Sunday, August 2, 2009

Phoenixville Underground Railroad claims disputed (did we expect anything less?)

Nice try.

Unfortunately, this article has no balance whatsoever.

Where are the interviews with those who have first-hand knowledge of the stories of slave burials on the former Reeves mansion/Phoenix Park grounds?

Where are the comments of those who actually entered the tunnel(s)?

Just as well. This case is going to court, and, if need be, I and others can and will testify to our intimate knowledge of the mansion and it's grounds.

There are some things which just won't stay buried.


Phoenixville Underground Railroad claims disputed

Sunday, August 2, 2009

By Evan Brandt,

PHOENIXVILLE — Claims that the site of a controversial senior housing project at the eastern gateway to the borough was once home to a station on the Underground Railroad are unsubstantiated in a 30-page report to the state, according to the project's developer.

The project — an 81-unit facility for low-income seniors, proposed by the nonprofit St. Peters Housing Development Corp. — is currently before Phoenixville Borough Council, which has announced its intention to issue a decision Aug. 11 on a conditional-use application.

The 1.8-acre parcel, near the corner of Starr and Bridge streets, is also the subject of a legal dispute in which two factions connected to the Holy Ghost church are both claiming ownership of the property.

Further complicating deliberations is the question of whether the site, once home to the Reeves family mansion, was once a stop on the Underground Railroad, the unofficial name given to the network of safe-houses used by abolitionists to help runaway slaves escape in the time preceding the Civil War.

The Rev. James Evans, of St. Peters Housing, said Thursday that a Temple University professor of African American Studies sent a letter to the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission which claimed just that, and which said tunnels on the site nearly 2,000 feet in length were once used to hide runaway slaves.

Nilgun Anadolu Okur sent the letter and also wrote that the site may host African-American grave sites that could be disturbed by the construction.

Not so, according to the report by Noble Preservation Services, Evans said. The PHMC contacted him and alerted him to the letter, asking for a report addressing the concerns raised in Okur's letter.

Earlier attempts to contact Okur via e-mail were unsuccessful.

Evans said the report, which he declined to provide to The Mercury prior to the state agency's ruling, found little or no evidence to support Okur's claims. He said the professor's letter "had very precise dimensions" for the tunnel, which was said to run from the Reeves mansion to the Schuylkill River, which turned out "to be the exact dimensions of the Black Rock railroad tunnel three-eighths of a mile away."

Further, in addition to the consultant finding no physical evidence of the tunnels, Evans said the report concluded the likelihood of one existing from the mansion to the river is almost non-existent.

"The mansion was built in 1850," Evans said. "So the tunnel would have had to go under the railroad tracks, and a tunnel that long would have required a massive number of workers and could not have been done in secret."

Further, he said, the report noted that the work force available to the Reeves family, majority owners of the Phoenix Steel" were largely Irish, "and the Irish workers of that period were very anti-abolitionist and there's no way a project of that size, dug by Irish workers, could be kept secret."

The report also cites two detailed books on the abolition movement in Chester County from the 1800s, one written just 10 years after the end of the Civil War, which make no mention of the Reeves family; although, they do mention other Phoenixville abolitionists, Evans said.

The report also noted that while the Reeves family may well have had paid African-American servants, they would not have been buried on the property, but in cemeteries in the community, said Evans.

What is on the site, Evans said, is most likely "an extensive root cellar and wine cellar" that could well have extended beyond the foundation of the house.

Evans said he was "pastor to Tom Reeves, the last member of the Reeves family to be raised in that house," who died last year.

"I specifically asked him if there were any family stories about them being involved in the Underground Railroad, and he said, 'Absolutely not,'" Evans said.

Noble also interviewed David Frees Jr., the president and a founder of the Phoenixville Historical Society, whose grandparents lived on the Reeves property, "and there were no stories about the Underground Railroad."

Evans said he has spoken "with people who are believable" who said they were in a tunnel, but that they were "collapsed" 17 to 18 feet from the mansion, "but that could well be a root cellar."

The earliest information linking the site to the Underground Railroad is not prior to the 1960s, he said.

Evans said he expects a decision from the state historic agency within the next three weeks.

In the end, Evans said he views these claims as another attempt to block the project, which does not yet have funding from the federal Housing and Urban Development agency, like other St. Peter's facilities; although, a funding request will be made at some point.

"One year ago, those who opposed this project wanted to stop it based on environmental issues," but after an environmental cleanup was done at the site, "then those opposed stopped going on about the environment and started talking about the Underground Railroad," Evans said.

"I still think it's a good site, but I don't know if it will happen because of the lawsuit" between the two church groups, both of which claim to be the title holder," Evans said.

"That's an internal issue for the church to settle and we are not party to that in any way," Evans said.

