Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
The Pearson House
The Pearson House was severely damaged by a tornado on April 16, 1967. A huge gaping hole remained on the east side, as the storm sucked out most of the thick brick wall. On the west side, the chimneys were badly damaged. Old brick often becomes very soft, almost dusty, therefore they shattered and fell in a pile of rubble.
Owned by the Historical Society, the Pearson House is a kind of museum. Hidden under the floor of a first story bedroom, is a small cellar that is believed to have once served to hide ex-slaves on their way to freedom. A trap door gained entrance, and at one time there was an outside entrance to the special cellar that served the Underground Railroad.
Many of the rooms of the Pearson House were restored to their original appearance, with period antiques and even some mannequins wearing 19th Century clothing. Tours of the facility were given, and sometimes the hosts wore period clothing.
Many volunteer hours of labor had already gone into this museum. Many more hours of manpower were required to bring the facility back into shape. One of the landmarks destroyed was what was frequently called the old "Nigger Church," which had stood for a century as a symbol of the time Keosauqua was a haven for blacks after the Civil War. It had been acquired by the Historical Society with the idea of making it into a Black History Museum. Some of the brick from the old church was used to repair the Pearson House.
The Pearson House is an interesting building. The entire first floor is constructed of rock--limestone that is native to the area, while the upper floor is brick. Benjamin Franklin, Washington, and Augustus Pearson left Maryland in 1835 for Wisconsin Territory. Eventually the three brothers staked claims along Chequest Creek and formed the village of Rising Sun on the north side, opposite Troy, the village that became Pittsburg.
Franklin was a stone mason. When Keosauqua captured the county seat, it was decided that it would be a better place for his trade, so he bought land on Dodge Street, eventually building the house that bears his name. Work began on the house in 1845 and it was completed in 1847, making it one of the oldest houses in Keosauqua. When the house was built, the 2nd floor was left as one large room reached by stairs from both inside and outside. It was used as a public meeting place and house of worship.
In spite of brick that becomes soft and turns to dust, the house is built well with walls that are about fourteen inches thick. Originally the rooms downstairs were heated from large fireplaces on both ends of the house, while the upstairs received very little heat.
Once again, due to many hours of volunteer work, visitors can see the structure, tour the rooms, and imagine how the Pearsons lived in the days when they secretly kept people hidden in the cellar on their way to freedom! Even the family children were not aware of this procedure for fear they would "spill the beans" to someone.
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick