Camp Beechwood Remains

An abandoned Girl Scout camp deep in the woods is something from a horror movie, and you can experience it yourself in Upstate New York. Though it feels like you’re trespassing through these eerie ruins, they’re actually part of a public park enjoyed by thousands of visitors a year. Beechwood State Park, along the shore of Lake Ontario, is located about 20 miles east of Rochester, New York near the small town of Sodus.

In 1929 the Girl Scouts of America purchased 150-acres between Maxwell Bay and Sill Creek for use as a summer camp. A bluff overlooking Lake Ontario, called Sprong Bluff, was an attractive focal point for gatherings. The camp had an in-ground pool, enclosed dining hall, sleeping cabins, and other amenities. Unfortunately, rising tax rates, declining membership, and environmental factors led to the camp’s closure and sale in 1996.

New York State bought the land but budget cuts forced it to designate the site as a preserve. The buildings were left to rot. In 2010 a partial solution was found when the Town of Sodus took over management and operation of the park. It now has several miles of trails and is popular with hikers and fishermen, and of course the curious who come to see the camp ruins.

There are two parking lots off Lake Road: one leads to a camping and fishing access site adjacent to Salmon (Maxwell) Creek. The other is located about 200 yards west near the ruins of the old caretaker’s house. A former road, now a trail, leads straight back to the Girl Scout camp’s remains.

The camp is remarkably well preserved for having been abandoned and accessible to the public for over two decades. I think the presence of other visitors, often heard but not seen, added to the eeriness of this place. It’s certainly worth a detour if you ever find yourself near Rochester.

Mystery and Madness at Manteno State Hospital

Manteno State Hospital, one of two former mental health facilities in Kankakee County, Illinois, opened its doors in the early 1930s. Since the hospital’s closure, many visitors have come back with strange stories. They claim to have seen apparitions of patients and nurses, and heard voices over long-defunct intercoms. Since Morgan Cottage, the last abandoned building on campus, was demolished in 2015, only these tales remain to satiate the curious.

Like Peoria State Hospital, Manteno State Hospital was originally laid out in a “cottage plan,” which meant the patients were housed in a series of separate buildings, rather than in one single institution. It took several years after the purchase of the property in 1927 for the sprawling mental hospital to be completed. When it first opened, Manteno accommodated 5,500 patients and 760 staff.

It did not take long for tragedy to strike the hospital. In an incident that Time magazine referred to as the “Manteno Madness,” 384 patients and staff came down with typhoid fever (47 died) in 1939. At first, Ralph Hinton, the director of Manteno State, believed the affliction to be nothing more than a common case of diarrhea, but state welfare agents stepped in as the number of ill dramatically increased. Panic gripped the hospital.

“Patients lay moaning in bed,” Time reported. “Others, whipped by mad fear, beat against the screened windows, grappled with attendants… Every night kitchen boys and orderlies disappeared. Over 45 ran away in all.”


Hartford Castle’s Once-Majestic Remains

“Hartford Castle” is the colloquial name for a mansion that formerly stood on a tract of land just outside Hartford, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Its original owner, a French immigrant named Benjamin Biszant, called it Lakeview. He built the imposing home for his bride, an Englishwoman whose name has apparently been lost to history.

Sparing no expense (which was certainly an impressive dollar amount in 1897), Biszant surrounded Lakeview with sprawling gardens, statuary, romantic gazebos, and, finally, a moat to keep out trespassers. According to Louie Haines, a neighbor who recalled helping to dig the moat with his father, the Frenchman stocked it with goldfish that interbred with local crappie, producing what he described as “unusual looking fish.”

Eventually, Biszant’s wife died and, perhaps, the pain was too much for him to remain at Lakeview. He sold the mansion and moved west. Several owners and tenants occupied the mansion until 1923 when a husband and wife from nearby Wood River purchased the property. They lived there until 1964, when the wife became a widow and decided to move to less lonely surroundings.

During that time, according to Bill Matheus of the Lewis & Clark Journal, local residents treated the property as if it were their own. Visitors frequently roamed the grounds and even invited themselves inside the mansion for tours! The mansion deteriorated during the late 1960s, and in 1971 and 1972 vandals ran wild.


Sunset Haven’s Former Residents

Until the mid-1950s, people who could not take care of themselves; orphans, the elderly and infirm, epileptics, and alcoholics, often found themselves on a county farm known as a “poor farm.” A superintendent and his family looked after the residents while they earned their keep by farming the land or performing other useful tasks, if able.

These institutions closed when our modern welfare system came into maturity. The land was sold and the buildings were often turned into psychiatric hospitals or homes for the developmentally disabled. Sometimes poorly managed, and not very profitable, those institutions frequently closed their doors and were taken over by vandals and thrill seekers. Sunset Haven, or “Building 207” as it became known, was one such place.

The Jackson County Poor Farm (its original name) has a somewhat unique history. According to Troy Taylor’s Haunted Illinois (2004), it became known as Sunset Haven during the 1940s before it was converted into a nursing home. It was finally closed in 1957 when Southern Illinois University purchased the property to expand its agricultural program. It then became known as the Museum Research Corporation.

During the 1970s, the research corporation tried to locate all the unmarked graves of the dead that had been buried during Sunset Haven’s years as a poor farm. The graves are supposedly located in a grove of trees behind the building.


The Legend of Devil’s Gate

According to legend, sometime in the distant past a school stood behind the set of iron gates at a sharp bend in River Road, about a mile north of Libertyville, Illinois. One day, a maniac broke into the school and abducted several girls. He killed each one and mounted their severed heads on the spikes of the gate. Every full moon, the heads reappear on the rusted spikes.

The truth behind the mysteries of Devil’s Gate, located near the Independence Grove Forest Preserve in Lake County, Illinois, is elusive. What may or may not have happened there has been lost in the minds of the older generation, who have so far not come forward with the real story.

Like most legends, there are very few facts to back up the story. There is no doubt, however, that an institution once stood on those grounds. According to the Chicago Daily Tribune, construction on what was known as the Katherine Kreigh Budd Memorial Home for Children began in the early spring of 1926.

Britton I. Budd, the president of the Chicago Rapid Transit Company, funded the project. The institution itself was to be run by the Sisters of St. Mary, an Episcopal organization, and was expected to house around 150 children in its first year.


Abandoned Paper Mill in Deferiet, New York

In 1899, the St. Regis Paper Company built 52 homes, a general store, and a hotel on a manmade island in the Black River and called it Deferiet. The St. Regis Paper Company at one time employed hundreds of Italian, Hungarian, and Polish immigrants, and up to 1,500 people lived in Deferiet. Today, Deferiet is home to less than 300 residents. The EPA and the village consider the old mill an environmental hazard.