"We're just trying to provide housing for low-income elderly, which I view as an act of Christian charity."


Anonymous said...'s%20LONG%20resume.pdf

This link is the resume to the expert hired by Evans.

Does it look like this firm deals with underground railroads?

Good try

Anonymous said...

This was not an unexpected outcome from an organization that was PAID by Evans to get the pre-determined outcome. Those of us in the know will wait for the INDEPENDENT STUDY by the State of PA to determine the official outcome for the Underground Railroad. We find this to be one more attempt to take the focus off of the real issue at hand.... WHO IS THE OFFICIAL SAINT NICHOLAS BROTHERHOOD. Sorry EVANS... you obviously know that you have already lost. Time to do the right thing and step aside. Get the guts to let go of this project.

Anonymous said...

I spoke to a member of the Reeves family and they disagree with what Evans stated.

Mr Evans, "HOW DARE YOU!"

The facts we kept have been provided to those our family sold the land to for the church. You are making a big mistake misleading the community! God Be With You!

Anonymous said...

If the reporter had done his homework before rushing to meet his deadline, all he had to do was go back to the FIRST meeting 4/15/2008, when this plan was first submitted to Phoenixville Borough Council. A woman from Holy Ghost church spoke of her personal knowledge of historical significance (not folklore)given directly to her by former priest who lived in the original mansion. A surviving Reeves family member lived in what now is occupied by insurance co. at end of driveway at that time and walked her dog on the property and related many times to this priest, the part her family had in assisting slaves. For this seemingly innocuous act, the woman that spoke at the meeting, was censured by the current priest and diocese for daring to believe this information given was permitted under the US Constitution and free speech. Regardless of the spin that Evans puts on his do-good plan for the Sr. citizens, the facts are in the minutes and video of all his contradictions in the past 17 months.
Oh, and by the way, if a "clean-up" of the site was instituted, the parking lot would've been torn up. Another look see by the reporter would've questioned that Evans spin.

Anonymous said...

What???? The Irish can't keep a secret??Is that what Evans meant when he said they built the RR tunnels?
And for the record, tunnels weren't built expressfully for escape and subterranean travel;they were there and convenient. Does anyone else realize there are still underground cities in the subway and rail systems in the cities?

Phys_Ed said...

If the above link (Anonymous 5:34:00) doesn't work for you, add 'pdf' after 'resume.'. Or click here for Tim Noble's Resume.

Anonymous said...


You have to be freekin' kiddin' me here. Noble preserves bldgs., writes reports and preserves strings......... Wow. Sounds well worth the money spent!

Anonymous said...

I hope the SNB court orders the tenant in cottage against touching the access to slave tunnels since she along with signers of agreement of sale know for a fact the access exists still!

If there are any more ground disturbances at the cottage, I imagine that 3rd strike of lightning could hit...

Anonymous said...

Irish majority worked in Steel Mill... Who the hell is this guy?

Does he ever tell the truth?

The Italians, Slovak, Polish, Russian and Serb's all were amongst the workers in the plant.

Off all the drinkin' clubs around town, Irish was not amongst them.
Once they drank do you think they talked? Ya right.

Anonymous said...

The clubs I remember were Slovak,Italian,Hungarian,Ukranian,Polish, The Masons and I think there is a building in town that had the Odd Fellows on Bridge St.
and The Ancient Order of Hibernians which may have been the building where the Masons Lodge is now.Also the Moose Lodge along with the Firehouses and Legion and VFW.Whew am I old.Unless the AOH constitutes the Irish,who knows who built the tunnels.
One thing I do know is LIEING + GREED = ETERNAL DAMNATION .

Anonymous said...

What a waste of tax dollars and church dollars.

The attorney and applicant for HG / Evans disrespected the council by not being prepared. Watching this on TV was upsetting.

Now they are meeeting again, with more costs for hearing, stenographer etc. because Evans assumed he had it wrapped up by not even giving members copies of his latest changes. What disrespect!

Anonymous said...

I also watched the Boro Council Meeting on TV and could not believe Mr. Evans and his attorney had such a slip shod presentation. Of course it was someone elses fault ..the underpaid and overworked boro staff. How classless. Never assume responsibility for your own lack of preparation. But it was this way from the very beginning with this project. It was rude and so very unprofessional not to have copies of anything for each of the Council members. It shows how much Mr. Evans thinks of their hardwork and dedication. I also agree 100% with the Mayor there absolutely should be a traffic light at the new 5 lane wide intersection. Mr. clemm said that only a few residents will have cars covered with dust I beg to differ as one of HGC parishioners who lives in his West End project said that she will not go out at night for fear of not having a parking space when she returns as the building shares the lot with another building. There are many many 70,80+ drivers who have slower reflexes and vision and hearing problems. I have 3 friends who are 70 and have hearing aids. A traffic light at the developers expense and future upkeep must be a condition of any possible approval. Another concern is the young people with children who will be driving in and out from the Day Care during prime busy time. Say NO NO NO to this project and stop wasting any addition tax payer or parishioner money. Enough is enough!!!

