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Lawrence’s Grover Barn tapped for federal grant preserving Underground Railroad sites

Grover Barn has stood just off of 23rd Street and Lawrence Avenue for nearly 165 years. It’s a seemingly innocuous structure that the city of Lawrence has owned since 1980, and it was most recently used to store police equipment.

But in reality, the building at 2819 Stone Barn Terrace is perhaps one of the city’s most important historical structures. It served as a site on the Underground Railroad, a secret network of passageways that led to freedom for an estimated 100,000 enslaved people in the United States.

Given its age, the barn has been in need of upkeep in recent years. And this week, the city received some welcome news in helping that come to fruition: a federal grant from the National Parks Service to conduct a drone study of Grover Barn’s structural integrity.

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The Lawrence site was one of 20 Network to Freedom members selected to receive up to $10,000 each for projects that “enhance the preservation, interpretation, and research of the Underground Railroad,” according to the grant announcement.

The city is partnering with the Watkins Museum of History and the University of Kansas to conduct the drone study, which will take place either Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on weather. In March, the city entered into a memorandum of understanding with community partners to explore potential uses of the Grover Barn site as a public center for historical research and digital storytelling.

Lawrence farmer and Free State militia member Joel Grover built the barn in 1858 down the hill from his farmhouse property with the help of a neighbor. By January 1859, the famed abolitionist John Brown utilized the barn to free 13 people enslaved in Vernon and Bates counties in Missouri, taking them through Lawrence and cementing the city’s status as part of the Underground Railroad.

The Grover family continued to farm the land in some form until Joel’s sons died in 1953. Afterwards, a local artist, Bernard “Poco” Frazier, purchased the barn and used it as a studio. Much of the land was donated to the city of Lawrence in 1967, and in 1976 the city designated some of the land as Holcom Park — at the same time preparing the barn for use as a fire station, which it operated as from 1983 to 2006, according to the building’s history compiled by Guardians of Grover Barn. The citizen group formed in 2017, seeking to restore its historical significance.

According to the group, the original stone walls and wooden beams from Grover’s original construction remain intact, though deeper analysis is needed.

In March, the Guardians of Grover Barn led a project to add four informational kiosks outside of the building highlighting its connection to the Underground Railroad. That project was funded by a $7,300 grant from the Douglas County Heritage Conservation Commission.

The Grover Barn site was designated as an official Underground Railroad site several years ago by the U.S. Department of Interior and is a designated historic site on the Lawrence Register of Historic Places.

August Rudisell/@KsScanner The storage side of Grover Barn, at 2819 Stone Barn Terrace in Lawrence, is pictured on June 18, 2021. It served as a site on the Underground Railroad in 1859.
August Rudisell/@KsScanner A marker outside Grover Barn, pictured June 18, 2021, shares some of the site’s historical significance.
August Rudisell/@KsScanner A marker outside Grover Barn, pictured June 18, 2021, shares some of the site’s historical significance.

— Conner Mitchell (he/him), reporter for The Lawrence Times, can be reached via email at cmitchell@lawrencekstimes.com or 785-435-9264.

If you have sensitive information to send Conner, please email connermitchell@protonmail.com.

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