked up or in restraint.” By 1911, the Auxiliary Committee of the State Board of Charities condemned the almshouse for its “vermin infected walls,” “rough floors,” “small windows,” and improper ventilation. It was reported that “flies swarmed everywhere” and “were especially noticeable on the poor food prepared for dinner.” In January 1915, the Almshouse Committee received bids for the construction of a new “fireproof” building at the location.
The building contract for the new almshouse was granted to J.W. Montgomery in March for $20,389, and the cornerstone was ceremoniously laid on May 17, 1916. A full time caretaker and his family took turns living in the almshouse and a white farmhouse that formerly sat on the property.
Coles County sold the almshouse to Ashmore Estates, Inc. in February 1959. That corporation opened the building as a private psychiatric hospital by the same name. In October 1964, after only five years in operation, the psychiatric hospital closed down because of debt. The institution reopened in 1965, but changed its focus from a private facility to one that accepted patients from state mental institutions. By 1968, the shelter care facility housed forty-nine residents, including ten afflicted with epilepsy.
Paul Swinford and Galen Martinie purchased the institution in July 1976. Swinford and Martinie invested over $200,000 in the construction of a modern addition onto the old building. Construction began in 1977, but was not finished until the 1980s. Once the addition to Ashmore Estates had been completed and the rest of the building was brought up to code, the institution’s future appeared brighter.
In February 1986, Paul Swinford entered into a limited partnership with a Peoria-based company known as Convalescent Management Associates, Inc. to help manage the institution’s finances. The departments of Public Aid and Public Health dragged their feet over the issuance of proper licenses and certificates for nearly a year, leading Swinford to file for permission from the Illinois Health Facility Planning Board to close the facility. At that time, Ashmore Estates’ financial losses exceeded $1.5 million. By the end of April, all of the residents had been transferred to area homes, and Ashmore Estates closed its doors.
1987 to the present
In 1998, a resident of Sullivan named Arthur Colclasure paid $12,500 for the property and announced that he planned to renovate the building and turn it into his home. However, continuous vandalism prevented him from ever realizing his plans.
In August 2006, Scott Kelley purchased Ashmore Estates from Arthur Colclasure and began renovating. To finance the project, the Kelleys offered flashlight tours of the interior. To discourage trespassers, they erected signs and moved onto the property. Their haunted house opened on October 13, 2006. In the off-season, Scott offered overnight stays in the building.
In January 2013, Ashmore Estates was hit by a fierce storm, with wind speeds reaching 80 to 100 mph. Ashmore Estates suffered heavy damage; its roof was blown off and the support gables were destroyed. Shortly thereafter, new owners took over the property and made plans to restore the building to its former glory.