Anonymous said...


Well done! Couldn't have said it better myself... I agree with this post 100% and like others, fear putting my name as may not get
a house blessing.

Anonymous said...

In the Beginning was the the beginning of this project was the word of Jim (Father) Evans..hurry, hurry, hurry you must give me a letter immediately without any paperwork or we we loose this HUD money forever, same garbage to the parishioners of HGC, of course he was telling the truth he wears a collar when convenient. At last weeks meeting of the Boro when asked numerous times he finally admitted he has not applied for HUD money. Was he lying then or now??? The St Nicholas Brotherhood is a cult, etc etc and members were threathened with Excommunication and loosing burial rights, now everyone claims to be members of the St. Nicholas Brotherhood, apparently it serves a purpose now. The 99 year lease is BOGUS and not worth the paper it was written on...NOW it is valid..sounds like bait and switch to me. ANY lender HUD or local bank that would lend someone millions of dollars to build on a sub leased parcel of ground only reinforces why the Banking Industry is in such trouble. Lend to anyone who is breathing and foreclose later. The church could loose their the property and all the converts will become Luthern and the coal crackers will all go back to the mines.

Anonymous said...

The Underground Railroad had a stop at the Gilkyson estate in Mont Clare. I was shown the underground entrance covered by a green wooden door as a child. HG is directly across the river from the Gilkyson mansion. It existed.

As for the act of Christian charity- uhhhh- yeah. Thats definitely what this is, LOL

Anonymous said...

I've seen the tunnels on the HG property, they exist. If you look at a map of the area it is the easiest access point to the river and the railway in that area. The Pennypacker estate was further away from the river and rails - which would make traveling over ground dangerous, plus, the train didn't stop there. For all intensive purposes, the Reeves might not have even known of certain "activities" that went on on their own property, and-or turned a blind eye to it. The tunnel from the cottage could easily have been accessed with no knowledge whatsoever of the inhabitants in the other dwellings on the property. Jeeze, servants helping other servants out in secret, like that's never happened before! Swearing silence in lieu of being jailed or worse, like that's never happened either. But, as witnesses have accounted for, at least some of the Reeves did know about underground railroad activity on the property, hence the stories that have been told. There was no benefit to fabricating these stories over five decades ago. These stories are old accounts, not made up recently, but only brought to light in public recently due to the divisive nature of the HGOC board and Evan's quest to profit off the good will of generations of hard work. Honoring the founders and benefactors wishes - as legally required in this situation - should be first priority of every single person involved. Contrary to the smug arrogance of the HGOC board, the original SNB is honest and straightforward, and not vindictive in the least. A lesson should be learned by those viewing this situation from all sides that loyalty, dedication, honesty, and integrity, is worth fighting for. One last aside - How is it that there are huge amounts of postings on various websites of people that are vehemently against this project, but none for it? It's quite obvious now isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Anyone with knowledge who is not threatened by the priest at HG or Evans, contact Karen Johns with your notorized statement.

Many have been provided to date.

More can not hurt.

Father(s) can claim any conversations from those passed away but sworn statements and photos are crtical and proof enough for the authorities who believe the facts given so far and not opinion of firm who handles restoring string instruments and old buildings.

Anonymous said...

I love the irrefutable evidence from a dead man that Fr Evans provides. Priceless.

If Fr Evans is simply trying to perform an act of Christian charity, then he should shake the dust from Starr and Bridge streets off his sandals and get this project underway somewhere else. Do you expect me to believe there is NOWHERE else he can find a piece of land ? Why make the poor and elderly wait years for the good Father's act of charity ? Why tear apart a parish community to support his act of charity ? Why threaten the elderly with loss of burial rights to ensure an act of Christian charity ?

Seems to me, something other than a simple act of Christian charity is driving all of this.

Follow the money !

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:03- Could it be....PRIDE?
How could this public figure and the leadership that governs the church possibly stop now? Like dogs with a bone they will keep up this craziness until the last dollar is spent.

ON another note- I was happy to see that Church St will not be permitted to be two ways in front of our police station and a fire house. As a side benefit it will be a little more difficult to open up Church St on the other side of Starr as a two way street. Thank God someone has some sense in this town!.

Anonymous said...

Pride, greed - hard to tell the difference some times. If I had to guess I would go with pride as they are spendign other's money.

You're right, it will go down to the end. Fr Evans, with all the extra money spent by you and Holy Ghost, imagine all the additional simple acts of Christian charity that could have been accomplished.

What a shame.