• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Continuing vision of a park to tell Huntertown’s story

Retired social studies teacher Sioux Finney said she has lived in Woodford County for 20 years, but didn’t know anything about Huntertown’s history as a thriving community where newly-freed slaves settled after the American Civil War ended.

That all changed when Finney and students in her freshman history class at Woodford County High School began piecing together the stories of this Freetown for a research project in 2016.

In their research, Finney said they uncovered an 1871 deed stating a black man purchased $500 worth of land in the Huntertown community. Historians, she explained, assume land was sold to newly-freed slaves to keep a labor force on farms.

The once-thriving community of Huntertown had stores, a schoolhouse (where prayer meetings were held) and homes on 38 acres along Crawfish Lane (Huntertown Road) in a flood-prone area of Woodford County. “There was a baseball team called the Huntertown Sluggers that … played (against) other African-American teams … in the ‘30s and ‘40s,” said Finney.

To recognize the existence of Huntertown and its rich history of more than 130 years, Finney (with the help and support of many others in the community) has resumed a grassroots effort to turn the historic Freetown into an interpretive park where visitors can learn this important story, she said.

The vision of a park never became a reality because those behind the initial effort, notably Planning Director Pattie Wilson, were not awarded a 2012 grant to pay for it.

So after Finney retired, she told herself and others, “I want to see that Huntertown project come to reality because it’s such a wonderful story.”

She didn’t intend on taking on the project so soon after retiring last spring – until being awarded a Woodford County Community Fund grant to continue the historic research and the vision of a park that tells the story of Huntertown – one of many forgotten communities.

“Putting a face on history,” compelled Finney to resume her research on this Freetown, she said. “Talking to people that lived there and hearing the stories of their lives … it just tugs at you.”

Besides conducting oral history interviews with people who once lived in Huntertown, Finney is now working with three WCHS students in a senior seminar class taught by Amber Sergent and Devan Martinez. The students are helping to research its history for the remainder of the school year.

“Indeed, if we see this community’s story as America’s story,” Dr. Sergent wrote in an email interview, “then Huntertown is an unforgettable imprint of why history is visible in the lives of real people, and why it needs to (be) preserved and protected.

“Huntertown is a vital piece of Woodford County’s history and our students seek to help capture this community’s voices.”

During a recent class, students Abigail Cheek, Chandler McFarland and Allison Miller offered thoughts on why a community like Huntertown existed in American history. The seniors also expressed an interest in researching various aspects of Huntertown, including agriculture and the Riney-B Railroad that came through the community.

“These communities have such a strong sense of self,” said Chandler, “but the railroad connected them to the outside world …”

Finney told the students everything they uncover in their research will add to the story of Huntertown.

She came to the seminar class with Donald Morton. His grandparents lived in a house on the site in Huntertown where the community’s colored school once stood.

“That’s some pretty deep research just to find the (exact) location of the school,” Morton told the students during class.

“With research,” Dr. Sergent cautioned her students, “it’s like going down a rabbit hole … because rabbit holes can send you in so many directions.”

Besides the grant award for research, Finney said it will take grassroots support for the Huntertown project to happen. If the vision becomes a reality, she told the students, “It’s going to be a beautiful place for people to enjoy.” She’s hopeful former residents of Huntertown can someday have their annual reunion at a beautiful park where they once lived.

Anyone interested in Huntertown’s history and sharing their family stories is invited to attend “Huntertown Artifact Day” Saturday, April 27, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., in the upstairs art gallery at the Woodford County Library.

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