Archive for Sunday, February 18, 2018

Local group wants to honor city-owned Underground Railroad site, currently being used for storage

The Grover Barn, located at 2819 Stone Barn Terrace, formerly a fire station, the city-owned building is now being used for storage. A local group, Guardians of Grover Barn, would like to see it get recognition and become more accessible to the public.

The Grover Barn, located at 2819 Stone Barn Terrace, formerly a fire station, the city-owned building is now being used for storage. A local group, Guardians of Grover Barn, would like to see it get recognition and become more accessible to the public.

February 18, 2018

Advertisement

Though Lawrence proudly touts its abolitionist past, one of the only standing Underground Railroad stops in the city is being used for nothing more than storage.

The city-owned property was originally the barn of abolitionist settlers Joel and Emily Grover, and dates back to the territorial days of Kansas. Its limestone walls once hid fleeing slaves, including a group led by well-known abolitionist John Brown. Now, the space and those stories seem locked away.

But a local preservation group is trying to change that. Kerry Altenbernd, chair of the recently formed Guardians of Grover Barn, said he thinks the site has the potential to be a showpiece for Lawrence.

“The history of that building compels us to do more, I think, to honor the people who were there: the Grovers, the freedom seekers, John Brown, his men,” Altenbernd said. “All the toil and suffering that they went through to do what they did there makes that so important that that story gets out.”

Altenbernd, who is also known for his portrayals of Brown, is one of about 10 members of the group, which includes historians and local residents such as Judy Sweets, Steve Nowak and Jeanne Klein. Members of the group worked with the city to apply for a National Park Service program that would officially recognize the site as a stop on the Underground Railroad. But the group’s hopes for the site, which for years has been used to store city police equipment, go beyond that. Ideally, they’d like to see the site be more accessible to the public.

Nowak, who is also the executive director at the Watkins Museum of History, said the ultimate goal is that the building fulfill some kind of public function, such as an exhibit space, community center, public archive or research center. Nowak said the building is a rarity not only because of its age and hard-to-come-by documentation as an Underground Railroad stop, but because it is one of only two standing stops in Lawrence.

The other stop, a private residence, is the Robert H. Miller home and farm at 1111 E. 19th St.

“The building itself is older than the state of Kansas,” Nowak said of the Grover Barn. “There aren’t a lot of structures, partly because Quantrill’s Raid burned down town, that can say that they were here before the state was established."

But the effort to make something more of the landmark faces challenges, including a lack of designated funding and the city’s initiative to consolidate rather than expand its operations.

A question of money

Northeast elevation of Grover Barn, 1981 (Photo by Clay Kappelman, courtesy of the City of Lawrence)

Northeast elevation of Grover Barn, 1981 (Photo by Clay Kappelman, courtesy of the City of Lawrence)

Even if passersby don't know its history, the property will likely still catch their attention. The rough-cut limestone barn with a gable roof was built in 1858 and once sat alone on the small hill that at the time was located on Grover’s 160-acre homestead a few miles outside town, according to the city’s application. Now, the 160-year-old building, located at 2819 Stone Barn Terrace, sits between single-family suburban homes.

The city acquired the building in 1980 and used the property as a fire station, but its use turned to storage once the station relocated in 2006. Previous efforts were undertaken to make the barn into some kind of museum but they never came to fruition.

Though City Commissioner Matthew Herbert, who also teaches history at Lawrence High School, recognized the building’s historic significance, he said the site’s future is ultimately a budget decision.

“When you approach things from a City Commission standpoint, while there is certainly emotion involved in any decision, you have an obligation to make sure that your decision falls within a budget that you adopt,” Herbert said.

However, some improvements to the site might be possible that could be funded through other sources. Currently, no outside marker announces the site’s historic significance or the stories of those who took shelter there.

If the barn receives the national Underground Railroad designation, it would be eligible for certain national grants. Those grants range from $1,000 to $20,000, and the city's historic resources administrator, Lynne Braddock Zollner, said they could be used for educational programming such as markers, signage or other visuals to tell the story of the site.

Braddock Zollner said a lot of research has been done about the history of the property, and making that information available is important.

“It’s a tangible piece of history,” Braddock Zollner said. “…It is very important to not only the history of Lawrence, the county and the state, but to the national history.”

The barn’s stories

Sweets, one of the group members, helped conduct research for the city’s application.

It’s not known how many slaves sought shelter at the barn, but a group of 12 people led by Brown is the best documented, according to the application. Brown and his men helped the group escape from plantations during raids in Missouri in 1858, events that were recorded in letters, diaries and newspaper accounts.

Sweets said most of the names of the people who escaped are known, and she has been able to get in touch with the descendants of one couple, Sam and Jane Harper. She said they continue to live in Canada and did not know the details of their ancestors’ escape.

