Vishnu Springs - Macomb, Illinois
This location was investigated and documented by Heidi.
It's easy to understand why not many people know about Vishnu Springs, and why it is largely forgotten to time; in fact, many people that live near the area it's located don't even know it's there. Located in McDonough County, near the tiny little town of Tennessee, Illinois, this literal ghost town in a secluded valley is only accessible by a back country road that ends abruptly into a worn pathway through the forest, and it requires over a mile of walking to reach. Without a man named Darius Hicks, the legend of Vishnu Springs would have never come to fruition; born on May 5th in 1850, Darius was one of three children from a wealthy and successful family. When in his thirties, he inherited from his father a parcel of land upon which was located a natural spring. The early pioneers of history often believed that natural spring water could cure all sorts of ailments, as medicine in that day was scarce, and it wasn't long before Darius decided to try to cash in on the magical properties of the strange tasting waters found in the quiet, shady valley.
Naming the place Vishnu, Darius undertook his dream to build a thriving town and health resort. The jewel of his efforts can still be seen today, although it no longer shines as it did in its former glory…the Capitol Hotel. The first structure to be built, the Capitol Hotel towered to a height of three stories and boasted such amenities as running water and an elevator to the third floor ball room. There was also a horse-drawn carousel upon the hotel grounds, a croquet court, a large pond with goldfish, and many other delights that travelers who sought the spring's healing powers could entertain themselves with.
Although the town was growing, and had two stores, a restaurant, a livery stable and blacksmith shop, and even a photo gallery, the harsh Midwestern winters and lack of railroad connection kept the little hamlet from ever becoming anything more than a seasonal resort. There were never more than about thirty homes in the area, and an impending scandal and tragedy would be the final blow that would begin Vishnu Springs' descent into downfall.
The trouble began in 1897 when Darius married wife number three…his stepdaughter, Maud Rush, who was twenty-six years his junior. Her mother, Hattie, had died just the year before from illnesses that had been plaguing her, and while not incestuous, Darius and Maud's marriage was seen as taboo and highly improper. Because of this, Darius was shunned by several members of his community. Things only worsened, and in 1903, Maud gave birth to their third child, a daughter…but sadly, both she and the baby died during the delivery.
The final blow was a gruesome accident involving the horse-drawn carousel, also in 1903. One summer day, it was filled with children as usual, carefully watched over by its operator who supervised their play and made sure that the horse that turned the gears continued to walk. Somehow, the operator's shirt sleeve became tangled in the gears of the carousel and he was pulled into them and crushed to death in front of the children. That was the last day the carousel ever ran.
These double tragedies, paired with the already existing scandal of Darius's love life, caused the man who had loved this place to take his children and turn his back on the town he had struggled so hard to build. But the final nail in the coffin for Vishnu Springs came with the most horrible tragedy of all…the suicide of Darius Hicks.
Darius hired a housekeeper named Nellie Darrah after leaving Vishnu Springs to care for his two young children; ever a lover of women, Darius soon became romantically involved with her, and in 1908 Nellie became pregnant. She demanded that he marry her, as was thought proper in that time, and he refused. With scandal and uncertainty ahead of her, Nellie sought out an abortion, which at that time was extremely dangerous, and she had to be hospitalized as it very nearly killed her. Hurt and jaded, Nellie contacted Hicks from the hospital and threatened to publicize their entire affair. Darius had only silence for her, and could handle no more scandal or tragedy. He wrote a letter explaining his side of the story, and removed his .22 caliber rifle from his closet. At only fifty eight years of age, he shot himself in the head and ended his life, and with it, the hopes and dreams of Vishnu Springs.
The hotel and the town, now without guidance, attracted gamblers, thieves, and criminals. Eventually, the property was sold and left to decay. By the 1920's, Vishnu was nothing more than a legend-haunted ghost town, abandoned and nearly forgotten in the secluded valley. Vandals stole valuable hotel furnishings and broke out the windows of the buildings and the old hotel and tore apart what they could to use for scrap.
In 1935, a restoration effort was started by Ira Post. He purchased the hotel and 220 acres around it, and attempted to restore the building. But Vishnu would never be a community again; while Ira and his family put their love and time into the magical little hamlet, he died in 1951 and the grounds soon became overgrown and unkempt once again. An effort was made in 1989 by the McDonough County Historical Preservation Society to partner with the Audubon Society to revive Vishnu Springs, but this effort too was doomed and never came to fruition. It was as if the town had truly died with Darius on that fateful day in 1908.
In 2003, the Western Illinois University Foundation was gifted 140 acres of land in McDonough County, which included Vishnu Springs, by Ira Post's granddaughter. It is now a Wildlife Sanctuary, and is left to return to the wilderness from which it was so painstakingly carved from.
Nowadays, all that remains of this once beautiful town is the Capitol Hotel and a few hidden remains of collapsed buildings; a tall silo near the sad remains of the koi pond, and remnants of gardens and landscaping. A few souvenirs of the past lay about, mostly hidden in the overgrowth, and the magical spring still trickles into the pond. And of course, there are rumors of one other remnant of the past that still lingers here…the spirits of those who lived at, loved, and lost Vishnu Springs.
