City-owned Underground Railroad site receives national designation

From the Lawrence Journal World:  A city-owned property in southwest Lawrence is now a nationally designated site on the Underground Railroad.

The property was originally the barn of abolitionist settlers Joel and Emily Grover, and dates back to the territorial days of Kansas. The Grover barn, a two-story limestone building now in the midst of a neighborhood at 2819 Stone Barn Terrace, once hid fleeing slaves, including a group of liberated slaves from Missouri led by abolitionist John Brown.  

Kerry Altenbernd,chair of the local preservation group Guardians of Grover Barn, said the designation was the first step in recognizing the barn’s important place in American history.

“You can’t understate the importance of this designation to the future of the barn,” said Altenbernd, who is also known for his portrayals of Brown. “It recognizes and validates the history, and brings everything up to the national level.”

Members of the group worked with the city to apply for the National Park Service program that officially recognizes the site as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The designation to the program, Network to Freedom, nationally recognizes the site and allows the city to apply for grants to preserve the building and create historic markers or signage for the site.

The city, which acquired the barn in 1980, announced the designation in a news release Friday. The city previously used the building as a fire station, and it is currently being used by the fire/medical and police departments. Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard said in the release that the barn was an important historic site in Lawrence and the recognition would ensure its continued preservation and the opportunity to share stories about its role in the Underground Railroad.

A tour of the Grover Barn is planned for Aug. 18, during the Watkins Museum of History’s Civil War on the Western Frontier, according to the release.

Mary Shultz