Crenshaw House State Historic Site

Hickory Hill Lane, Junction

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The Crenshaw House was the home of John Hart Crenshaw, an important southern Illinois businessman who exploited African-American labor during the state’s early years. Census records show both slaves and indentured free blacks were kept at his home, sometimes called the “Old Slave House.”

The manufacture of salt was the main source of Crenshaw’s wealth. The Gallatin County area abounded in saline springs, which the state leased to salt-makers. Brine was piped to “furnaces” where it was boiled, evaporating the water and leaving salt, which was used to preserve food. By 1830 Crenshaw was operating three of the nine salt furnaces in Gallatin County. In 1840 he won from the state the sole lease to the Wabash Saline for ten years.

African-Americans played a central role in Crenshaw’s saline operation, providing the bulk of labor used in operating the furnaces. There is strong evidence that Crenshaw not only worked within the racist laws of the time but also went beyond the law and helped seize free or fugitive African-Americans so that they might be sold into slavery.

Crenshaw was on the fringes of court cases involving charges of kidnapping, and in 1842 was himself indicted for kidnapping and holding a black woman and her children until they could be moved south. Crenshaw was acquitted for technical reasons, but the evidence strongly suggests that he was connected to illegally holding African-Americans.

The Crenshaw House, built around 1842, is also known as Hickory Hill. Crenshaw’s business ventures included a saw mill, a store and the post office at what is now Junction, as well as a mill at Equality. He owned about 11,000 acres of land, was involved in local railroad construction and served for a time as a director of the Bank of Illinois.