Ashmore Estates Investigation

This former almshouse, once part of the Coles County Poor Farm, was built in 1916 and operated until 1959, when it was purchased by Ashmore Estates, Inc. for use as a private psychiatric care facility. Ashmore Estates closed in 1987 and stood abandoned until 2006, when it was opened as a commercial haunted house.

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 38x58 feet and two stories tall, with an attached kitchen. The initial superintendent or "Overseer of the Poor" of the county farm was Oliver D. Hawkins, who immigrated to Coles County from Kentucky in 1841.

Many of the inmates 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. "The heating is by stove and is sufficient", they reported. "There is no regular system of ventilation, but plenty of fresh air is easily obtained. There is no plumbing ... There is no fire protection." 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, however, 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, headed up by John Goodyear, Ivory W. Merritt, Jr., E.N. Carter, W.R. Zimmerman, and William Knollenberg, received bids for the construction of a new "fireproof" building at the location.

The building contract for the new almshouse was first awarded to S.C. Sailor of Oakwood, Illinois, but he backed out of the project in late February 1916. The contract was then 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. Nancy Swinford, the daughter of Leo Roy and Lura Andrews, lived at the home for eight years during the 1940s and 1950s. In a 2009 interview with the Times-Courier, Swinford said: "It certainly did a lot of people a lot of good. They were warm and had good food on the table. And, they loved working and earning their keep. They weren’t moochers ... They mostly grew their own food, did their own butchering, and smoked the meat. They smoked their own bacon and hams in the smoke house; they killed and dressed all their own chickens, and made their own butter."

Coles County retained the farmland around the property, but 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 (no relation to Mary Swinford) and Galen Martinie purchased the institution in July 1976. The two originally envisioned building a brand new, one floor residency to house up to one hundred patients, but the state planning committee refused to approve that plan after considering it for six months. Consequently, 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. On December 12, 1981, Barbara Jean Clark became director of the care facility. "We have the opportunity to be one of the best facilities of our kind in the area", she remarked in their eight page in-house organ, The Ashmore Review.

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.

It would be three years before anyone endeavored to reopen the institution. In 1990, Paul Swinford, in conjunction with a Tennessee company known as Corporation of Corrections America, attempted to turn Ashmore Estates into a mental health facility for teenage boys. On the night of December 18, the Ashmore Village Board rejected Swinford's request for a zoning permit five to zero, effectively dooming the project over concerns related to fire safety, as well as consideration for public opposition. On Halloween night in 1995, a fire destroyed an outbuilding that sat across the lawn from the front entrance of the main building, where the poor farm superintendent's house once stood. The outbuilding had been used to teach motor skills to the developmentally disabled prior to the facility's closure in 1987.

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. According to Scott: "The building was a wreck ... it took seven weeks of forty hours a week to clean it out ... the windows were mostly broken." 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 called a "Night of Insanity", featuring speakers, movies, and guests such as psychic medium Cari Stone from The Cari Stone Show.

 In January 2013, Ashmore 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. Director Dan Ensign of the Coles County Emergency Management Agency said that the building appeared to be damaged beyond repair. The Kelley's home, adjacent to the property, escaped largely unscathed. Scott Kelley sold the building at auction in April of 2013 for a price of $12,700. The new owners quickly announced plans to repair the roof and add a concession stand, lobby, and bathrooms

Located at:  22645 E. County Road 1050 N, Ashmore, IL 61912

Telephone: 217-512-9499


Hauntings: In 2004, Michael Kleen included Ashmore Estates in a collection of short historical fiction stories set in Coles County called Tales of Coles County, Illinois. The story involved a man named Darby and his daughter who stayed at the poor farm during the Great Depression. Darby was tormented by the ghost of a girl named Elva Skinner, who died in a fire in the original almshouse. Since publication, several people have claimed that the ghost of Elva actually haunts the building.

There have been reports of shadowy figures, numerous EVPs, people being pushed and shoved in stairwells, reports of a ghost of little girl named Margaret and something more dark and sinister in the boiler room.






The GRS investigated Ashmore Estates on September 6, 2013 and the team included: Dale Kaczmarek with help from Becky Guymon and Scotty Rorek.








Equipment setup: No equipment was set up in the building but I used only hand-held equipment such as a Melmeter 8704-REM, IR camcorder, thermal flashlight, Ovilus X, Ghost Box, Tri-Field Natural EM Meter and digital recorder.

Experiments performed: EVP, Ghost Box and Ovilus X sessions were performed in the basement, Margaret’s Room and hallway.

Personal experiences: I felt nothing out of the ordinary anywhere but in the basement which was a little more heavy that elsewhere in the building. Bats were flying throughout the first floor.

Evidence collected:

Get out.MPG while conducting a Ghost Box session in the basement, the Ghost Box clearly says, “Get out!”

Margaret ashmore.MPG while conducting an EVP in an upstairs room, a question was asked, “Whose room was this?” A female whispery voice says, “Margaret.”

Trouble I did.MPG while conducting a Ghost Box session in the basement, the Ghost Box suddenly says, “Trouble.” Scotty asks, “Did it say trouble?” The Ghost Box responds with, “I did.”

Whisper ashmore.MPG while walking through with a hand-held IR camcorder, a whispery voice can be heard in the background. Not 100% sure that this isn’t a person in the background though.


Ashmore Estates was a fascinating place to investigate however I don’t believe it is as haunted as many say it is due to the few EVPs and even psychic feelings picked up by Rorek during the walk through. This may have been another asylum with a sinister past and lots of abuse, but it just wasn’t evident during my investigation of the building. I didn’t feel threatened and it may be that the spirits are finally beginning to move on from this place. While Rorek did pick up some sensations and actual spirits, there probably should have been many more within the confines of this structure. 

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