Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Editor's Note
In case anyone has read Jean Ibendahl's letter to the editor in the Southern Illinoisan concerning the Old Slave House (you can read it on this site's guestbook), there's one bit of information the Southern forgot to add. Jean owns the house in question and is actively trying to sell it.

While I have not been to the house she owns I have read about it (and even sent reporters to cover it while at WSIL-TV). From all accounts it is an Underground Railroad station in excellent shape that should be preserved.

Old Slave House supporters shouldn't be offended by what Jean has to say. Just keep in mind that the letter had a purpose that had nothing to do with the Old Slave House.
Another Hint
The governor's office may be moving closer to reopening the Old Slave House. Within the last couple of weeks they have requested information from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency on how much a historic structures survey report would cost. Such a report would tell the state more about the physical history of the house — what's new, what's old, what's original, etc. — as well as what's needed to be done in terms of structural safety. It would also provide a map for the agency to determine what they need, and how much it might cost, to fully restore the site.

IHPA's contention is that this needs to be done first before the site can reopen. We disagree — to a point. We agree that it needs to be done, and should be one of the first things the state does next, but we argue that the site can still be reopened prior to a full survey. We just can't do any extensive rehab, which is fine.

The estimated cost for such a report — $225,000 to $250,000.

Site Security
The security issue is improving somewhat at the house. IHPA has worked out a deal with the current caretaker to stay there until the end of the fiscal year (or until something else comes up). That eliminates the worry that it will become vacant. However, that still doesn't eliminate the need for the site to be reopened immediately.

By "sweetening the pot" the state is getting more good out the deal than just security. There's been a flourish of activity by the caretaker in terms of some basic repair work and upkeep that's being addressed. All of the work so far just strengthens the ability of a non-profit group to come in and operate the site. All of the projects the caretaker is addressing were projects that the non-profit would have had to do on their own.

The biggest change is that the old pool deck on the west side of the house is gone. Visitors to the Old Slave House in the late 1970s or 1980s might remember an above ground pool on the west side. Although the pool has been long gone, the modern deck connecting the pool to the house still remained. No longer used, it slowly began to rot away. Up until last month it wasn't needed, it wasn't historic, and now, it's just not there.