Archaeologists dig up information on 'Old Slave House' in southe - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Archaeologists dig up information on 'Old Slave House' in southern IL


A team of archaeologists set out to find some information on an Illinois historic site known as the Old Slave House. Mostly, what and where were the outbuildings.

Mark Wagner, director of the Center for Archaeological Investigations at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, completed his final report for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency in July.

The state of Illinois owns 2 acres of the original 10,000 that made up the John Crenshaw estate, located near Equality in Gallatin County. The preservation agency maintains the site, which is currently closed to the public.

Wagner said the state has considered opening the house and grounds as an interpretive center.

The site's official name is the Hickory Hill State Historic Site, from the Crenshaw family name for the estate. It is know regionally as the Old Slave House, which refers to Crenshaw's reputation as a kidnapper and illegal slaver. Popular legend says the house itself was the scene of a slave-breeding operation.

Wagner's focus, however, was outside of the house and the yard. The team used remote sensing during the early stages of the investigation, including ground-penetrating radar, electrical resistance meters and a magnetometer. This equipment helped in finding the layout of the house's yard, including a fancy privy.

"Privies were usually just holes in the ground in his day," Wagner said. "He made his of stone blocks - it was probably something people talked about. We found mirror glass in the privy vault, so it seems he hung a mirror in it. It was very fancy. I've never dug anything like it."

Richard Kuenneke, a filmmaker and former instructor in SIU's Department of Radio, Television and Digital Media Specialization, documented the archaeological dig throughout the three years.

The Crenshaw House group hopes to make the video documentary available to public television in 2016, pending approval from the preservation agency.

You can click here for more information on the archaeological dig at the Crenshaw estate.

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