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.

To be added to my notification list for updates on the site send me an e-mail with your contact information.

18 comments:

Megahaole said...

I do think the Slave House is important as a vehicle of the broader history of the reverse underground railroad across the border between Free and Slave America. The Freedmen's community on the west side of Evansville, Indiana, was plagued by armed thugs who periodically crossed the Ohio from Henderson, Kentucky, to take Blacks captive and force them south for sale as plantation slaves. However, there's no remnant of their antebellum community in Evansville. The Slave House in Saline County could go far in telling their story. It just goes to show that there is always somebody willing to shrug off all moral restraint if the money is right. The clearest modern analog would be the abortion industry.

HEADER said...

Just moved back to the area and the old slave house was one of our destinations to give my wife a history lesion in early Americana. I was quite supprised that it was closed down!This single attraction was the glue that held Historic Southern Illinois together. This piece of history should not be lost. Like they did to the Court House in Harrisburg. Just driving through Harrisburg I shake my head and wonder what buffoon made that choice to destroy that georgous building!

Lady said...

I've been waiting and waiting for it to reopen, but I don't see that happening. I love reading about everything that has happened there--all that history that hardly anyone, even the people living in this area, know about.

It's a pity. I do so love driving down that way when I have the chance and I hope that it will be open any time I drive past, but it won't.

Sure, I live within a mile of Lyles Station, Indiana, and everyone around here knows what it is and what it was. They finally decided to fix the beautiful old school building and turn it into a musuem that's never opened and doesn't do much but have school children run through it every once in a while by field trip.

But at least people know what that town was and what it stood for! People don't realize that just across the river there are other things that went on, things that sent those freed slaves back the way they came. No one around here knows about the reverse underground railroad or anything about the salt and mineral mines of Little Egypt.

Anonymous said...

Illinois has and aways will be the state that causes more job loss then any state i've ever seen, this state could never do anything right, and they still prove it over and over. I was born and raised in Eldorado and always visited the old slave house, i was also shocked to see it closed,but thats Southern IL for you ! this is why so many of us move from this state now, seems like IL is nothing more then a retirement state, and not much good for that! Southern IL's biggest income is there court system. they ruin there own economy and cant see it! but its been this way since i was a kid there, and i see they will never change, some monkey in a suit thinks they know it all, bet if a Harrisburg judge worked part time at the old slave house it would of never closed. Saline Co. has always been "Its a who you know" Co. Its Sad.................

Anonymous said...

My wife and I visited The Crenshaw House a number of times when it was open to the public. Something that has stuck in my memory is a photograph that was displayed on the wall just inside the entrance. It was a photograph, a close up of President Lincoln in his casket.
It is reported that there is only one photograph in existance, the one taken from a distance. How could that have been a real photo without everyone knowing about it? Does anyone else remember this picture or know of it?
Darrell carlisle, Michigan.

Anonymous said...

I remember the photo. Lincoln looked (rightly) like a death mask. Crenshaw was a ancestor; the story of slaves chopping his leg off is False... He was impatient and was trying to step on unthreshed grain going into a processor. His leg was seized by the machinery and the remains were amputated. Amazing reads the story that leased slaves rose up and chopped his leg off, with no retribution to such mentioned in the press.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe they've closed such an important lankmark. Visiting the Old Slave House with my family was one of my most cherished memories as a young girl. I wanted so badly to share this great piece of history with my daughter. This is truly upsetting. Who do I call?

Anonymous said...

Anyone have any more thoughts about the Lincoln photo displayed in the Old Slave House. Incidentley, more than twenty years ago a friend of mine and I were invited to spend the night there. The idea being the occupants haunting the place would ensure our early departure. I often wish we had stayed. Our wives wanted no part of it!

Anonymous said...

I talked to Mr. Sisk right before it closed and the story about it closing because of health issues is not true! He stated the federal government was closing him down because he did not have nor could afford to put an elevator into the house. Because of the ADA (Americans with disability Act", he was not allowed to stay open. Another wonderful way our government helps us!!

Anonymous said...

I visited The Old Slave House as a child. I am 42 and I still remember seeing the stalls with chains in the attic. I have been closer to the building than permitted by law in the last year. The man I met claimed to be security. After reading many articles I believe him to live in the house with his family. How can the state of Illinois puchase this landmark and allow the former owner to live in it. Mr Sisk I would like my children to see your home as it is a part of history.

N.Crenshaw said...

I am wondering if the site is open to the public yet because my family would like to see it and learn a little more about my dad's side of the family.Also i just love old houses so please let me know ASAP!

Jon Musgrave said...

So far the state has not re-opened the site. We finally got the agency really interested in running it, but they've never been able to get the funding to do so, even in good years.

The agency's next step is a Phase II historic structures report which is being funded 80 percent through a federal grant the state has had for about three years now.

Anonymous said...

I was doing some research on the Historical Significance of the Old Slave House when I came across a "George D. Sanks," and found out that he purchased some land in 1853just south of the Crenshaw Mansion. Between 1853-1855 Mr. Sanks and family moved into the Crenshaw Mansion aka Old Slave House.

In my research I also came across a Historical Site in St. Augustine Florida. There is a Historical marker posted just outside of "Sanksville Cemetery" where the decendants of Tip Harrison Sanks were there for the unvieling of this sign. After Tip Sanks death, his daughter Julia became the custodian of the cemetery which remains in the family until this day.

Julia gets a footnote in musical history because she probably sang spirituals that were heard by composer Frederick Delius. Delius' family, who was English, wanted him to become a businessman, and he was sent to manage a citrus operation at Solano Grove on the St. Johns River in 1884-85.

It was reported that during the Civil War both blacks and whites were buried in this Cemetery. This may be the only segregated Cemetery in the United States because of the significance of this burial site blacks and whites were separated by a chicken wire fence.

Although this Old Slave House is a tragesty of American History, it should not be allowed to languish and deteriate.

Anonymous said...

we visited the old slave house back in the 80's. no one who visits there can tell me they are not moved by the cages on the upper floors. you can almost feel the terror and brutality that went on there. i cannot believe that the state of ill. is just letting it sit there and deteriorate. it is a great testament to the terrible past history of this country.

Anonymous said...

My Great Grandfather was a Sherrif in Saline County, O.T. Pickering,My grandparents use to take Me and My Cousins to the Old Slave House,it was very creepy to us as kids! Too bad its closed! That part of the country has always kind of been economically depressed.Unfortunately none of My relatives in Saline County are alive anymore.........history either forgets entirely or never ever forgets!

HistoryMax said...

I have visited and spoken with Mr. and Mrs. Sisk many times. I have written a short story about the Slave House and the UGRR in Southern Illinois. Regarding the loss of Crenshaw's leg, there weren't any reapers of the kind to cause such an industry at that time.

Anonymous said...

My mother was raised nearby and stayed in the house many times with the Sisk family. We went to visit George several years ago and when I tried to go up to the attic I was sick and had to leave.

Nancy said...

I think the old slave house is an important part of history. my husband and I did tour the slave house before it closed. Hopefully it will reopen so the younger people can understand the story's of slavery.