Brief History of the Five Mile House

     Five miles southeast of the Coles County Courthouse in Charleston, Illinois, a stucco-over-brick, two room building with its later added kitchen, sits on a corner lot, its front doors facing south. For almost 170 years, this building, one of the oldest structures in Coles County, has been a familiar land-mark. People traveling north and south saw the Five Mile House from what was once called the Archer Road, now State Route 130. The road running in front of the house, east and west, is the Westfield-Hutton Road.

    At one time, another well-traveled route called the York Road - no trace of it remains today - joined with the Westfield Road just east of the Five Mile House. That road ran diagonally from the Five Mile House southeast through Hutton Township and past the Stephen Sargent house in a straight line toward Martinsville and West York, Illinois. 


     A number of prominent pioneer names appear on the title records.  Levin Cartwright was the first settler to own the site, as it was part of a forty-acre purchase he made from the federal government on April 27, 1837.  Some well-known families who owned the Five Mile House included Strader, Rennels, Goodman, Stone, Johns, and Horsley, among others.  All added to the history of the house. 


    It is thought that the Five Mile House was built sometime between the mid to late 1840s by two brothers, Rhodes and David Martin. The two set up their own brick factory nearby to manufacture the bricks used in the structure. Lumber for the original east and west rooms came from the local Hutton Township area. Rhodes Martin was an early contractor. He and his brother built a number of barns, several houses, schools, and churches in the Hutton Township area. 


     During the Gold Rush Days of 1849 and the early 1850s, Stephen Stone owned the property. It was from this site that, as local lore has it, numerous wagon trains, filled with area gold seekers, left for California. Dr. William Stone, Stephen's son, was an animal doctor who owned a blacksmith shop near the Five Mile House. His forge and animal expertise would have been a source of support for the Forty-niners, as they out-fitted their teams for the nearly 2,000-mile journey west.

     The Stone Family owned the place until the 1880s when it was sold to Joshua and Isabell Johns and their son, George. It was next sold to William Rennels, a member of the large Rennels Family.  This family has been involved in the effort to save and operate the Five Mile House as a historical site and tourist attraction. 


     At some time in its early history, the Five Mile House is also thought to have been used as a wayside inn and stagecoach stop, serving meals and providing lodging to travelers on the York and other roads that convened there. The name, Five Mile House, also indicates its use as a stopping point for travelers. Another wayside inn on the east side of Charleston was called the Half Mile House due to it's being a half mile from the courthouse. It was recently torn down. 


     Legend and logic agree that Abraham Lincoln stopped at the Five Mile House in his travels on the Eighth Judicial Circuit.  He traveled the York Road to visit his friends James Rennels who lived a mile or so east and Stephen Sargent who lived near Salisbury (now Hutton). In the last 100 years, some of the other family names associated with the structure are: Baker, McKenzie, Brashears, Boley, Conley, Bell, Hosapple, Nugent, Shoot, Reed, Cobble, Fender, Eaton, Gann and Bates. 

FIVE MILE HOUSE TODAY                                                                 back to the top

     Much of the original Five Mile House remains today as it was in pioneer days.  Restoration efforts preserved the original brick walls and fireplace. The ceilings, and some of the window and door casings are original as well.  The kitchen ell - built on the north side of the east room - was likely added on sometime in the 1860s. Time took its toll on the kitchen's wooden walls and the room was torn down before the Five Mile House Foundation acquired the house. The frame kitchen has subsequently been rebuilt using some of the original materials.

     Once that restoration of the house was complete, the Foundation turned its attention to furnishing the house and began educational and living history activities. A capital project in 2008-2009 provided a new parking lot, sidewalks, handicap accessible ramp, interpretive signs, and other amenities.  In 2012, a modern restroom facility was built to look like an outbuilding, and a barn and blacksmith shop is currently in the planning stages. A forth grade school program, summer living-history open houses, and a fall festival are now on the agenda each year.