JUNCTION — If there are ghosts at the Old Slave House, as some suspect, they’ll at least have a reliable source of water.
Illinois officials recognized a number of local agencies and representatives Tuesday for their work on connecting water service to what is otherwise known as the Crenshaw House in this small Gallatin County community.
Amy Martin, director of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, presented a proclamation from Gov. Pat Quinn.
Named in the proclamation were the Gallatin County Tourism Committee, the village of Equality, State Rep. Brandon Phelps, the Saline Valley Conservancy District, Parks Plumbing and various individuals with those groups.
“I … do hereby commend these individuals and organizations for the invaluable service they have provided to the citizens of Illinois, and convey upon them the heartfelt appreciation of current and future generations who value Illinois history,” Martin read from Quinn’s proclamation.
Although the house has been closed to the public for about 10 years with no immediate or firm long-term state plans to re-open it because of costs, it remains an important piece of Illinois’ history, said Alyson Grady, the state site superintendent for the house.
“Our plans are to maintain the property. It is a historic property and is very important to this region and the state as a whole. Opening it to the public is not in our immediate plans. Ultimately, we would love to do that, of course,” Grady said.
Estimates on costs to bring the house to suitable standards as a museum are not available.
State officials put the cost of the water works project at $20,000 taking into account donated time and equipment as well as money raised. Of that, the state spent $2,500 for materials.
The house was built in the 1830s by prominent businessman John Hart Crenshaw who was one of few in the state to receive an exemption from the Illinois’ Free-State status and lease slaves to work in the salt mines.
The mines at the time were vital to the state’s economy.
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He is also alleged to have operated a reverse underground railroad at the house, and though indicted for kidnapping freed slaves, proof remains elusive. Some allege the house is haunted because of the railroad.
The state has commissioned an archeological study of the house in an attempt to better determine its history and any alleged connection to slave trading.
The dig did uncover structures that were on the property at one point, but conclusions have not yet been drawn how they were used, said Mark Wagner, director of The Center for Archeological Investigations at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
Proving or disproving a slave trade is difficult. There is belief that rooms in the upper level of the house were used as cells, but they were built with the same if not better quality than the rest of the house, Wagner said.
“Those are sort of things that are hard to prove,” he said of the house being a station for a reverse underground railroad.
Since it was closed, the house has remained occupied partly out of fear of it being damaged or destroyed, Gallatin County Tourism President Mark York said.
Though an ugly history, it is one that should be preserved to prevent it from occurring again, he noted.
That history at one point in time also made the house and Gallatin County a premier destination for travelers, he said
“We still get calls at least monthly,” he said.