On This Date, Something Happened: The Burkle Estate

On This Date, Something Happened: The Burkle Estate

Did you know that Memphis was a stop on the Underground Railroad?

In the mid-nineteenth century, Memphis was the center of the cotton trade in the United States, which also means it was a center for the slave trade. 

Today, an unassuming white clapboard house downtown serves as a reminder of the cruelty of this institution, but also of the power of the human spirit to stand up against that cruelty.

In 1849 German immigrant Jacob Burkle built a home and a stockyard on a plot in downtown Memphis. The Burkle Estate was a convenient place for herdsmen to keep their cattle, but history says that Burkle also opened his home to provide shelter and a hiding place for people who were escaping slavery via the Underground Railroad. 

From 1855 until the abolition of slavery, Burkle operated this stop on the network of safe houses and routes for those making their way to the northern states and Canada. In 1997 the home and surrounding land was converted into the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum. This museum might be overlooked for top-ten lists, but it represents an important period of Memphis history.

historic home with Slave Haven Museum sign
Holly Whitfield

From the historic marker: 

"In the years immediately preceding the Civil War, Jacob Burkle operated the Memphis Stockyards on this site. Herdsmen seeking shelter and respite at Chelsea House found the stockyards a convenient custody station for their livestock. Folklore persists, however, that the estate was also a haven for slaves escaping to freedom on the underground railroad." 

The home's interior is filled with artifacts documenting the slave trade in Memphis and the experiences of those who may have passed through on their way to freedom through the Underground Railroad system.

You can visit the modest antebellum house for historical tours and see for yourself the cellar and trapdoors that served as hiding places for formerly enslaved people.

Go There: 

Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum
The Burkle Estate
826 N. Second Street
Memphis, Tennessee 38103

Cost: Adults, $12; students 4–17, college students, and seniors 65+, $11 

*This article is an excerpt from Secret Memphis.  The original Burkle Estate article was published on I Love Memphis Blog in 2011.

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