Ashmore Estates looms large in the minds of many Coles County, Illinois residents, even if they have only heard the stories. It stood abandoned for nearly twenty years, until opening as a haunted attraction in autumn 2006. Since then, it has gone through several owners, been scoured by paranormal investigators, and featured in television programs like Ghost Adventures, Ghost Hunters, and the Booth brothers’ documentary Children of the Grave 2.
The building was originally an almshouse on the Coles County Poor Farm. It was built after the Auxiliary Committee of the State Board of Charities condemned the first almshouse in the 1910s. In January 1915, bids were placed for the construction of a fireproof building on the location.
The contract for the new almshouse was awarded to J.W. Montgomery in March of 1916 for $20,389, and the cornerstone was laid on May 17, 1916. L.F.W. Stuebe was the architect who designed the building.
The modern poor farm operated for over forty years, until attitudes regarding public welfare began to change. Many of them were demolished and the land sold off to private farmers, but others were privatized as care facilities. Coles County sold its almshouse to Ashmore Estates, Inc. in February 1959.
That corporation opened the building as a private psychiatric hospital, but it suffered from financial difficulties from the very beginning. In May of 1979, the Illinois Department of Public Health ordered the building closed after finding twenty-two safety code violations, but it remained open until November after a judge found progress in fixing the problems.
In the early 1980s, the building was used as a home for the mentally and developmentally disabled. The Times-Courier described it as a pleasant and caring environment where residents were happy, had their needs taken care of, and even pursued artistic interests. Ashmore Estates finally closed its doors in 1987. A few years later, Corrections Corporation of America wanted to buy the building for use as a mental health clinic for teenage boys, but the Ashmore Village Board denied them a zoning variance. There was also public resistance to the idea because area residents were concerned about what would happen if some of the boys escaped.
Unclear of the actual owner (a Champaign County resident named Paul Swinford had owned the building, but released the deed to a real estate broker), and facing possible condemnation, Ashmore Estates went up for sale at auction in the summer of 1998 because of delinquent taxes that went back for two years. Arthur Colclasure, a Sullivan resident, bought the building for $12,500 and planned to turn it into his home, but vandalism thwarted his efforts.
In 2006, Scott Kelley purchased Ashmore Estates and opened it as a haunted attraction. For years, local kids had risked arrest to explore the building. Finally they could venture inside and see the things they feared lurking there come to life. After several years in operation, the century-old building was hit by two powerful storms in 2013 and 2015, calling its future into question.
On the night of January 29, 2013, a storm came through and devastated the property. It tore off the roof the Kelleys had installed several years earlier and destroyed several structures on the property. Scott and his family were unharmed, but the losses were staggering. Without power, they relied on friends to communicate their call for help on social media. At a loss, Scott decided to auction the building.
On Friday, April 26, it sold to a four member partnership for $12,700. The purchasing partnership consisted of four individuals from central Illinois, including painter, pigeon racer, and musician Robert Burton, band manager and song writer Ella Richards, electrician and entrepreneur Jerry Fegget, and registered nurse and mother Nancy Meier. The was a small crowd at the auction, but in the end, it came down to just a handful of bidders. The auction was conducted by Bauer Auction Service from Windsor, Illinois.
After buying out their partners, Robert and Ella planned to add events and programs including a graveyard scene to the front yard, more tours, and a monthly haunted attraction every full moon. After several months of cleanup, Ashmore Estates reopened for paranormal investigations in July 2013.
Robbin Terry, proprietor of the R Theater in Auburn, purchased it in 2014 and has heavily invested in its restoration. Unfortunately, on Sunday, June 7, 2015, a second storm tore through eastern Coles County. Ashmore Estates was directly in the storm’s path and sustained heavy damage to its new roof. The damage included a total loss to the portion of the roof over the 1980 addition.
“We have already started the cleanup process and putting together material lists,” Terry said at the time. “We were able to salvage about a third of the roof the original structure last June. The roof on the addition is a total loss. The cost to repair and replace will exceed over $10,000.”
The community rallied around the building and repairs were made. Robbin Terry continues to own and operate Ashmore Estates to the present day, and interest in this historic and haunted location remains high.