LG&E project on hold; more study of cave's link to Underground Rail needed
Wednesday, February 13, 2013 10:00 AM
A Trimble County, Ky., cave with a possible link to the Underground Railroad must be researched further before a LG&E landfill project will receive approval from officials.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers met last Thursday with consulting parties from LG&E, the Sierra Club, Kentucky State Historical Preservation Office, the African-American Heritage Council and other Kentucky officials to discuss a report detailing the cave's possible historical connections.
The report, written by Berea College professor Alicestyne Turley, an independent contractor hired by LG&E, gave background information on Trimble County's ties to the Underground Railroad, as well as possible connections to photos of carvings found in the "Wentworth Lime Cave."
"Her report raised some interesting questions," Corps project manager Kimberly Simpson said.
According to Turley's report on the historical context of the cave, Trimble County served as one of 12 major routes to freedom throughout Kentucky with a "very popular escape route at Madison, Ind., from Kentucky's Trimble and Carroll counties."
Madison was the first stop for many enslaved people after crossing the Ohio River into the free state and had several connections to the Underground Railroad. The work of abolitionists in the area documented in newspapers, autobiographies and court and land records at the Jefferson County Courthouse allow historians to draw clear connections to the county's role in the Underground Railroad.
In fact, Madison has eight properties with connections to the Underground Railroad that are now listed on a national Underground Railroad database of properties - more than any other city in the United States. No sites in Trimble County have been registered with the National Park Service's Network to Freedom database, which records national Underground Railroad sites and programs, but documentation of Trimble County residents' participation in the Underground Railroad had been recorded throughout the years.
Still, several enslaved people who made it to the free lands of Indiana and other free states are thought to have traveled through Trimble County on their journey from the southern slave states during the 1800s.
"(The Underground Railroad) was prominent in Trimble County," Simpson said during an interview Monday.
The report names individuals with Underground Railroad ties that lived in Trimble County during the 1800s, such as well-known abolitionist Delia Webster, who might have connections to some of the 17 inscriptions found in the cave.
Yet even more research and documentation needs to be completed before determining whether the cave might have been connected to the Underground Railroad.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other parties plan to answer those questions before making a decision on the wetlands and stream destruction permit LG&E applied for more than two years ago to construct a fly-ash landfill on property the company owns in Trimble County.
"Currently we do not have enough documentation to determine if the cave is associated with the Underground Railroad or if it is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places," Simpson said in a release following Thursday's meeting.
Should more research find that the cave is in fact an historic property, all groups involved would have to work together to meet requirements of the law for historic properties, Simpson said during the interview.
The law allows for avoidance of the historical site, minimization of impact to the historical site or mitigation, but the law does not require avoidance over minimization or mitigation, the release said. While the law does not require that the cave be preserved and unharmed, some kind of documentation or recognition of the cave would be required.
No time line has been determined as to when this process may be completed, Simpson said. Other aspects of the permit's process continue while officials look into the cave's significance.
Trimble County resident Sonia McElroy, who serves as a consulting party with the Sierra Club, encourages anyone with information about the cave or Trimble County's connection to the Underground Railroad to contact her at email@example.com.