Neighbor News
Historic Downstate Farm Under the Gavel

If you pine for the days when Chicago’s biggest exports were poetry and freshly slaughtered hogs; when it was a city run by railroad barons and retail magnates; when America’s future was bright and it’s flag had half as many stars; then a piece of downstate property now on offer might be the thing for you.

The Old Gillett Farm (Courtesy of Fine & Company)

The Old Gillett Farm (Courtesy of Fine & Company)

The Old Gillett Farm in downstate Elkhart, Illinois is going on the auction block, to be sold whole or in pieces.  The property associates itself with such boldface names as Abraham Lincoln, Ernest Hemingway, and Cary Grant.

The rail line through town is being upgraded for high-speed service between Chicago and Saint Louis, so if you have your own private rail car (and really, who doesn’t?), you can use it to pop down in style, the way Marshall Field once did.

The entire estate is 768 acres, and is the highest point between Chicago and Saint Louis. So you could make bank by renting out the barn to a day trading firm to stash a microwave relay in.  The possibilities are endless.

For more information, check the press release below.

CHICAGO — On August 1st, Fine & Company, LLC (, will commence the auction of Old Gillett Farm, Drake Lane, Elkhart, IL, fifteen miles north of Springfield, Illinois, with its 10,000 SF mansion, and additional family home, barns, and other improvements.  Never before offered for sale, this auction represents a unique opportunity to purchase one of the most important historic homes on 786 acres in Illinois.

Michael A. Fine, principal of Fine & Company, said: “Rarely in America, an opportunity to acquire the 785 acre Old Gillett Farm in Elkhart, IL — stately, and historic. Abraham Lincoln was a lifelong friend and the family’s lawyer, Adlai Stevenson wrote some of his presidential campaign speeches on the screened porch, Earnest Hemingway passed through on his way to Florida, Gillett’s daughter married Civil War hero and Governor Oglesby and they built Olgehurst, their mansion next door, Gillett’s grand-daughter married William Drake of the Drake Hotel family from Chicago, Carry Grant played tennis with his wife Betsy Drake, Marshall Field would stop his private train car for mint julips on the lawn and then Gillett would join Field to travel to the Kentucky Derby.  Old Gillett Farm has been treasured by the Gillett family for over seven generations.”

Old Gillett Farm was the vision of John Dean Gillett. The Gillett House is approximately 10,000 sq. ft. and features seven bedrooms, five full baths, a powder room, and its own ornately designed water tower.  Hardwoods, handcrafted pine paneling, finely crafted hardware can be found everywhere and are the sort of details that are rarely found in modern homes.

The property encompasses much of Elkhart Hill, the highest point of land between Chicago and St. Louis and where on a clear day you can see Springfield.  At the base of the hill is the site of the 1819 Kentucky House where Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, and other lawyers of the day stopped on their circuit rounds. It was built on the Edwards Trace, a 100 mile route from Peoria to St. Louis. The only remnant of the trace today is on Elkhart Hill where the wagon tracks can still be seen.  The property features tillable land, pastures, protected mature woodlands, a pond, and amazing unobstructed views.

The property is being offered at auction in its entirety or in ten separate tracts.   For bidders bidding on the tracts containing either Tract A (Gillett House), Tract B (Drake House), or Tracts C & G (two homesites) sealed bid are due on or before 2:00 p.m. CET on August 1st.  The agricultural tracts will be sold in a live auction event at 10:00 a.m. on August 10th.

Michael A. Fine, principal of Fine & Company, said: “Rarely is there an opportunity to buy this kind of history.  In his day, Gillett, a cattleman owned 20,000 acres, he imported Durham cattle from Scotland and developing the Shorthorn breed. He shipped more than 2,000 head of cattle and 1,000 had of hogs to Europe annually.  For many years, the quiet town of Elkhart was the largest shipping point on the Chicago and Alton Railroad to Chicago’s Stockyards.

Lisa Pasquesi, Gillett’s great, great, great grand-daughter said: “The auction focuses the market’s attention on the property, establishes a time-certain date of sale, and a transparent transaction where all interested buyers can bid to purchase either a portion of the property or the entirety under identical terms and conditions.”

We selected Fine & Company based on their successes in marketing the sale of some of the most important homes in Illinois and nationwide.”

Fine added, “Buying this property is buying a piece of American history.  Old Gillett Farm epitomizes luxurious mid-western living of an era gone by and offers privacy and privilege that only a treasured estate with this level of history can provide.  There are a multitude of potential uses for this property including a private family estate, a visionary could develop the property utilizing the historic support buildings as a destination resort and spa or private retreat, wedding venue. There is about 600 acres of tillable farmland as well as wooded conservation land.  The organic acreage adds another benefit.”

Auction Tracts:

TRACT A –    The Gillett House, carriage house, water tower, upper barns with a total of 107 acres atop Elkhart Hill, including 75 acres wooded land.
TRACT B –    The Drake House surrounded by nine acres of lawns and woods.
TRACT C –    A 47.3 acre homesite with pasture and restored prairie.
TRACT D –    12 tillable acres adjacent to homes in town.
TRACT E –    99 tillable acres with the potential for residential development.
TRACT F –     254 tillable acres including caretaker house, barns and cattle pasture.
TRACT G –    39 partially wooded acre homesite including a pond, restored prairie and fields with walking trails.
TRACT H –    144 acres of tillable land
TRACT J –     79 acres of tillable land
TRACT K –    8.7 acres including a farm house, barn, sheds and grain storage.
The property is available for inspection on: June 17, 25, 29 and July 15, 23 by appointment only, with 48 hours notice.

A detailed Bidder’s Information Packet is available for the property. The purchase of the packet is required to bid. Inspection Appointments and Packets may be obtained by calling (312) 278-0600 ext 101.

Location: Drake's Lane, Elkhart, Illinois

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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