The Jordan House

99 Counties | FIND Iowa
Jul 21, 2024 | 03:24

How can people work together to change history?

The Jordan House is one of the oldest homes in Polk County. The history of the house includes keeping a very important secret.


Abby Brown:

In the mid-1850s, just a few years after Iowa became a state, Polk County was home to a famous rule-maker, who also became a rule breaker, all for the sake of protecting a very important secret.

This is the Jordan house. It was built in 1850. It's one of the oldest structures in Polk County.

As one of the first settlers in Polk County, James Jordan built this house. He was a cattle farmer, a politician, and a powerful businessman who helped people in a lot of different ways. He was also an abolitionist, someone who worked to abolish, or end, slavery. His property was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad wasn't underground and it wasn't a railroad. It was a series of secret stops where Freedom Seekers could rest along their journey. The words Underground Railroad were just a different way of saying secret routes. Inside the Jordan House visitors can take a step back in time and see how James Jordan and his family lived.

This map shows the routes Freedom Seekers took as they traveled through the free state of Iowa. But why didn't they just stay in Iowa, it was a free state right?

It's a tough piece of history to make sense of, but it's because of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. It was a law that said even in a free state it's illegal to help Freedom Seekers, and that enslaved people attempting to escape should be returned to their owners, sometimes for a lot of money. So at that time here in Iowa, Freedom Seekers were still in danger of being captured and returned to slavery. And the rule breakers like James Jordan, were also in danger of being found out as helpers. Here on James Jordan's land, Freedom Seekers would have hid in outbuildings, or in the fields, or among these trees, which have been cut down now, but they would have been enormous. Freedom Seekers would not have hid in the house. Women, including James Jordan's wife, Cynthia, would create care packages for them with things like food and clothing. Freedom Seekers were smart and so brave, the journey was long and challenging, but worth the chance to escape slavery.

This house and the grounds around it held a secret that was an important part of our history, right here in Polk County.