Flood Threatens Cabin Used To Help Slaves Escape On Underground Railroad
NEBRASKA CITY – The Nebraska City City Council rejected responsibility for floodwaters that closed Nebraska’s only Underground Railroad museum this spring, but Mayor Bryan Bequette said Monday the city remains interested in preservation of the historic site.
Cathy Briley, president of the Mayhew Cabin Museum Foundation, said the original 1859 cabin remains, as well as a tunnel from the cabin to a nearby ravine. The tunnel is described as helping slaves avoid capture if the cabin itself was raided.
Flood waters this spring, however, filled the ravine, flowed through the tunnel and backed up into what has traditionally been called John Brown’s Cave.
Briley: “What we experienced over the Memorial Day weekend here in 2019 is the worst anyone has ever seen.”
Briley said a drainage tube that runs beneath the main museum building is too small and asked the city to help demolish the building and establish a drainage culvert large enough to prevent similar flood damage in the future.
Briley: “Our priority is the Mayhew Cabin and cellar under the cabin. It can not continue to be damaged by water. I feel that the only solution to this problem is to collapse the tunnel. I want to save the cave, the crosswings that are nearest the cellar, but sacrifice the rest of the tunnel for the safety of the cellar and the crosswings.”
City Administrator Grayson Path said the state Constitution prevents public funds from being used for private property and said the city is not liable for water runoff from a heavy rainstorm.
Briley said Mayhew Cabin is significant in telling the history of the United States and it is part of the National Park Service’s Network To Freedom. The cabin and tunnel are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Briley: “The Mayhew Cabin is important to the entire country. It’s important to the entire state of Nebraska. The Mayhew Cabin is the only Underground Railroad site in Nebraska. It is incredibly unique. That is the original 1855 Mayhew cabin.”
She said even if the law is on the city's side in regard to flooding, the right thing for the city to do is to help preserve the historic site.
Mayor Bequette said he hopes the museum foundation will look for solutions that do not require collapsing the historic tunnel.