Set literally in the midst of the countryside south of Bement, Illinois is Voorhies Castle. This strange, yet beautiful building was built by Nels Larson at the turn of the century for his fiance/wife. Nels Larson came to the states from Sweden and rented land from wealthy landowner William Voorhies. He later bought land and after making his mark sent for his bride. He eventually built her Voorhies Castle, a Queen Anne style building with turrets, scalloped roof tiles, big windows and a big porch. The castle is based on a Swedish Summer Caste, and sadly, Johanna was not duly impressed with the mansion that owner Steve Seitz, a professor at U of I, refers to as a “glass box”.
Seitz said she called the mansion a “woman killer” because of its large size and the effort it took to clean it. Johanna Larson died after perhaps suffering a stroke and was found at the bottom of the stairs by one of the farm workers. After that, Larson moved out of the house he built that had all the modern conveniences of carbide lights, and a cistern water refilling system. He closed up the house, moved in with one of his children and the home sat for fifty years before going through a few owners and finally, in 1999 ending up in Professor Larson’s hands.
I toured this historical home with my friend Rose Hammitt and my mom Lori Disque. I had learned about it through Stella’s Tours when I dined in an Amish home earlier this year. Professor Seitz is in the process of restoring the home and it is his home as well. After years of vandalism and sitting, his first step was to stabilize the house, fixing the porch, restoring the broken windows and such.
Larson made his money by purchasing swampy land and draining it using ditches and clay tile. After buying low, and selling high, he needed workers to help with the farmland he kept. To do this, he paid for the transportation of several Swedes to come to America. Once they arrived, all of these immigrants needed a place to stay so the farmstead grew. Professor Seitz said, “The lawn was a town. There was a blacksmith shop, a grocery and a train depot and a string of houses. This was a functioning town, and the main stopping point for coal and livestock. There was a rail road spur here and the loaded grain went from field to the loading ramp. People would come to Voorhies to get their coal and livestock.”
The area also supported a grain elevator and a church that was moved to the area. While most of this is now gone, and only the home remains, the history here is amazing. There was also a barn with a huge clock tower built in 1910 that was destroyed in 1976 by a tornado. Inside, Professor Seitz has filled the home with antiques and restored the bottom floor. Tours of the first floor are available when he has the time. All tours are set up through Stella’s Tours, by contacting Stella Gilmore. For reservations call 1-866-543-2734 or 217-543-2734 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The word that sums up this tour for me was “fascinating”. Read more about my visit in the upcoming October issue of the Prairie land Buzz!