|HISTORY OF THE LEMP AVENUE SITE|
An oral historical tradition in St. Louis has associated the building at 3314-3318 Lemp Avenue with the Underground Railroad. The tradition about this site is especially compelling because it described how a tunnel behind the house at 3314 Lemp provided a secret entrance into the extensive series of passageways of Cherokee cave. Several "entrances and exits" have been documented for Cherokee Cave. At least one entrance to Cherokee cave was near the Mississippi River where slaves could hope to escape to freedom in Illinois. The entrance near the Mississippi River would have been an "exit" to from slavery to freedom. J. Harlen Bretz described Cherokee Cave in a 1956 report on the Caves of Missouri by the Missouri Geological Survey and Water Resources. His map (Figure 30) shows Indian Tunnel extending towards the Mississippi River as well as a unmapped continuation of the cave to the south.
Research at the site has focused on 3 hypotheses:
1. The Lemp Avenue Site was occupied prior to the Civil War.
2. African-Americans are associated with the Lemp Avenue Site
---A. because it was a stop on the underground railroad
---B. because it was the slave quarters for the Demenil Plantation
3. The site was occupied after the Civil War by German-Americans
Evidence supporting the first hypothesis has been recovered and includes makers marks on ceramic and glass artifacts. The third hypothesis is also supported by architectural and artifactual evidence.
Testing the second hypothesis (Underground Railroad and Slave quarters) is admittedly a difficult proposition. Artifacts associated with African-Americans may support an interpretation of an African-American presence on the site, but without suggesting how that presence was manifested. Evidence directly supporting the presence of an Underground Railroad stop is likely to be particularly difficult to identify. The Underground Railroad functioned between the 1820s and 1860s and consisted of loosely linked safe houses and abolitionists who would help guide African slaves out of slavery to free States and Canada. Because of the dangers of helping slaves gain their freedom, "stations" on the Underground Railroad were identified mostly by word of mouth. Some aspects of the Underground Railroad make the Lemp Avenue Site a good candidate for a stop. The presence of the tunnel and cave "exit" provides a hidden means of transporting slaves to the Mississippi River without being challenged in the city streets by police and slave catchers. Cemeteries were sometimes used as landmarks in describing the location of Underground Railroad stops. A German Evangelical cemetery and a Baptist cemetery were situated near the Lemp Avenue site.
The site is located at 3314-3318 Lemp Avenue, between Utah Avenue to the north and Cherokee Avenue to the south. The property was purchased in 1856 by Dr. Nicholas Demenil and Eugene Miltenberg as part of a larger property. It is unclear whether or not Dr. Demenil owned slaves at the time of this purchase as he is listed in the 1850 census as a slaveowner, but not in the 1860 census. It is therefore not known if slaves ever lived on the property. During his ownership of the properties, there were at least two small cottages on the west edge of the (at 3314 and 3316 Lemp) were built sometime after 1864, when the property was sold by A. Geise to Henry Geise.
The property has been put to many uses over the past 150 years. Whipple Insurance maps drawn in 1896 show a two story stable that hired out horses, a coal yard, and an office building for the coal yard. Additional houses were built behind the original houses at 3314 and 3316 Lemp, but were demolished in the 1970s. Excavation has demonstrated that there were cottage industries located on the property.
By 1999, only the two front houses remained at 3314 and 3316 Lemp, with a vacant lot at 3318. The house at 3316 was boarded up before 1999 (still standing in 2001) and consists of a small (original) cottage with a sizable addition to the rear (east) of the original structure.
The house at 3314 Lemp was identified by Mark Sarich (a citizen of the neighborhood) in 1998 as an underground railroad station based on his oral history interviews of the neighbors. At the rear of the house, the ground sloped sharply down to a basement entrance. A rear wooden porch was built over the slope, covering the entrance to a tunnel, approximately two meters from the house foundation. According to first-person accounts, the tunnel eventually leads into Cherokee Cave. This tunnel and cave system is part of the local oral traditions of an Underground Railway route to the Mississippi River.
Unfortunately, the house at 3314 Lemp Avenue was demolished by the City of St. Louis in April, 1999 at the very moment that permission was granted to investigate and excavate the site. Professor Fuller (SLCC) examined the ruins of the building on the day of its demolition. The hand hewn floor sills and soft, sandy bricks exposed by the demolition at 3314 Lemp Avenue closely resemble the slave constructed architectural features that Professor Fuller had examined at the Whitehaven Historic Site (NPS monument in the City of St. Louis) and Alt Home Site (Town and Country city park in St. Louis County).
The demolition of 3314 Lemp Avenue would have focused on the area surrounding the tunnel entrance, but this was changed because the city demolition crew buried the entrance under tons of destruction debris. Excavation had to be concentrated on the other portions of the site. Other than the two houses, the site was covered with grass, except in the deepest shade, where the ground was mostly bare.
Examine close the 1854 map of the section of St. Louis that includes the Lemp Cave, Baptist Cemetery and German Evangelical Cemetery. The Lemp Avenue Site is situated between the Lemp Cave and the Baptist Cemetery.