Elkhart Hill, in present-day southern Logan County, has been a landmark for those traveling across the central Illinois prairies for centuries. The hill was a stop on an ancient overland trail that became known as “Edwards’ Trace” during the 1810s. In 1819, a farmer named James Latham followed the trail to Elkhart hill, where he built a small log house for his family. At the time, Latham’s hilltop farm was one of the northern-most Euro-American dwellings in the state. Just north of his farm, the Kickapoo tribe still lived in their traditional summer villages. 

The Latham cabin was abandoned in the mid-1830s, and its archaeological remains lay hidden on the grass covered hillside. In the 1950s, a modern home was built nearby, and the site of Latham’s frontier farm became a well-manicured yard. In 2001, the Center was asked by the local historical society to locate the actual site of the 1819 cabin.  The limited test excavations that followed encountered a well preserved, unplowed archaeological site, which included a large pit cellar associated with the 1819 dwelling. Two test units uncovered a wide range of frontier-era material culture, and the remains of the cellar were then left in preservation.

Nearby, James’ son Richard capitalized on the traffic following Edwards’ Trace and opened a tavern at his residence at the base of the hill in the mid-1820s. By the 1840s, the tavern was known as the "Kentucky House". Excavations at that site found substantial disturbances from an early 20th century occupation of the property, but also a massive, unlined cistern used by Latham during the 1820s. When abandoned in the early 1830s, the cistern was left open and used as a repository for hearth ash and kitchen refuse from the dwelling and tavern. This site, also privately owned, was minimally tested before it was covered and left in preservation.

The results of our work at Elkhart are featured in Mazrim’s 2007 book, The Sangamo Frontier, published by the University of Chicago Press.FrontierBooks.htmlshapeimage_2_link_0
A drawing of Elkhart Hill from the 1870s. EXPLORING ELKHART HILL
Flatware from the Latham cellar, circa 1820. A 19th century drawing of the Kentucky House tavern. Crew member stands on the bottom of
the deep cistern at the Kentucky House. Burned pearlware plates, cups, and bowls, discarded into the cistern with hearth ash.