Some of the stories I've heard about this abandoned ghost town reclaimed by the forest include feelings of being watched, the faint sound of a blacksmith's hammer coming from next to the hotel where the stables and smithy once stood, and of a woman dressed in dark clothing from the late 1800's wandering about. Whether they are true or not, I cannot say, but I can say that when you step into Vishnu Springs, you step back into a forgotten time.
After following the remains of a dirt road deep into two miles of thick Midwestern woods and climbing over fallen trees, large boulders, and a dried-up streambed, I had glanced up from navigating the uneven surface of the path beneath my feet to get my bearings during my search for Vishnu. I stared for a moment, my mind taking a second to comprehend what popped up right in front of me from its shroud of trees, and then gaped in awe. Looming out of the forest is the only completely intact remainder of Vishnu Springs - the Capitol Hotel.
At first sight, it looks much like an old house, just beginning to decay from neglect and exposure. It's been very, very badly vandalized, and trash of all sorts litters the overgrown grounds around the hotel. The two balconies that once graced it have long since been removed or rotted away; all its windows are broken in or boarded up, and sections of stairway are starting to collapse. Inside, it's very dark and still, and piles of trash fill the rooms along with graffiti. The place has been badly misused by thrill seekers, yet many of its features such as its original brick fireplace and horse hitching posts out front remain intact under their layers of spray painted profanity. To me, it was both sad and beautiful.
I felt a very strong sense of being watched as I explored the rooms in the old building; I am not a particularly nervous person, and I am certain it was not a case of the jitters. At one point, while in the third floor ballroom, I could have sworn I saw movement near the end opposite me, which would later make me question one of my photographs. And while my digital audio recorder did not pick them up, as I left the former ballroom I heard the faintest echoes of footsteps behind me for a brief moment. As there was nothing visibly behind me though, I brushed off the experience and moved on to explore the hotel grounds.
The pond outside, once dubbed "Lake Vishnu" and stocked with goldfish, still remains, and is still fed from the underground mineral spring that once brought this place to life to this day. The ancestors of those fish can still be seen, swimming about here and there, and an old metal cart is half sunken in the pond. There is an old well, sadly now polluted with soda and beer cans, and the water tower which once stored the healing waters of the underground mineral spring. If you look deep enough into the forest's overgrowth, you'll even find the remains of flower gardens, landscaping, and horse hitches, perhaps where the legendary horse operated carousel the town sported once might have stood. And the mineral spring itself still flows from a pipe in the ground, coming out clear and cool, a testament to the magic that once drew a man named Darius Hicks to build a town in this secret forest place.
Farther out into the woods, away from the hotel, are several remains of the houses and shops that once filled this town. Here you'll find a collapsed frame, with an intact roof sitting atop it; there you can see a foundation, and the ruins of walls. There is even one small building painted what was once a cheerful red, standing almost completely intact. And occasionally, there are hints of old streets and stonework hidden in the undergrowth.
Near one ancient old tree, I found a ring of stones, perhaps from a garden or small house. I sat down here to rest and review some of my digital photographs, and just as I had begun doing so, heard what unmistakably sounded like a woman's voice coming from one of the broken out windows of the hotel's third floor. I did not have my recorder going, so I was unable to capture the sound, and it never repeated itself. This experience, however, again leads back to one of my photos, and makes me wonder if people are mistaken about just who is haunting Vishnu Springs.
When I was investigating Vishnu Springs itself, my EMF meter remained silent. If anything, I felt quite at home, almost as if there were a peaceful presence that had settled over the ruins of the town, watching over it like a silent sentinel. The experiences I had never seemed harmful or threatening, and I was genuinely sad to leave when it was time to go.
There were a few odd occurrences that happened as I was leaving, which I can't explain. At one point, my EMF meter began going off, although it was secure in my backpack and switched off! It did this about three separate times as I travelled down the old road leading away from the town, and then finally quit after being taken out and investigated. When I removed the meter from my pack, there'd been nothing pressing against its power switch, and it was off. I'd put a new battery in it only a short time before, and am quite certain it wasn't faulty.
I also had a strong feeling of being followed as I emerged from the forest nearer to the clearing by the roadside where I'd parked. It wasn't a disturbing feeling, however; it was almost as if I was being drawn back, and that someone didn't want me to go away. Perhaps the spirit of Darius Hicks watches over the town that was his livelihood, waiting for life to return to it once more.
Or perhaps it isn't just Darius, or any of the townsfolk who lived, loved, and died in the little hamlet of Vishnu Springs. What of his wife Maud, who died in childbirth? The presence I felt upstairs in the third floor and the voice I heard were all very distinctly female. And one of the photographs I took appears to be the figure of a woman in antiquated clothing peering out a window on the third floor of the hotel, right about where I heard the voice come from.
Below are three photos I took at Vishnu Springs, which are beyond my explanation:
I truly believe that Vishnu Springs still has inhabitants, even if they are no longer among the living.
To reach Vishnu Springs, take the Tennesse/Blandinsville Blacktop (County Road 350 E) to N 1100th Road, turn west and follow the road straight. The entrance to Vishnu is a dirt pathway just after N 1100th turns into E 50th Street and before it begins as N 1075th Road.
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