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Spink & Smith Inn aka Spink Tavern

Demolition may end historic tie Site may have link to Underground Railroad

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI) - Sunday, January 9, 2005
Author: REID J. EPSTEIN, [email protected], Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Demolition may end historic tie

Site may have link to Underground Railroad

Sussex -- Today the old house at the corner of Lisbon Road and Highway 164 is a boarded-up shell, plywood covering the windows of what was once a saloon and, some believe, a station on the Underground Railroad.

But the building is not for long. It, along with an adjacent barn and garage, are set to be torn down this spring as part of the state's improvements to Highway 164. When they go, it will mark the end of what may have been a link to Waukesha County's history of abolitionist activism.

Fred Keller, the Sussex village historian, said Madeline Lembke, who lived on the farm just east of the old tavern, used to say that it was well-known in her family that the site was a stop for escaped slaves headed to Canada before the Civil War.

But while Waukesha was sometimes known as "that abolitionist hole" in the 1840s, there is no remaining evidence that the Sussex site was a stop on the Underground Railroad, according to Sue Baker, the executive director of the Waukesha County Historical Society & Museum.

Last February, the state began work to widen the two-lane Highway 164 that runs through the City and Village of Pewaukee, Sussex and Lisbon. Plans call for installing 30-foot medians, wider lanes, a frontage road and new traffic signals.

Brian Bliesner, the project's supervisor for the state Department of Transportation, said the tavern, its barn and the garage are going to come down in mid-spring.

"All three of those are going to be taken down as part of the construction contract," he said. "It's at the contractor's discretion, as soon as he can get it down."

Three-part project

The construction is set to take place in three phases. The first, from Rockwood Drive to Swan Road in the City of Pewaukee, began in February.

The second phase, scheduled to start this spring, is from Swan Road north to just south of Highway VV in the Town of Lisbon.

The third and final phase of the Highway 164 project in Waukesha County is scheduled for 2006. The Highway VV and Highway 164 intersection will be reconstructed along with Highway 164 north to Howard Lane.

The federal government will pay for 80% of the project, and the remaining 20% will be paid by the state and county governments.

Before the 2006 portion of construction, two more Sussex buildings near the Union Pacific Railroad tracks are also set to be torn down.

The proof of Waukesha County's anti-slavery roots lie in letters to and from Caroline Quarrells, a 16-year-old slave from St. Louis who escaped to Milwaukee in the early 1840s before bounty hunters there tracked her down. She ran to Waukesha, until the hunters found her out again. Then, the Congregational Church whisked her off to Detroit, from where she crossed the border into Canada.

"It was incredibly rural out here then," Baker said. "So it would have been easier for her to hide. She was here for a while, but the bounty hunters did trace her to Waukesha County, and that's when the people from the Congregational Church took her all the way to Canada."

If there were other stops on the Underground Railroad in Waukesha County, their records have been lost, Baker said. Quarrells, unlike many slaves, could read and write and documented her experiences traveling to Canada.

Difficult to verify stories

"That particular case was well-documented because Caroline knew how to write and wrote back to the person who conducted her," Baker said. "We know that Caroline came through here. We do not know about others. It could be that others came through here."

Baker said Quarrells never mentioned the tavern at the corner of what is now Highway 164 and Lisbon Road.

"There's nothing in anything that I've seen that mentions a tavern at that location," she said.

Joe DeRose, a researcher at the Wisconsin Historical Society, said he also is not aware of any evidence that the Underground Railroad went through the old tavern site.

According to an 1880 history of Waukesha County, Quarrells described one of her hiding places in Waukesha County as a place one mile east of the Ryan Road hill, which would not place her at the tavern being town down.

"But what is a mile, when a girl is scared like she was?" Keller said.

Though the house's windows are now covered in plywood and closed to visitors, Keller was inside before the state took ownership. In the attic were a pile of Civil War-era abolitionist newspapers.

"We were going to put a Waukesha County historical marker over there," Keller said. "They'll have a trail that people can trail to the marker."

Site may have link to Underground Railroad


Source:[email protected]

This building at Lisbon Road and Highway 164 in Sussex is slated for demolition, despite a possible connection to the historic anti-slavery Underground Railroad.

Construction to widen Highway 164 is being done in three phases, with the last scheduled for 2006.

Fred Keller says neighbors recall stories of the tavern having been a stop on the Underground Railroad.


Source:[email protected]

Keller peeks inside the outhouse near the building at Lisbon Road and Highway 164.

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