Old Slave House
HICKORY HILL — The cornerstone for John Hart Crenshaw's manor house is dated 1838. Located outside Equality, Illinois, the Old Slave House, as it's better known, has long been the focus of stories of slavery associated the third floor. According to research conducted in the 1930s, even the ghost stories were in circulation as far back as 1851.

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Open it NOW! to hold rally

Contact: Jon Musgrave

MARION, Ill. (June 23, 2003) — The grassroots effort to reopen the Old Slave House outside Equality, Illinois, will take off with a public rally and news conference on Tuesday, July 1.

Open it NOW! Friends of the Old Slave House will sponsor the event. The group is made up of historians, local activitists, tourism entrepreneurs and other officials who've met twice recently in an effort to jumpstart the reopening of the historic mansion.

"Support is growing from Southern Illinois to Chicago," explained Jon Musgrave, the group's organizer and one of the historians who's studied the site. "The state can't open the site this year if they have to do it by themselves, but if we work together we can succeed."

The rally will be held at the north steps of the Saline County Courthouse in Harrisburg. The group's inviting all persons interested in the house or tourism in Southern Illinois to attend.

Two weeks ago the group endorsed a plan of action that would lead to the site's reopening without any cost to the state. The basic plan calls for the state to lease the site to a regional non-profit group that could operate it on behalf of the public, using admission fees as operating revenue.

"This was always our 'Plan B' with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency," said Musgrave, "but after asking for a formal proposal last November the agency came to the conclusion this spring that they couldn't legally do it."

"They could lease the site, but couldn't allow a group to charge admission, since they couldn't," Musgrave added.

The new plan of action tackles the issue from a different perspective.

"If the agency has no money and it has no flexibility, but we still want to see the site reopened, then we are going to have to change agencies," Musgrave said.

Open it NOW!'s plan of action calls for the governor to move the site from IHPA over to the Department of Natural Resources, since they have the legal authority to do what IHPA says they can't.

"It's the same section of law that DNR uses to get the private sector to build new resorts on state park property," said Musgrave. "The same law that talks about marinas, lodges, restaurants, etc., also has a provision for educational facilities. Running the Old Slave House as a museum certainly would fit."

Since the 9.7 acres purchased along with the Old Slave House is too small to be a state park on its own, the group is also calling for the governor and DNR to combine it with the nearby Saline County Fish and Wildlife Area (Glen O. Jones Lake) to create a new Eagle Mountain State Park.

"Glen O. Jones is on the other side of Equality from the Old Slave House, but it's just down the road on the new Ohio River Scenic Byway. Also, both sites share the same history in terms of the saltworks and the use of slave labor," Musgrave explained.

With the transfer of the site to DNR, the combination of it with Saline Co. FWA, and the subsequent leasing of the Old Slave House to a non-profit group to operate, Musgrave said the site could be reopened before summer's end.

"Our Plan of Action has a goal of the Eighth of August for all of this to take place. It's ambitious, but it really is doable. Plus, the Eighth of August has traditionally been celebrated as Emancipation Day in southeastern Illinois. It would be a great photo op for the governor to be down here that day for a ribbon cutting," suggested Musgrave.

So far the plan of action has been endorsed by the Village of Equality, the Gallatin County Board, the City of Marion, U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, and the Gallatin County Historical Society. Musgrave said it's also on the agenda at the next meetings of a number of local governments including the Village of Ridgway, Saline County Board and the Williamson County Board.

Updates and additional information about Open it NOW! Friends of the Old Slave House, as well as history of the site, can be found on the Internet at www.IllinoisHistory.com.

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Last updated June 23, 2003 — Back to the Southern Illinois History Page
©2003 Jon Musgrave