Eight Abandoned Locations to Visit in Illinois

Clare Fitzgerald
Photo Credit: 1. darius norvilas / Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0 2. Mikefall2 / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0
Photo Credit: 1. darius norvilas / Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0 2. Mikefall2 / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Each US state is home to a number of abandoned places just waiting to be explored, including Illinois. Whether they’re haunted, steeped in history or just plain unusual, the following list of locales is sure to interest even the most avid urban explorer.

Peoria State Hospital

Entrance to Peoria State Hospital
Photo Credit: Kimberly Koppen / Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

A number of psychiatric hospitals were built across the United States during the late-19th and early 20th centuries. One of those was Peoria State Hospital in Bartonville. Made up of 63 buildings, which are now listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, the hospital operated from 1902-73.

Those looking for a paranormal adventure need travel no further than Peoria State Hospital. The location is the topic of local ghost lore, with numerous accounts alleging that the ghost of Manuel A. Bookbinder – nicknamed “Old Book” – walks the grounds. Prior to his death, he was a patient who worked with the hospital’s burial crew.

Damen Silos

Exterior of Damen Silos
Photo Credit: darius norvalis / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The 15-storey Damen Silos in Chicago were built in 1906 by the Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. Prior to an explosion rendering the structures inoperable in the 1970s, the silos held some 400,000 bushels of grain. Following the explosion, the decision was made to cease operations.

Since they were abandoned, the Damen Silos have served as a reminder of the area’s past. They’ve also become the go-to locale for urban explorers who have delved into the depths of the tunnels that remain accessible. As well, a walk through the center of the complex reveals the brightly-colored work of graffiti artists.

Illinois Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s School

Exterior of the Illinois Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's School
Photo Credit: Jon Roanhaus / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Located in Normal, the Illinois Soldiers’ and Sailor’s Children’s School was a home for children orphaned by the American Civil War. Operating from 1865 to 1979, the complex acted like a village, with its own Tudor Revival-style residences, an electric power plant and numerous administrative buildings.

The complex has been abandoned since the orphanage‘s closure in 1979. While once a thriving and bustling institution, the Illinois Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s School now features broken windows and the wear and tear of age. Those worried about its future, however, need not worry. It’s been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Chicago Freight Tunnels

Three individuals in a dark tunnel
Photo Credit: WBEZ / Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Beneath the streets of Chicago is a vast network of tunnels that once transported coal to a number of buildings in the city’s downtown. Operated by the Chicago Tunnel Company, the tunnels’ electric trains serviced the Federal Reserve Bank, the Civic Opera House and the Chicago Tribune, among other businesses.

The tunnels continued to see use after the Chicago Tunnel Company shut down, but were sealed off for good after “The Great Chicago Flood” of April 1992. That hasn’t stopped urban explorers, however, from trying to find their way in.

Joliet Correctional Center

Exterior of the Joliet Correctional Center
Photo Credit: Joseph Gage / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0

The Joliet Correctional Center, once known as the Old Joliet Prison, operated for nearly 150 years, before its closure in 2022. Since then, it has made cameos in such television shows as Prison Break, and is currently undergoing preservation efforts to ensure its history remains for generations to come.

Over the years, the Joliet Correctional Center housed a number of notable inmates, including Lester Joseph “Baby Face Nelson” Gillis, as well as Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, who committed the “crime of the century” by kidnapping and murdering Robert Franks. The pair actually ended up doing some good while imprisoned, spearheading the introduction of a secondary school curriculum for inmates.

Prairie Observatory

Exterior of the Prairie Observatory
Photo Credit: Robert W Porter / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Located in the middle of nowhere – well, not the middle of nowhere… Near Walnut Point State Park – sits the Prairie Observatory. From the 1960s until the early ’80s, it served as a place for astronomers from the University of Illinois to gaze at the sky.

Today, the observatory is surrounded by tall grass and weeds, with graffiti artists using its rusting exterior as a canvas for their creativity. The telescope that was once housed there was transferred to the San Diego University’s Mount Laguna Observatory in 1981 and is still in use.

Gem Theatre

Exterior of the Gem Theatre
Photo Credit: Mobilus in Mobili / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0

The Gem Theatre seems to attract bad luck. Just 19 years after it opened, it was destroyed by fire, a situation which repeated itself following the construction of a new facility on the property. The building was renamed the Lincoln Theater in the 1940s, which operated until 1978, after which part of it served as a video rental store.

The property was donated to the city of Cairo in 1995, with plans to turn it into a cultural arts center and movie theater. The restoration efforts were paused in the mid-2000s and have remained that way ever since, leaving the interior in a rather dilapidated state. If one opts to visit, extreme caution should be exercised.

Ashmore Estates

Exterior of Ashmore Estates
Photo Credit: Mikefall2 / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Ashmore Estates is a historic building constructed in 1916 as part of the Coles County Poor Farm. After 1959, it operated as a private care institution for those with mental disabilities, and closed 30 years later due to financial issues. Following its closure, the building gained a reputation as one of the most haunted sites in Illinois.

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The grand structure lay abandoned until 2006, when it was purchased for use as a haunted house. It has since changed hands, with the building’s current owner looking to allow paranormal investigations on the property once structural repairs have taken place.