WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Hope Springs Eternal at Vishnu Springs

Vishnu Springs, IL – Are people still interested in an old health resort that was abandoned decades ago? Based on the turnout during an open house at Vishnu Springs, the answer is an emphatic "Yes!"

Marla Vizdal is co-chair of the group Friends of Vishnu. She says more than 1,500 people showed up for the single day event.

"It's always been an area of mystique and intrigue," says Vizdal.

Vishnu Springs was developed in a valley in western McDonough County during the late 1800s. Founder Darius Hicks started it as a health resort. It's near a natural artesian spring that supposedly possesses healing powers. That small spring still flows today.

"It's run continuously for the last 150 years that we know of," says Vizdal.

Roger Viadero, Director of the Institute for Environmental Studies at Western Illinois University, says the quality of the water is the same as it was all those years ago.

"This is one of the only instances that I've ever seen where we have actual data on water quality from back in 1889," says Viadero.

He says Hicks had the water sent to the Rush University Medical Center to be analyzed. He says WIU's archives still has that data, which can be compared to the quality and characteristics of the water now.

"The really cool thing is it hasn't changed that much," says Viadero.

He says the water is rich in minerals with lots of iron and some calcium.

Eventually a small town sprouted around the spring. But all that remains today is the four-story Capitol Hotel. It's in poor shape. Vandals have damaged it and the walls - inside and out - are marred with graffiti.

Vizdal hopes the building will be renovated and preserved by Western Illinois University, which now owns the property. She says it can be used for classes or retreats or any number of things.

"If we had more than 1,000 people here (for the open house), that really tells us the community is interested in what's here," says Vizdal.

She says the hotel is one of the oldest buildings in McDonough County.

The history of it lives on people such as Dennis Young. He rented a room there in the mid-1970s after he graduated from WIU.

"You'd be sitting out here in the yard amongst the flowers," says Young. "And a couple would come down the hill and they'd say 'We got married here in 1929. Can we take a tour of the hotel?'"

He says they were glad to show off the place, which was still in good shape.

But by the 1980s, the place was abandoned. It's taken a turn for the worse in recent years. Vizdal hopes that changes as researchers spend more time there.

Biology, geography, and geology researchers from WIU are allowed on the grounds. But for the most part, the 140-acre site is closed to the public.

Those who've done some research at the site are Mike and Susan Romano of WIU's biology department.

"I have an honor student who's doing an amphibian and reptile survey down here," says Mike Romano. "We've been coming out all summer."

The property is now called the Ira and Reatha T. Post Wildlife Sanctuary. That's in honor of the family who once lived there and who donated the land to WIU.

But ask just about anyone from the region and they'll tell you - the name of the place is Vishnu Springs.