Backstory and Context
The Hockenhull Building is the product of one man’s wealth and ambition. As it sits on the Jacksonville Square, many people may not know the full extent of it’s long and embattled history. Robert Hockenhull and his brother arrived in Illinois in the spring of 1839 from Cheshire, England. Robert, having previously visited Illinois, stated he would reside there for the rest of his life. Both men were apothecaries, or men who sold and prepared drugs, and would become established in the drug trade here in Jacksonville, IL.
This would not be the first building built under the Hockenhull name. The Hockenhull brothers opened a dry goods store, a drugstore, and they opened a bank in collaboration with two other men. At the time of the buildings inception, Robert Hockenhull was one of the wealthiest, and most respected men in Jacksonville. Hockenhull lived on Grove street and was a trustee for the All-Female Academy. He was highly involved in the community. The building was just one of many financial endeavors the Hockenhull family found themselves a part of. Today, none of the previously stated businesses are still active in the Jacksonville community.
The building started construction in 1891 on the Jacksonville Square. Over time, the use for the Hockenhull building has changed drastically. The businesses under the building have been, among others, a drug store, a pet store, and an art gallery. During the 1960’s, the Hockenhull Building, like other businesses on the Square, was in a state of decline, and to make money, many businesses had apartments above them. During the late 1960’s, the Hockenhull Building had a drugstore named Wargas, its contemporary counterpart being Walgreens, and under it and the second and third floors, were used as apartments. While the Hockenhull Building was used as housing, a fire started in the building by a cigarette would eventually kill seven people residing there.
As one news source recited the event, the fire was one of immense chaos. Residents were frantic in attempting to escape the smoke and flames. People fought over running down the staircase or fleeing down ladders located at the side of the building. Over a dozen people were able to flee the scene with their lives but not everyone was so lucky. Leota Mae Brown, a resident of the building, and her four children, Ray, Donna, Rickey, and James were all killed in the fire. An elderly couple was also killed that night.
Since this tragic incident, many people have reported the Hockenhull Building as haunted, and many ghost hunts have been performed in the building. The Hockenhull Building is a featured building on the Haunted Jacksonville Tours. Following the revitalization of the Square during the 1990’s, as the business underneath the building continued changing, more and more reports of paranormal activity started circulating. One man, the art gallery owner, claimed he would smell the burning of cigarettes even though none were being burned or smoked at the time. There were reports of lights turning on and off and cold chills running through the building even on hot days. Unexplainable noises, and overall a sense of paranoia has plagued the building. In the ghost hunts performed at the Hockenhull Building there are claims of people having recorded these unexplainable knocks, laughter of children, disembodied voices, and apparitions. Some would consider the Hockenhull Building, the most haunted building in the Midwest.
Today, the Hockenhull Building is home to the Soap Co. Coffee House and the subject of many books and in some cases, convocations, at nearby Illinois College. Soap Co. Coffee House is a locally owned coffee place, where the owners know a fair deal on the architecture of the building and it’s uses.
Troy Taylor, an author of many paranormal books, has made the Hockenhull building one of his many muses whence writing about the Haunted Midwest. He founded the American Hauntings Tours, and that has founded the Taylor Mercantile, a store dedicated to Taylor’s books, among other things. Troy Taylor and Lisa Taylor Horton are the tour guides for the Haunted Jacksonville Tours.
The Hockenhull Building may be a mystery to some, but in reality, it was a building erected as a display of wealth. The Hockenhull Building may be home to tragedy and economic hardship, but it continues to stand on the Jacksonville Square.
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