The Elms Restaurant, El Paso, Illinois

Update: On March 16, 2013, I spoke to a couple who lived on a farm near here for decades, and frequently ate at the restaurant. They said it was famous for its fried chicken. I also went back to photograph the house in the fall of 2019. The windows have been boarded up and the building is secured, but otherwise looks to be in good shape structurally.

On US 24 through El Paso, Illinois, it’s impossible to miss this grand dame of the Italianate style, sitting in between the highway and the railroad tracks.

While obviously originally a single family house, and in my opinion, the most lavish in the entire town, it was later converted into a motel and dining room.? Below you can see a postcard that featured the motel.

Efforts to save the building, which only closed in the last decade, are commencing, as you can read in the this newspaper article.? I hope they’re successful.

I love the cupolas that are the feature of many Italianate houses; there really are houses in Italy that look like this, though they’re usually stone.? The cupola was a vent that drew hot air out of the top of the building.

Much of the original woodwork remains, making this an attractive rehab opportunity.

Here is an old photograph of the house; apparently it was owned by one James H. Wathen, and originally featured an ornate front porch, which is now gone.

32 Comments Add yours

  1. David Scarpetta says:

    I would be very interested in collaborating to bring this property back to a useful life. Feel free to pass on my email to any party currently involved with the Elm.


    1. admin says:

      That would be really cool if you could fix up this building. I unfortunately am not from around El Paso, so I don’t know anyone in town. If you click on the newspaper article about the closing, it lists the owners of the property.

    2. colton myers says:

      Hello, im currently working to restore the building. Ould you be interested in still collaberating?

      1. Cara says:

        I am a photography student at Eureka College. I am interested in photographing this building. Any help contacting the owners would be appreciated.

        1. Chris Naffziger says:

          Unfortunately I do not know the owners, Cara.

      2. Kim Wienzierl says:

        Colton, are you still restoring The Elms? are you the current owner? I am interested in restoring it to the splendor it deserves.

        1. Kim says:

          Are you still interested in this? I am as well, maybe we could talk?? Email me if you are.

  2. Rob says:

    This was an important place in my family’s life over generations. Both my mother and father and their families lived in El Paso for many years. I really wish someone would restore this treasure.

  3. Georgie Borchardt says:

    Cupola’s aren’t only found on stone houses — they’re on wood homes as often as stone. And they weren’t only to draw hot air up through the building, they were also used by “look-outs” to help protect the house and surrounding property.

  4. Starla Roberts says:

    i am interested in fixing up this building and open a buisness. if you are interested in selling property. if no reply answer please! if yessssss! please call me.!!! thank you.

  5. Amanda Wilson says:

    I live in El Paso Illinois. What information are you looking for and I can try to help.

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      Thanks for writing; do you know the original owners of this house?

  6. 41 years ago this week a friend and I were heading back to DeKalb from St Louis on Route 55 when the rain and sleet turned to snow and ice. (We were on a tour of university libraries, He was writing a paper on library automation (how primitive that was. We decided to take Route 51 north and got to El Paso. We stopped at the Elms for lunch. (I have always thought of it as “The Friendly Elms.” The dining room was packed. But we shared a table with some others. Everyone, no matter what direction they were coming from said, “Don’t try to drive that way…”

    But we had a brand new Ford and were intrepid. After lunch we headed north again. After only half a mile or so we realized everyone had been right. We turned around and went back. We were very lucky. We got the last room in the motel. The management had a good stock of food but rationed it. We had hearty meals for 4 days. There were so many people that some stayed in the main building, including a young woman named Jan, from Bloomington, Illinois. People sort of fixed us up. ( However, the crowd chaperoned us very closely.)
    Some of the guys walked into town and brought back some beer. We called the theater to see what was playing but it had closed. When someone got obstreperous and acted childish the manager brought out bibs.

    Everyone got along very well except for one woman from Purdue, a music major who seemed to think she was better than the rest of us. But eventually she shacked up with a truck driver who was also stranded.

    The next day the sun was blinding bright but the roads in all directions were blocked. Jan and I climbed up into the cupola, so dilapidated now. You could see forever, it seemed, over the white farm fields of central Illinois.

    After four oddly enjoyable days (even though news of the fire on the Apollo space ship did get through to us – it seemed very remote) we went our own ways. But a year later several of us returned for a reunion.