Because the Underground Railroad was by nature a secretive operation, Sweets said it’s very rare to have documented proof that a structure was part of the network. She said she thinks if the barn receives the designation, it will help increase heritage tourism.

“It’s such a treasure that it’s still standing and we’re still discovering the stories that went on,” Sweets said. “I’m still doing research myself on the people who came through there.”

Sweets said she wants to make sure the structure is in good condition so it can be there for future generations to see. Although arranged events have been held at the former barn with special permission from the city, it would be great if the building could be even more accessible to the public, she said.

The Guardians of Grover Barn group has been working with another historically focused organization, Freedom’s Frontier. The Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area highlights the role eastern Kansas and western Missouri played in the days leading up to the Civil War.

Freedom’s Frontier Executive Director Jim Ogle said in an email to the Journal-World that the heritage area strongly supports the local effort to officially recognize the Grover Barn as a stop on the Underground Railroad and make it more accessible to the public. Like Sweets, he noted that few sites are as well-documented as the Grover Barn.

Consolidation

Even so, what the city does with the property will ultimately be up to the City Commission, whose goals may not be in line with such efforts. Herbert pointed to the city’s recent efforts to consolidate its operations to save money. While he is open to discussing other uses for the site, he said using it for storage is a “productive use” right now.

“We’re looking at consolidating city facilities, not really expanding them,” Herbert said. “Particularly as we talk about whether the city will move into Riverfront, I guess I want to make sure that any time we spend money, that we are spending it for a reason and not just because we want to.”

Though Altenbernd acknowledged that cost is an issue, he said the site could potentially be staffed with volunteers and that the group plans to work with the city to figure out the possibilities. Ultimately, he said the Grover Barn is a publicly owned building and that the residents of Lawrence should have a say in how it's used.

“We’re the city; the city is the people of Lawrence,” Altenbernd said. “So each one of us is a co-owner in that building, and each one of us should be able to have a say in what happens to it.”

Contact city reporter Rochelle Valverde
Have a tip or story idea?
More stories

Comments

Mike Reid 2 months ago

I thought the city used this location for a speed trap. There are always cops just sitting there in their cars.

Stuart Evans 2 months ago

I'm pretty sure those cops are there to guard the urban assault vehicle they needed so badly.

Tom Thomson 2 months ago

"I'm pretty sure" usually means you have no idea what you are talking about. And in this case, you definitely don't.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 2 months ago

This is a great idea. This is the history that should be preserved and honored.

Bill Pasquel 2 months ago

Seriously??...“The history of that building compels us to do more, I think, to honor the people who were there: the Grovers, the freedom seekers, John Brown, his men,” Altenbernd said. “All the toil and suffering that they went through to do what they did there makes that so important that that story gets out.”....

John Brown was not from Kansas. He was a lunatic murderer that was hanged, not killed, at Harper's Ferry, for conspiracy against the United States if I recall - and his wife?? ...Today he would called a "Domestic Terrorist". Sorry, all you Lawrence/KU libs that have always wanted to adopt John Brown, Langston Hughes (from Joplin Missouri) as good ol' Lawrence people.

Here's another good one.."“The building itself is older than the state of Kansas,” Nowak said of the Grover Barn. “There aren’t a lot of structures, partly because Quantrill’s Raid burned down town, that can say that they were here before the state was established."...BS.

Raise that building or sell it. There was never an "underground railroad" in Lawrence, KS.

Greg Cooper 2 months ago

" There was never an "underground railroad" in Lawrence, KS." And the earth is flat, and Chump is here to help you.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 2 months ago

Why do you think Quantrill raided Lawrence. Jayhawkers were going into Missouri and stealing their "property", otherwise known as slaves. I'm sure you are sorry that the Confederacy lost and you can't have slaves. Boo hoo.

Bob Smith 2 months ago

Jayhawkers did a lot more than stealing slaves in Missouri. "...The depredations of the jayhawkers contributed to the descent of the Missouri-Kansas border region into some of the most vicious guerrilla fighting of the Civil War. In the first year of the war, much of the movable wealth in western Missouri had been transferred to Kansas, and large swaths of western Missouri had been laid waste, by an assortment of Kansas jayhawkers ranging from outlaws and independent military bands to rogue federal troops such as Lane's Brigade and Jennison's Jayhawkers. In February 1862, the Union command instituted martial law due to "the crime of armed depredations or jay-hawking having reached a height dangerous to the peace and posterity to the whole State (Kansas) and seriously compromising the Union cause in the border counties of Missouri."[30] ..." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jayhawker

Justin Hoffman 2 months ago

You just hit Dorothy with hard facts. Prepare to be called names.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 2 months ago

But it was okay for Missourians to come in and vote illegally to try and make Kansas come into the United States (you know, the winner of the civil war) with slaves. I know you are sad that the confederacy lost, but they did. And that is the only fact I need Justin.

