Engulfed by encroaching vines, trees and brush from the nearby woods, the Sweetin Mansion feels as if it’s hiding a dark secret from the world. Built in 1848 by English immigrant Azariah Sweetin, the house is a shadow of its former glory. The ruin sits in a remote part of the countryside in western Illinois. The crumbed limestone walls and broken timbers slowly destroyed by time only hint at its dark past.
Also known as Hartwell Ranch House and “the old stone house,” the manor was constructed with three floors, walnut woodwork, a grand ballroom, three foot thick walls, and the unsual feature of a natural stream running through the basement for a water supply and to keep the house cool. For some strange reason the Sweetin family didn’t move into the house until fourteen years after construction began.
History has it that on July 4th, 1862, a party was held for two farmhands Henson and Isham who had recently enlisted in the Union army. The two began to quarrel. During the argument Isham thought Henson was going to throw something at him so he pulled out a knife and stabbed Henson in the back. As Henson lay bleeding to death in front of the third floor fireplace, a large stain of blood seeped into the stone floor forming a shape of his body. Many years after the event the blood stain could never be removed. The ghost of the young Henson would often be seen in this area when the house was still intact.
With the country in the middle of the Civil War in the 1860’s many farmers suffered financial hardship but Sweetin prospered during this time trading cattle. Sweetin had a distrust of banks so he began stashing jars of gold coins throughout the property. After a horse riding accident in 1871 Sweetin’s mind was so damaged from being thrown from the horse, he couldn’t remember where he buried his tresaure; his ghost is said to be still searching for it.
Family members had tried in vain to find the gold but where unsuccessful. Treasure hunters have also tried searching, but turned up nothing. There is another legend that two Sweetin farmhands had found the gold and disappeared shortly after Azariah Sweetin had died.
On our journey to this location in June of 2011 the air was hot and muggy when we found the ruin off the main road. We almost drove past the mansion because the vines and trees had hidden much of the outer walls. With a change of clothes we walked through chest-high grass to reach the ruin. (I worried that we could encounter poisonous snakes hiding in the grass.) Large pieces of the wall had fallen and the overgrown trees had made entering the heart of the structure very difficult and precarious. We felt like explorers entering an ancient castle. Inside the structure we saw the stream that still flows through the basement. Large pieces of the wall had disrupted the naturall flow, causing a large pool to form at the inside base of the structure. The large wooden beams that once held the second floor were still set inside their footings. The site was incredible to see but difficult to photograph, with much of the outside structure covered over and mature trees growing on the inside. These obstacles made photographing an exterior and interior overview shot impossible. I was able to obtain only portions of the overall impression this old house ruin made.
We left the Sweetin Mansion very satisfied. The house was well worth the long trip. We can see how legends of haunted ruins have captivated people for years. The sad feeling of a once grand home now destitute makes one wonder what happened to allow its owners to let such a property fade away…