Mayhew Cabin

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Mayhew Cabin
Mayhew Cabin from S 1.JPG
Front (south) of Mayhew Cabin.
Mayhew Cabin is located in Nebraska
Mayhew Cabin
Location 2012 4th Corso, Nebraska City, Nebraska
Coordinates 40°40′24″N 95°52′12.1″W / 40.67333°N 95.870028°W / 40.67333; -95.870028Coordinates: 40°40′24″N 95°52′12.1″W / 40.67333°N 95.870028°W / 40.67333; -95.870028
Area less than 1 acre (0.40 ha)[2]
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 11000013[1]
Added to NRHP February 11, 2011[1]

Built in 1855, the Mayhew Cabin and Historic Village in Nebraska City, Nebraska is the only Underground Railroad site in Nebraska officially recognized by the National Park Service.[3] It is included among the sites of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.


The Mayhew Cabin, also known as John Brown's Cave, in Nebraska City, Nebraska was built in 1855.[2] In 1854 Allen and Barbara (Kagi) Mayhew moved to Nebraska and built the cabin in 1855. Barbara’s brother John Henry Kagi came to visit; he was already active in anti-slavery activities. The following year he met and was deeply influenced by abolitionist John Brown.

With Barbara's assistance, Kagi created a stop at his sister's farm for the Underground Railroad.[3] They built a "cave", a dugout room underneath the main cabin, with access only from a nearby ravine. Fugitive slaves crossed the Missouri River from the slave state of Missouri into Nebraska, a free state. They would hide in the cave beneath the Mayhew Cabin until they could make their way to the next stop.

The Mayhews often fed fugitives who stayed at the cave.[4] For instance, Edward Mayhew, their oldest son, wrote of an instance when Kagi brought 14 blacks to the cabin. His mother Barbara fed them a breakfast of cornbread, the family's usual breakfast.[citation needed]

Although the cabin site was informally called John Brown's Cave, there was no evidence that John Brown ever visited there. After meeting Brown, John Kagi became the "secretary of war" in his army. He joined John Brown in the Harper's Ferry raid to obtain weapons for a slave uprising. At age 24, Kagi was shot to death during the raid by militia who were defending the federal arsenal.

According to the National Park Service:

The Mayhew Cabin was built in 1855 from hand hewn cottonwood trees and served as the home of the Mayhew family until 1864, when the cabin and surrounding property were first sold. The property continued to change hands through the end of the 19th century until 1937, when owner Edward Bartling had the cabin moved to prevent its destruction by a highway project. During the move, the cabin underwent restoration, exposing its original 1850s exterior materials. The authentic “old fashioned” look facilitated Bartling’s desire to open the cabin to the public and develop his property as a tourist park. In addition to restoring the cabin, Bartling had a cave built underneath the cabin to help interpret the Mayhew family’s rumored association with the Underground Railroad. The cave consists of a cellar and connecting tunnels, sleeping quarters, and a tunnel exiting to a nearby ravine. Although the Mayhews' role in helping slaves escape to freedom was never proven, the cave was intended to provide the public with an avenue to experience the more legendary aspects of the Underground Railroad firsthand. The cabin remained open to the public from 1938 to 2002 as the “John Brown’s Cave” tourist attraction.[5]

Metal sign on stone pier, reading "Historic Site - John Brown's Cave - 1851"
"John Brown's Cave" sign near cabin.

The cabin was moved in 1937 from its original location. From 1938 to 2002 it was open as John Brown's Cave tourist attraction. A hollowed-out area beneath the new location was created and represented as a place where escaping slaves were hidden.[2]

The building was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on February 11, 2010.[1] The listing was announced as the featured listing in the National Park Service's weekly list of February 18, 2011.[6]


In 2005 the Mayhew Cabin & Historic Village was restored. Today it houses the historic Mt. Zion AME Church, one of the first black congregations established west of the Missouri River.[7]

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