Shelley Bock 2 months ago

Don't worry about Russian Justin. He didn't study the 19th Century American history in his high school in Russia. He's a bit behind the times.

Kerry Altenbernd 2 months ago

As I have posted on other occasions, there is an almost total lack of knowledge in the average person about who John Brown was, what he believed, and what he did. Instead of going by the anti-Brown propaganda that was written about him by people who blamed him for destroying their slave society, actually look into his life. Read a modern book or two about him, ones without an ax to grind, with an open mind and then make up your mind about him. If one doesn't do that then one really has no business making baseless comments about him.

Oh, and by the way, except for a few who had been born to missionary families, no white person in Kansas Territory was "from Kansas", so arguing that Brown wasn't born here could be extended to every notable Kansas of the time, Charles Robinson, Richard Cordley, James Lane, etc., but that doesn't stop us from calling them Kansans.

Bob Smith 2 months ago

Well, heck, John Brown is on that Kansas album cover. That ought to be enough for anyone.

Francis Hunt 2 months ago

“We’re the city; the city is the people of Lawrence,” Altenbernd said. “So each one of us is a co-owner in that building, and each one of us should be able to have a say in what happens to it.”

As co-owners you can pay for it! Apply for grants and fund raise don't just make demands. And then don't forget to make arrangements to fund the new storage space that will need to replace this one.

Kevin Millikan 2 months ago

They should go running to the NRA huh Francis..

Kerry Altenbernd 2 months ago

That is exactly what the plan is, to find outside funding sources. The only reason the city is involved is because it owns the barn, but since it does, the overwhelming importance of the history compels it to do something, and to make sure that that something is the right thing.

Richard Aronoff 2 months ago

Regarding John Brown, I'm reminded of a line from the film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. That is: When the legend becomes the fact....print the legend.

If a public fund is set up for the restoration and preservation of this property, sign me up.

Justin Hoffman 2 months ago

"The mock courage that accompanied the Redlegs as they burned and plundered the homes of innocent citizens in Missouri during their Jayhawking raids now escaped them. Many ran away seeking safety, leaving their wives and children to fend for themselves." --Quantrill at Lawrence, Paul Petersen

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 2 months ago

All you yearning to have the Confederacy and slavery back crack me up. You snowflakes lost more than 100 years ago. Get over it.

Bob Smith 2 months ago

Nobody on this thread is doing that, Dorothy. Are you gaslighting once more?

Andrew Applegarth 2 months ago

Who needs slavery with people like you advocating for paying illegals less than legal wages under the table to do the same jobs without the expense of caring for them?

Slaves were expensive. Illegal aliens are cheap.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 2 months ago

Unions are the best. I think, you are going to see a lot more people joining them agains soon, when they wake up and realize they are being ripped off.

Andrew Applegarth 2 months ago

Which would then be followed by them getting ripped off by the unions. Experience has shown that they are really good about recruiting members and collecting dues. Sadly, experience has shown they aren't much good at protecting those members.

Bob Smith 2 months ago

Both the Bushwhackers and the Jayhawkers were terrorists.

Richard Aronoff 2 months ago

I don't believe anyone here is looking for slavery to come back, Dorothy. But if people keep sanitizing history and banning flags, monuments and other symbols it could happen.

I honestly don't understand how any black American could vote for a Democrat. The Democrat party is the party of slavery, the party of Jim Crow, the party of the Klan. Indeed, the 1924 Democrat convention was known as the Klan Convention. Woodrow Wilson saw to it that people applying for government jobs had to attach a photo thereby making sure that "those people" wouldn't be hired. After the Supreme Court's Brown decision, it was Democrat governors who chained the doors of public schools closed. BUT Dwight Eisenhower passed two civil rights acts before the 1964 act. Don't hold your breath waiting for any of those things to be taught in school.

Meanwhile, speaking of snowflakes, Huckleberry Finn and To Kill Mockingbird can't be read in school because of ONE WORD, notwithstanding the fact that Huck was helping a slave gain his freedom and Atticus Finch was defending a wrongly accused black man.

Oh.....one more thing. Today -- Presidents' Day -- is the anniversary of the day the Democrat icon Franklin Delano Roosevelt interred over 100,000 Japanese-Americans who were either citizens or legal residents of this country.

Shawn Franklin 2 months ago

Damn. There are a lot of strong opinions and hurt feelings over people none of you have met, From times you’ve never lived. I’m surprised at the vitriol over an article about a barn. Make sure you keep score over the deeds of the long dead. This argument is literally history repeating itself. Fans of history should well know how that usually turns out.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.

loading...