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Revamping history: Old Slave House in Gallatin County to be renovated to reopen as tourist attraction
George Sisk, caretaker of the Old Slave House near Equality, sweeps the entry walk Monday in preparation for Wednesday's visit by state officials as Illiinois will soon fund a major facelift to the historic pre-Civil War era structure. (CEASAR MARAGNI/THE SOUTHERN)

EQUALITY - The Old Slave House, one of Southern Illinois' most enduring landmarks, will soon receive a facelift.

Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Norris City, announced last week the state will appropriate $150,000 in funding to renovate the facility that was built more than 170 years ago and has been vacant for nearly a decade.

Phelps said the funding will be used for a twofold purpose.

"We have secured the $150,000 to help renovate the Old Slave House and to also help get it up and running," Phelps said. "We feel like this could be a real economic boost for Gallatin County. When it was open before, there was people that came from all over, and I mean all over the world, to visit. We think it's a real plus for the folks in Gallatin County."

Phelps said plans are in the works to make a formal announcement at the actual site of the Old Slave House on Wednesday, an event that will be attended by Gov. Rod Blagojevich and other state officials.

"That place is just sitting there empty and there is no money coming into Gallatin County," Phelps said. "This money will be used to get the place opened back up and then in turn that will create some jobs there."

Phelps said he expects the Old Slave House to be "up and running" by the end of this calendar year.

Local historian Jon Musgrave, who has studied the history of the facility for more than a decade and written a book, entitled "Slaves, Salt, Sex & Mr. Crenshaw," about the Old Slave House, called the announcement "a good first step."

"I think this is a good place to start, but the state needs to decide how it will be funded," Musgrave said. "The operation funds have always been the issue."

Musgrave said although the Old Slave House was built in the 1840s, the structure remains in good shape.

"This is what we have been pushing for and there's no way that this facility should have been closed for 10 years," Musgrave said. "The key thing is we going to get money in the budget for funding. If they do not have staff it will not reopen unless the state agrees to turn it over to a regional not-for-profit group. We know with certainty that it can pay its own way.

Dave Blanchette, a spokesperson with the Illinois Historical Preservation Society, also labeled the announcement "a step in the right direction."

"I can't release a lot of the details right now, but this is a real plus in getting the facility back open as a tourist attraction for Southern Illinois," Blanchette said.

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