Group working to get recognition for Lawrence building with ties to Underground Railroad

Posted at 6:32 PM, Mar 02, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-04 11:44:17-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — At the corner of Stonebarn Terrace and Lawrence Avenue sits a little piece of American history.

However, you might not know it when you see it because right now, there are no markers or signs.

In fact, the limestone barn is being used as storage for the City of Lawrence.

Now, a group called The Guardians of Grover Barn is trying to get the building some recognition.

More than 150 years ago, the barn was owned by Joel and Emily Grover. The two abolitionists served as Station Masters on the Underground Railroad.

“They used their barn for harboring slaves that had escaped and were making their way to freedom,” said Kerry Altenbernd, chair of the Guardians of Grover Barn.

Altenbernd portrays abolitionist John Brown in talks across the country.

He said in studying the history, most people involved in the Underground Railroad didn't write anything down or keep records.

But at the stone barn in Lawrence, Kansas… someone did.

"A man that was staying with the Grover family, working on their farm at the time, he wrote and kept a diary. So this is a documented underground railroad story which is almost if not completely unknown anywhere else,” said Altenbernd.

The barn was built in 1858 and the City of Lawrence acquired the property in 1980.

An addition was built on to the barn and it was turned into a fire station.

The city has maintained the barn, preserving the limestone and the original wood beams and recently replacing the roof.

"Certainly, the city recognizes the importance of this structure,” said Diane Stoddard, Assistant City Manager.

The fire station closed in 2006 and since then, the barn has been used as storage.

The Guardians of Grove Barn want that to change.

"People driving by wouldn't have any idea what this is, there's no historical markers, there's nothing here. We're wanting to make sure the public understands the importance of this building,” said Altenbernd.

Altenbernd said the group would like to see a museum in the barn someday, but at minimum, they want signage that tells the history of the barn.

Stoddard said they are working with the group and understand their wishes, however financially it's just not possible right now.

The property has been submitted to The Underground Network to Freedom as part of the National Parks Service.

The group hopes that national recognition may lead to funding to help preserve the building.

The barn is currently on the Lawrence Historic Registry.