Research is being conducted in hopes of shedding light on a historical site with a scandalous past.
The Center for Archaeological Investigations at SIUC is doing research on behalf of the Illinois His-toric Preservation Agency at the Crenshaw House in Gallatin County. The state-owned site is not open to the public.
Mark Wagner, staff archaeologist with the Center for Archaeological Investigations, said the center will conduct archaeological, historical and architectural research of the property in order to gain a better understanding of the 19th century home.
Wagner said the Crenshaw House - which the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency refers to by its 19th century name, Hickory Hill, but is also known as the "Old Slave House" - belonged to John Hart Crenshaw from the 1830s to the 1860s. He said Crenshaw was involved with the Gallatin Salines salt mines, a big industry in the 1800s. Wagner said Crenshaw kept slaves and then indentured servants on the property.
Crenshaw had a reputation of being involved in the kidnapping of free African Americans and selling them into slavery, according to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. The Old Slave House is generally acknowledged as a site on the Reverse Underground Railroad.
Crenshaw stood trial on kidnapping charges in 1842, but was acquitted. The Crenshaw House, which has long been rumored to be haunted, was the center of his enterprises across Gallatin County from 1842 to 1864.
Wagner said although there are no immediate plans by the state to reopen the site to the public, the agency needs to know more about the site in order to gain a historical interpretation of it. He said the archaeological phase of the three-year research project will entail finding artifacts, such as old tools, dishes and out-building foundations using remote sensing.
Once items of interest are found, the center's personnel will perform excavation, Wagner said. He said having knowledge of where various out-buildings were on the property will help interpret the site and gain a clearer picture of what the property was like when the Crenshaw's lived there.
He said the site is important because it is one of the few sites in Illinois known to be tied to slavery where the house is still standing.
"A lot of people don't realize there was slavery in Illinois," he said. "There actually was slavery throughout the state until the 1830s. Afterward, people like John Crenshaw got around it by indenturing their slaves as servants. Really, it was just a continuation of slavery."
Jarrod Burks, director of archaeological and geophysics with Ohio Valley Archaeology in Columbus, Ohio, is performing the remote sensing to see what lies beneath the Crenshaw House. Burks said he is using a magnetometer, ground penetrating radar and performing soil test in the hope of finding build-ings and artifacts left behind by Crenshaw.
"It's pretty nice to see that stuff before you dig," Burks said. "Then you know exactly where it's at. You can spend less time hunting around while you're digging and more time digging up the things you want to test."