Written by Theresa Rose on May 24, 2017

The Henry County Historic Preservation Commission and the Mt. Pleasant Historic Preservation Commission are celebrating Historic Preservation Month by offering a joint program highlighting African American History in Henry County, Iowa.


The Program will begin at 9:30 am Saturday, June 3, at the historic 2nd Baptist Church located at 407 West Saunders Street, in Mount Pleasant, Iowa.  This National Register building was constructed in 1842 and 1843 by the early Methodists of Mt. Pleasant and was later transferred to the African American congregation.  The Church became the longest continuously serving African American Church in Iowa.  Presentations will include a history of the Church Building, video remarks by Glenwood Tolson, Deacon of the Church and a historical presentation of Lee Town and the African American community in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.  Light refreshments will be served.


Following the presentation in Mt.  Pleasant, we will travel to Salem, Iowa for a presentation by Dave Helman at the Lewelling Museum. The Henderson Lewelling house, built ca. 1840 and now a museum, was deliberately constructed by one of the Quaker founders of Salem with the intention of harboring fugitive slaves.  It was known as the “Ticket office for the Underground Railroad” during the pre-Civil War days when Salem was the first safe location for escaped slaves coming from Missouri.  It features two hiding places for escaped slaves in the authentically furnished home.


Photographs of the other Salem houses that were part of the Underground Railroad are also displayed along with a map featuring the Iowa route for the underground network.


‘Lunch on your own’ is available at the ‘Underground’ restaurant in Salem.


The last stop on the tour will be at the East Grove Farms Winery at 1878 335th Street on the farm established by Joel C. Garretson in 1837.  Garretson was a “conductor” on the underground railroad and known for having a $500 reward for his head by Missouri slave owners.  The community of East Grove was a strategic stop on the underground railroad between Salem and New Garden (Denmark) with the Rev. Joel C. Garretson and neighbor, Rev. Joseph Hoag providing shelter and provisions for the fugitive slaves.  A peach orchard south of Garretson’s home was considered a safe place to hide as well as a dense hazelnut thicket to the north.  Hoag had a secret hiding place beneath the stairs of his home, concealed by a closet and accessed from a trap door on the upper landing.


A Preparatory Meeting House for pro-abolition Quakers was built in the 1840’s in a secluded timber about ¾ mile north of the Garretson and Hoag homes.  The corner stones and pioneer cemetery are the only reminders of the East Grove Meeting site which was disbanded in 1857.


Interpretive poster exhibits of East Grove’s underground railroad activity will be located in the winery tasting room in the historic O. A. Garretson house.  Depending on the weather and the condition of the timber trail, jeep or wagon tours of the East Grove Meeting site and pioneer cemetery will be available from noon to 2:00 PM/.