Mostly forgotten today, the Great Salt Springs (or Illinois Salines) deep in the woods of Gallatin County were once the center of a thriving industry. Looking at the large, wood-lined wells, it’s hard to imagine American Indians once fought and slavery was justified over these murky pools.
Indigenous people first settled this area in the Woodland Period (1000 BC – 1000 AD). They used salt from the springs to preserve and flavor food and trade with other settlements. To extract the salt, they wove reed baskets, lined them with clay, and allowed them to dry before burning. Then they filled the jugs with saline water and allowed it to evaporate, leaving behind a layer of salt. The intricate weaving also left behind a crosshatch pattern on the jugs. Today, thousands of broken pieces of this pottery are scattered around the site.
The French, arriving in 1735, were the first Europeans to claim the site, but lost it in the French and Indian War. In 1802, the Shawnee fought the Kaskaskia tribe in the Great Salt War, soundly defeating them and gaining control of the springs. A year later, Gov. William Henry Harrison signed a treaty with several American Indian tribes, promising to give them 150 bushels of salt a year. In return, the Indians virtually abandoned Southern Illinois.
In case you missed it. In this recent interview, I discuss my new book, Witchcraft in Illinois, with Michael Koolidge on Friday, October 6, 2017. The Michael Koolidge Show is the only statewide-syndicated radio show in Illinois and is one of the few independently syndicated shows of its kind in the nation.
My article, “From Poor House to Haunted House: The Coles County Poor Farm,” was recently featured in the August 2011 issue of Historic Illinois, a publication of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. It is a shortened version of a paper I read at the 2010 Conference on Illinois History in Springfield, and it chronicles the history of the poor farm from 1870 to the present day. To download and read the article in .pdf, click on the cover image or click this link (pdf will open in new browser window).
Although Ashmore Estates gained notoriety during the time it was a psychiatric facility and later abandoned, for most of its history it was known as the almshouse on the Coles County Poor Farm. The Coles County Poor Farm sat on the same property outside of Ashmore, Illinois for 89 years, between 1870 and 1959. The current building, as it stands today, was built in 1916. At any given time, the building was home to between 30 and 40 “inmates,” many of whom, because of the age at which they came to the farm, died there. It is estimated that over 100 inmates died on the farm in its 89 year history. On September 23rd, Ashmore Estates will be featured on the season premier of Ghost Adventures, the Travel Channel’s top-rated program.