Last updated: March 12, 2015
The Old Slave House (or Crenshaw House) was a "station" on the Reverse Underground Railroad that transported escaped slaves and kidnapped free blacks back to servitude in slave states. It is thought John Crenshaw operated a secret slave jail for kidnapped free black and captured runaway slaves on the third floor of his house.
Crenshaw was indicted multiple times in the 1820s and 1840s for his role in the disappearance of free blacks, and period documents confirm his involvement. His victims surfaced all over the slave-holding south, including Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas.
Crenshaw himself was a slaveholder and slave trader, a singular anomaly in the free state of Illinois. His exemption from the law forbidding slavery derived from his operation of the nearby, state-owned salt works. No free man could be found to perform such arduous labor as salt mining, so Crenshaw was provided with an exemption to the ban. He was the only Illinois resident to hold such an exemption.
In time, Crenshaw became a remarkably wealthy man. At one point, his taxes amounted to one-seventh of the revenue of the entire state. He owned thousands of acres of land, in addition to the 30,000 acres he leased from the state, and more than 700 slaves.
The terrible fates of both the kidnapped free blacks and the slaves forced to labor in Crenshaw's salt works are the origin of persistent rumors that the Crenshaw House is haunted.