St. Louis’ Underground Railroad

My snow covered house 2013
My snow covered house in 2013

St. Louis has no shortage of 19th Century homes, and I’m blessed to live in one of them. I suppose it was inevitable that I would find myself dwelling in an historic abode. The more I think about it, the more I recognize I’ve been enchanted by the 19th Century for longer than I realized.

I thought my love affair began in high school with reading the Scarlet Letter, but it was earlier than that. I remember when I was 13, for my last time trick-or-treating, I dressed up as a Victorian era woman. And I wore clothes that I already owned. What girl who hit 13 years old smack in the middle of the 1980s (and not the 1890s) had clothing that looked Victorian? So I was at least 13 when my interest in 19th Century Americana began.

As I’m thinking more about it, however, I’ve always been interested in the Civil War and slavery. I like to pretend that my house was a stop on the Underground Railroad. It couldn’t have been; it was built a few of decades too late for that. Nevertheless, I am constantly on the lookout for secret passageways in my home. I haven’t found any yet, but my most recent theory is that there is a crawl space above my butler’s pantry.

This mystery crawl space is the only logical reason that it rains inside of my house in the butlers pantry. Which is on the first floor of my three-story home. That doesn’t get rain on the second and third floors. Maybe that isn’t the only logical reason, but quite frankly, I’m all out of logical reasons, so I might as well go with reasons that put my house on the Underground Railroad.

St. Louis had stops on the Underground Railroad, but not much is known about how many there were or their locations. It’s not farfetched to think that a home in my area could have been a hiding place on a slave’s journey from bondage to freedom. St. Louis is a city of neighborhoods, and my neighborhood first began attracting laborers and socialites in the 1850s. Unsurprisingly, the laborers lived on one side of the railroad tracks while the socialites lived on the other. You can still see the distinctions even today.

A socially stratified neighborhood on a railroad track, just a few miles from the Mississippi River would have seen travelers of all races. Add to that the constant, and uniquely Missouri, tension between which states should even allow slavery, the area was ripe for abolitionist activity amid a booming slave trade. A collision of cultures, values, and access to varying modes of transportation helped to make St. Louis an important stop in both the slave trade and the Underground Railroad. Sadly, many of those same reasons make St. Louis a hotbed for human trafficking.

Fortunately, like in the 19th Century, modern-day St. Louis has a population of abolitionists fighting against human trafficking. Perhaps my house will yet have the chance to serve as a stop on a slave’s journey from bondage to freedom.

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