Tucked away in a cemetery on Elkhart Hill is a tiny stone chapel that is the only privately owned and operated church in Illinois.
St. John The Baptist Chapel, an Episcopalian church, was constructed by Lemira Parke Gillett as a memorial to her husband, John Dean Gillett, in 1890.
Seven generations of the Gillett family have called Elkhart Hill home, and Lisa Pasquesi, who owns the farm with her sister Cathie Carolin, says she has fond memories of the chapel growing up.
After dinner on Christmas Eve, the family would walk through the woods to the chapel.
"We would walk through the snow in our boots carrying lanterns," she says. "My mother was wonderful at playing the organ, and we would sing Christmas hymns.
"Usually the last one was Silent Night."
One special Christmas Eve has stayed with her.
"I remember one year, we had been at the chapel and the snow had started again - it was just coming down in these huge flakes," she says. "When we went outside, the snow already had filled our footprints.
"These huge snowflakes came down in slow motion in all of our lantern lights," Pasquesi says. "Everyone just stood there in awe."
The chapel once was affiliated with Trinity Episcopal Church in Lincoln, and the minister would travel to Elkhart to perform a late-morning service.
But eventually, services were discontinued as attendance fell and older members died. Younger church members opted for earlier services elsewhere.
Pasquesi says the setting still can take visitors back in time.
Outside, woodlands designated as a state nature preserve surround historic Elkhart Cemetery, one of the highest places in central Illinois.
Inside, the setting is warm and intimate, thanks partially to light filtered through colorful stained-glass windows.
The chapel is small and simple, but still has its own pipe organ, one of the oldest still working in the state.
Its history stretches back more than 100 years.
The Culver Stone and Marble Co. of Springfield built the Gothic revival-style chapel, mostly with limestone blocks, in 1890.
Pasquesi says she still marvels that the total cost was only $10,000.
Lemira asked her eight children to contribute, and each put in $1,000. She added the last $2,000.
John Dean Gillett built the home and barns in 1870, and the property has remained in the family for seven generations. The Old Gillett Farm still is a private home.
"The chapel is open to any denomination for weddings, and it is open for anyone wanting to have a memorial service or baptism," Pasquesi says.
The Elkhart Historical Society sponsors a special holiday service on the first Saturday in December each year, but tickets to the event sell out quickly.
"It's lovely," she says. "The whole cemetery is lined with luminarias. Inside, the only lighting is by candlelight.
"For that service, I decorate all the windows with evergreens, holly and ivy," Pasquesi says. "It's like stepping back into time. It's really pretty."
There is a different theme each year. This year, the focus is on the Civil War.
Although those services often fill up quickly, Pasquesi is available to give group tours.
Visits are by appointment only. Call Lisa Pasquesi at 947-2346 to schedule a visit, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story published Friday, December 3, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 7 )