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Burlington historian can show county in new way

If history is your passion, particularly local history, please allow me to introduce you to Burlington’s Chris Saunders.

Ironically, I met him because of something he wrote.

Now, I feel compelled to write about him (again).

Minus the teaching credentials (he’s a postal employee in Ashland), Chris is the Bob Leith of my generation…ultra-intelligent, hyper-passionate, and driven to educate others about the past.

When I first spoke to him in 2006, prompted by a letter he wrote in a local newspaper regarding the rights of divorced fathers, his passion for his cause immediately grabbed my attention.

I remember thinking, “I wish I had this guy’s fire.”

Since then, he’s become a good friend…a guy I can call when I don’t fully understand certain things that are happening within our government, such as the recent Obamacare decision.

I’m convinced he can recite the Constitution, verbatim, on the spot and even backwards, if somebody asks.

Recently, Chris’s tireless research into the Underground Railroad in southern Ohio was utilized by the PBS series “Finding Your Roots.” He has the thank you note from the show’s host, Louis Gates, Jr., framed on the wall of his riverside Burlington home.

And, armed with his immense research, he’s also begun conducting local tours of the actual sites where Southern slaves found freedom in Burlington.

A two-story, brick house along the river in the Burlington “S” curve might mean nothing to most passersby, but when Chris tells you his story about that house, fascination begins to control your mind.

He’ll walk you down the street from this site and point out other historical structures, their proximity to the former courthouse in Burlington, which was the first county seat of Lawrence County, and ask thought-provoking questions that seemingly transfer you back in time.

He’ll also walk you to Lawrence County’s first jail and provide fascinating details about this tiny structure, which is presently being restored.

Then, once this tour is finished, assuming your brain can handle more information, he’ll take you to a local cemetery and make the tombstones talk. Try to contain your enthusiasm as he connects the people in these graves to some of the most prominent people in American history.

Next, if you haven’t experienced cranial overload, he’ll guide you to a church in Macedonia and explain the significance of this now-abandoned building. He might even mention that the families who attended this church were the key players in the longest running slave case in American history…a case that was recently closed in a West Virginia courtroom, thanks in part to his exhaustive research.

But I’ll leave the stories to him.

He also has in his possession 85 of 100 reprints of the book that ignited his passion for local history.

“Folklore and Legends,” a research project by Sharon Milich Kouns and Peggy Wells about the history of Burlington, was recently reprinted, due in large part to Chris’s passionate promotion of its contents to others.

“If anyone is interested in the history of this area, they want this book,” he told me recently, with passionate emphasis on the word “want.”

Steve Call, an Ohio University travel, tourism, and recreation professor, is as impressed as I am with Chris’s vast research and passion for local history.

“Chris’s story telling ability brings his interpretive walking tours alive,” Call said with emphasis. “Like many entrepreneurs, marketing his tours is a challenge, but I’m positive that when tour participants share their experiences the business will come.”

If history turns you on, do yourself a favor and give Chris a call (304-412-4852) to set up a tour.

I guarantee you’ll be fascinated by his research.

And you’ll likely end up with a brand new friend.


Billy Bruce is a freelance writer who lives in Pedro. He can be contacted at hollandkat3@aol.com.