Increased Interest in Underground Railroad Stop in Iowa

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WEST DES MOINES, Iowa –A new show called "Underground" premieres Wednesday night. The series depicts the human struggle of slaves in search of freedom through the Underground Railroad. You can get a taste of what life was like on the Underground Railroad in Iowa.

You may have driven by the Jordan House in West Des Moines. Tour Director Nan Hagen said, "It's the oldest house in Polk County."

And, you've certainly heard the former owner's name. "Half of West Des Moines is named Jordan something," she said.

It’s named after James Jordan. The pioneer moved to Iowa from Virginia and was a cattle farmer, politician, and abolitionist. He was the chief conductor of the Underground Railroad in Polk County. “And, he probably became an abolitionist because he had lived in the Virginia plantation society and he was required to help catch fugitive slaves when he was growing up," said Hagen.

The Jordan House was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The West Des Moines Historical Society owns the house now and opens it for tours. It’s one of only four stops open to the public in Iowa.

Hagen said, "I don't think a lot of slaves came through here, but we have documented at least one case where 13 slaves were brought here by John Brown."

The slaves came north from Missouri, would stay a day or two to rest, then it was onto Grinnell, Iowa City, and eventually Canada. "It's one of those things we don't ever want to forget," said Hagen.

About 8,000 people tour the home every year, but a recent event shows there's increased interest in the historical home. "We had so many people, we had to turn 80 people away. We had 170 people in this house. And, they just, the time is right. People want to hear about the Underground Railroad. They're very interested in the subject right now."

The Jordan House is open for tours on Fridays at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tours are also given the first Sunday of the month at 1 and 2 p.m. Or, you can contact the house at (515) 277-6652 to schedule a tour.

You can check out the new series "Underground" on Channel 13’s sister station, WGN America, at 9 p.m.