Monday, October 30, 2006
Old Slave House Closed 10 Years Ago
Tuesday is the 10th Anniversary of the closing of the Old Slave House. Former owner George Sisk closed the site on Thursday, Oct. 31, 1996, after 70 years of operation.
This Saturday also marks the 10th Anniversary of Ron Nelson's discovery in the Illinois State Archives of the first solid proof that the stories were real.
I joined the research team of Ron and Gary DeNeal the following day.
Since then we've dug into attics and courthouse vaults in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas, pulling out clues to what really happened in Southern Illinois atop Hickory Hill.
In December 1996, Vincent DeForest of the National Park Service toured the house and told us then, if we could prove the stories, the Old Slave House would make one of the best sites in the entire country to interpret slavery.
Two years ago, the National Park Service looked at part of the research and agreed, adding the Old Slave House to its National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program in recognition of its kidnapping history as a station on the Reverse Underground Railroad.
Just after that I was able to publish our entire researching findings in a new book about the site, entitled, "Slaves, Salt, Sex & Mr. Crenshaw".
The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency purchased the house in December 2000. They acquired most of the antiques in 2003 and a few more items last year.
Yet the house remains closed.
People ask me all the time if the state plans to reopen the house.
Yes, that's what they intend to do, but no, they don't actually have any plans to do so. Good intentions are free. Plans requiring funding or authorization from above.
Since the Old Slave House closed 10 years ago, two of the three gas stations in Equality Township have closed as well. Tourism efforts by local leaders continue to be thwarted as the house and a number of other state-owned sites remained mothballed.
In the past four years IHPA has lost more than 40 percent of its staff in the Historic Sites Division. Even before they lost the staff they only had one employee in southeastern Illinois despite having five sites (Shawneetown Bank, Old Slave House, Rose Hotel, Buel House and Kinkaid Mounds).
The agency is now working on a historic structures report. Though announced this spring, the architects only started last month.
Progress is being made, but very slowly.
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