    Some fifteen years later my wife and daughter and I were driving through that part of the state. I had told this story many times. We turned on to Rt. 24 and looked for the Elms. There it was, dilapidated but not as bad as the photos on this page. I could smell the aroma of cooking food.
    The neon sign seemed to flicker. There were broken windows. We peeked inside and there were overturned chairs and cobwebs. But no sign of life. We started to walk around the place. I couldn’t imagine where the aroma was coming from. I began to hear the theme from Twilight Zone in my head.

    But here were lots of cars in the parking lot. I noticed someone coming out of a door in the back. They had added a modern addition in back. Sort of a big white box, with a buffet restaurant inside – no windows. The building had become merely a landmark pointing to the restaurant. They even had a kids special. Their meal prices were based on their age.

    I told the young manager the story. He said, yes, his grandfather (I think he said grandfather) had told him about that storm. And he let us into the closed portion of the building where we walked among the dust and glass and climbed up what was left of the stairs to look out the cupola. He said the family had talked about
    fixing up the place some day, but, sadly, it seems they never did.

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      What an amazing story! I might make a new post with it.

  7. My wife and I had dinner at the Elms back in the mid-80’s. It was a beautiful place with table cloths and crystal glassware. As nice as you would find in large cities. The menu was incredible. They had everything you could imagine, along with Walleye both battered and broiled. Certainly one of the nicest meals ever. It’s sad to see it in this shape today. It would be nice to see it restored and in operation again. Only it’s location being so remote could’ve ended such a fine establishment.

    1. cp says:

      I grew up there and my mother worked there. Yet all the interest no one has done anything to it

  8. Diane Gibson says:

    Went by the Elms this week and windows are now broke and things are beginning to be destroyed. It is at a turning point where it must be repaired or it will be too far gone to restore.

  9. Tess says:

    I’m pretty sure the owners name is on property.

  10. Dusty says:

    Rick Morgan, owner of the building as of 2009, had to close his family’s restaurant after 60 years of operation because the building was too expensive to maintain and operate.

  11. Diane Gibson says:

    Went by last week. On the old home: The windows are broken out on all levels, water standing on the first floor living room wood floor, much wood rot on outside and roof damage. The one story attached restaurant isn’t in as bad of shape. Whoever the owner is, it is obvious they cannot or will not maintain. It has slipped passed salvageable. Took pictures if anyone wants to see.

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      Yes, please! I would love to see photos.

  12. Adrian Bachman says:

    I would like to speak with the current owner of this property. Could someone please pass my email on to them?
    Thank you,

  13. Chris says:

    I also have an interest in the property.
    815-383-4888 Chris

  14. Erin says:

    I found this building today… So sad to see the broken windows… I searched on line to find info about this building and found this post and comments. It is amazing the amount of people with interest in this building over the years. Soon this building will no longer be able to be saved.

  15. Katherine French says:

    I’m doing an editorial on the property and would love to speak to everyone about there experience there. My mother and father had their wedding reception in one of their beautiful banquet rooms. Sadly my mother is no longer with us and my dad remembers some but not like he use too. I would love to get a hold of the owner of it too. please. my email is

  16. Eddie says:

    Kenneth Koons Of Hudson, Illinois is the current owner. He bought it at auction several years ago. The windows for boarded up in 2018. It is beyond repair. Total eyesore and need to be torn down.

    1. Joel Braunstein says:

      Has anything happened to the Elms house since this reply? I would be interested in sharing the project to restore. We must act fast before it is a total loss.

      1. Nick Carey says:

        I would like to take part in restoring it if its not to late . I own a painting company and would be glad to offer some services. It would be nice to get people together and fix this place .

  17. Alan says:

    I live in El Paso IL since 2017 before that in Bloomington IL. If anyone needs to know anything or pictures taken I would be glad to help. I believe El Paso should force the owner to tear it down or do something/sell it to someone that will put money in it. Its a shame to watch it slowly die being a landmark and all.

  18. Karen Fyke says:

    The Woodford County Historical Society has been given all of the records of The Elms and many dishes used in the restaurant. The records are in many big books, and they are available for examination. The Society is offering a cup and saucer used at The Elms for $5. Contact the Society at 112 N. Main St., Eureka, Illinois 61530.

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      Thank you! I’ve actually been in to visit the Society’s museum on the courthouse square in Eureka.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.