Dwight, Illinois is in the northern sector of of the state. I have memories of flitting through it while traveling for the State of Illinois. You may also recall glimpsing a very cool windmill from the window of the Amtrak while traveling to Chicago. On a recent trip I photographed that windmill for a Travel Awaits story. Then I realized just how many treasures Dwight has to offer!
Dwight is only two hours from Springfield. This made for a nice road trip. A call to Jane Anderson who was then with the Dwight Economic Alliance, helped me learn about all the neat places to see and things to do!
My husband Keith and I first stopped at the First National Bank of Dwight. This cool building is a Frank Lloyd Wright designed building!
The Frank L. Smith Bank
The bank began with the name, The Frank L. Smith Bank. Originally it was built to house Smith’s real estate office and bank! Still an active bank, the outside of the building appears simple. However, as always with Wright there are wonderful surprises inside! Located along Route 66, this is one of the stops along the Mother Road!
The exterior of the building is composed of blocks of Bedford limestone. Built in 1905, the bank opened in 1906. As you walk in, you can see the compression and expansion feel that Wright does so well. There is a skylight and fireplace. Beautiful lighting is still within as well as the original blueprints and correspondence from Frank Lloyd Wright. Changes have been made like opening the two rooms into one, but the integrity of Wright’s design has remained.
Before heading to the windmill, our main destination, where Bob Ohlendorf provided a wonderful history, we admired the downtown buildings. Downtown there is the beautiful Dwight Railroad Depot that was built in 1891. This is now a historic museum but was closed the day we were there. The Fox Center, which serves individuals with a variety of needs is also a beautiful building that is part of the Route 66 Corridor.
Historic Windmill, Carriage House and Home-The Keeley Institute
During the mid 1880’s, Dr. Leslie E. Keeley was among the first medical pioneers to recognize alcoholism as a disease. With funding from Major Curtis J. Judd, John Oughton, a pharmacist, and Dr. Leslie Keeley established the Keeley Institute. “Dr. Keeley’s cure was exercise and diet,” Bob Ohlendorf said. Along with exercise and diet he also provided his “gold cure” which he never shared the contents of in his lifetime.
The Keeley Institute Bob said brought many to Dwight making it a Mecca for the wealthy seeking a cure. “This Institute grew from its beginning in Dwight to more than two hundred branches throughout the United States and Europe.”
“There were 28 hotels in town. We had two opera houses as entertainment. There were seven barbershops open seven days a week,” Bob shared.
He said the town exploded to accommodate the burgeoning population during the Keeley boom.
The House and Windmill
This onslaught of visitors required more buildings. Thus the Livingston Hotel was built. The beautiful home that inspired the windmill we went to see was the John R. Oughton estate. The 20-room Victorian mansion was originally built in 1891 as a Club House for the Keeley Institute. Then it was moved in 1894 to it present location. It was designed by Joliet Architect Julian Barnes. When we were there it was for sale after being used for years as a restaurant.
Out behind the house is the amazing windmill, the windmill was built by the U.S. Wind, Engine and Pump Company of Batavia, Illinois. According to the Dwight history website, “The well is 840’ deep and contains an 88-barrel cypress tank at the top of the structure. The windmill pumped water for the entire estate.”
“The windmill is an 8-sided octagon,” Bob added. “The roof was originally covered with slate, but now it is covered with rubber to look like slate.”
We were able to go inside. While it looks like you could climb to the top and look around that is deceiving. Only the steep stairs inside are there for maintenance.
The Oughten family eventually sold the estate and windmill to Mike and Bev Hogan in 2001. Then the Hogan family donated the windmill to the Village of Dwight to save it from decaying. It is now a symbol of Dwight history!
The Carriage House
In 1896, the Oughton family built a carriage house for their prize cattle and horses. Later this building was converted to a treatment and recreation building. In 1989, the building was donated to the library district and now is home for the Prairie Creek Library. Inside there is still a cool hay track rail reminding us of the original use of this lovely building.
Dog Statue Trail
While at the Carriage House/library out front note a dog statue. Dwight has a slogan, “Dwight is a Doggone Good Town”. To note this, local artists have decorated eleven fiberglass dogs and you will see them throughout the town!
Don’t leave town without stopping at the Ambler/Beckler Texaco Station museum! This cool station built in 1933 is a wonderful stop back in time. It is recognized as the longest-operating Route 66 gas station with over 60 years of continuous service!
We enjoyed walking through this amazing time capsule! Then head over to the Old Route 66 Family Restaurant for some great food!
There are a few stops we missed like the Pioneer Gothic Church and Dwight Bank mural. On May 1st, there is a great BBQ Festival that Bob said should not be missed. We may have to head back north and check out missed stops! If you are looking for a fun day with great sites, Dwight has them!
If you enjoyed this, read this other story about the Elk Horn windmill!