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The Crenshaw House, better known as the "Old Slave House"

The Crenshaw House (also known as the Crenshaw Mansion, Hickory Hill or, most commonly, The Old Slave House) is a historic former residence and alleged haunted house located in Gallatin County, Illinois. The house was constructed in the 1830's.[1] It was the main residence of John Crenshaw, his wife,and their five children.


Early history

John Crenshaw and his wife, Francine. Crenshaw carries a crutch because of his maimed leg.

Landowner and slave trader John Hart Crenshaw leased the state-owned salt works[2] The Gallatin Salines were two saline springs along the Saline River near Equality that were important sources of salt since prehistory.[3] Salt was vital to the early American frontier economy, both as a nutrient and as a means to preserve food. Illinois was a free state, and the Illinois State Constitution bans slavery. However, the law permitted the use of slaves at the salt works since the labor was so arduous that no free men could be found to do it. As the lessee of the salt works, Crenshaw was therefore the only Illinois resident legally entitled to keep slaves, and Crenshaw became remarkably wealthy. At one point, Crenshaw's taxes amounted to one-seventh of the revenue of the entire state. Crenshaw owned thousands of acres of land, in addition to the 30,000 acres (120 km²) he leased from the state, and more than 700 slaves.[4] In 1838, Crenshaw and his brother Abraham used this wealth to build the mansion on Hickory Hill, a few miles from the salt works near the town of Junction.

Abraham Lincoln’s Visit

In September of 1840, Abraham Lincoln, a state representative, was in Gallatin County for over a week attending debates in Shawneetown and Equality.[5] The Crenshaw’s hosted a ball in honor of the debates. The ball was held on the second floor. The second floor of the house was designed to be easily converted into a ballroom because the hall and two of the rooms were made from moveable partitions particularly for such events.[6] Mr. Lincoln along with other male guests spent the night in the Southeast bedroom of the Crenshaw House. The furniture in the room consisted of one bed and two chairs. Mr. Lincoln either slept on the bed, which was shorter than he was, or he could have spread out over the two chairs, or possibly slept on the floor.[7] In 1840, before he left for his campaign Mr. Lincoln made a number of bipartisan social soirees in Springfield. It was at one of these parties that Mr. Lincoln met his future wife, Mary Todd.[8]

In 1850, Crenshaw and his family moved to the nearby town of Equality, and hired a German family to live in the house and operate the farm. Crenshaw sold the house in 1864. Crenshaw died in 1871 and was buried in the Hickory Hill Cemetery. By 1913, the house was owned by the Sisk family.

In 1996 the Sisk family closed the muesuem. In December of 2000 the Sisk family sold the house to the state of Illinois. It is currently closed to the public as the state determines its ultimate fate.[9] Some people hope that it will reopen as a historical site under the ownership of the state.


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