Re-opening of Pearson house to be highlight of Black Jack Battle commemorative event
The site manager of the Black Jack Battlefield expects the renovated Robert Hall Pearson farmhouse to be open for this Saturday’s 158th anniversary of the first armed showdown between pro-slavery and Abolitionist forces of the Civil War era.
Jeff Quigley, Black Jack site manager and Black Jack Battlefield Trust board member, said it was anticipated an occupancy permit would be issued for the house Friday after Douglas County inspectors make a final tour of the building.
The opening will coincide with Saturday's annual commemoration of the Battle of Black Jack, fought on June 2, 1856. The five-hour battle that started at dawn ended with Capt. Henry Clay Pate surrendering to the forces of famed abolitionist John Brown.
Helping tip the advantage toward Brown was the arrival late in the battle of the Coal Creek Boys, a group of armed Vinland area settlers that included Pearson, Quigley said.
The commemoration will be low-key this year, without the entertainment, living history demonstrations or battle re-enactments that have marked past observances of the battle, Quigley said.
Black Jack Battlefield tour coordinator Kerry Altenbernd as John Brown and Quigley as Pate lieutenant W.B. Brockett will give interactive tours of the battlefield at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday. In addition, a naturalist will be on site to give a 1 p.m. tour of the Black Jack Nature Park, Quigley said.
If Friday's inspection goes as planned, the highlight Saturday will be access to the newly renovated Pearson farmhouse.
In 2003, the Black Jack Battlefield Trust purchased the house Pearson built in 1890 on a hill overlooking the battlefield. It has been closed for more than a year as work was performed to stabilize the house. The work, completed with the help of a $163,000 Heritage Conservation Grant the Douglas County Commission approved in 2011, replaced or repaired termite-damaged flooring, woodwork, chimney and structural timbers, tuck pointed and reinforced the limestone foundation, replaced missing windows, removed a 1970s addition and added a new heating/air conditioning unit.
“We had to jack the house up and reinforce the foundation to stabilize it,” Quigley said. “It was in pretty bad shape. We have a ways to go as we continue with the house, but we got a lot of the issues involved with the stabilization resolved. The Heritage Grant took care of that, which was first and foremost.”
As visitors will note from the front and side entrances to the Pearson, the renovations weren't entirely true to the home’s 1890 construction, but Quigley said some of the materials used in the renovation would have been familiar to its original builders.
“The sand in the mortar for the basement tuck pointing was sand dug from the property and was what Robert Pearson used when he built the house,” he said.
Should the occupancy permit be issued as expected, those visiting the site Saturday will be able to tour the house from basement to second floor, Quigley said.
“There was a lot less termite damage upstairs,” he said. “It’s a lot closer to what the original house looked like.”
The house is unfurnished, and the trust has no immediate plans to change that.
“We’re treating it like an artifact, so there’s no plans to furnish the house,” Quigley said.
Black Jack Battlefield Trust members have noticed increased interest in the site since the National Park Service designated the Black Jack Battlefield as a National Historic Landmark in 2012, Quigley said. That interest has been noted in the number of visitors to the site’s Web page, blackjackbattlefield.org, and Facebook page, inquiries and physical visits to the site. Helping building interest was the airing in August 2012 of an episode of the National Geographic Channel show “Diggers” filmed at Black Jack, Quigley said.
The renovated farmhouse should add to the interest, Quigley said.
“It’s just another facet of the whole experience,” he said. “A lot of people are just as interested in the 1890 farmhouse as the battle.”
The Black Jack Battlefield site is on East 2000 Road about 3 miles east of Baldwin City on U.S. Highway 56.