EQUALITY - It seems like everybody in Gallatin County wants to re-open the Old Slave House located just outside Equality, but it's proving difficult when interested parties have no money and differing views.

Jon Musgrave, founder of Open it NOW! Friends of the Old Slave House, said the non-profit organization is looking at a couple of options for getting the house, now owned by the Illinois Historical Preservation Agency, up and running as a tourist spot again.

He said the group is still looking into a contractual agreement with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources that would allow the state to lease the house to the non-profit organization.

Another option Musgrave said is working with the National Park Service to designate the site as a member of the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program. He said he's been pursuing that option since the state budget came out and designated no money to IHPA for the property

Basically, he said having national recognition would convince the state to fund the site.

"We've got to convince Springfield it's time to take action," he said.

Jed Nelson, a district aide for U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, said the non-profit organization is running into problems at the state for two reasons.

One, he said the state generally doesn't like to let non-profit organizations run state property. Also, not all of the facts about the history of the house can be verified.

"The history is a little bit murky," Nelson said. "They want to make sure they had the history exactly right."

James Hill, Midwest regional coordinator of the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program in Omaha, Neb., said even if the Old Slave House gets recognition into the national program, right now there is no federal money available.

"They have to get registered and then they can compete for funding," Hill said. "There's no money out there right now."

Hill said the site would receive a national logo to be displayed on the property and would be featured on the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Web site.

"Essentially, giving it a Good Housekeeping seal of approval," Hill said.

Hill said the application will be reviewed by the national committee in September.

Musgrave said even if there is no money, the national recognition will act like a marketing tool.

But Jane Baglio, president of the Gallatin County tourism committee, said she's opposed to going with the National Park Service. She said it would take too much time.

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"It would take seven years," she said.

Instead, Baglio would like to see the slave house become registered as part of the Ohio River Scenic Byway. The byway already runs along Illinois 13 and Baglio said she wants to get an extension of that south to the property.

"We're not wanting to run (it)," she said. "We're just trying to get this open as another tourist spot."

Musgrave said he's not opposed to Baglio's plan. In fact, he said if she could get the extension, it would help the site get even more recognition.

"It's two separate projects that are working together," he said. "Both (the national recognition and the extension) will end up helping market the site."

The site was closed eight years ago, after being privately run as a tourist spot by George Sisk for more than 30 years.

IHPA bought the property in 2000 and Musgrave said it paid $500,000 for it, but received no funds to operate the site. He said Sisk still lives on the property and helps maintain it.

The house was once owned by John Crenshaw in the early to mid-1800s and is believed to have been a place where kidnapped free slaves were kept.

Musgrave said he became interested in the house when it was closing its doors back in 1996. Since then, he has researched letters from kidnapped victims that acknowledge Crenshaw as the person who kidnapped them.

He said it's important to get this place open not only because of its history, but also because it would provide jobs to an area where the economy is lagging.

The house is in good condition, Musgrave said. All it needs now is the funding.

"We can reopen this site in a matter of months," he said.

kristen.cates@thesouthern.com 618-529-5454 x15804

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