MARIETTA - Longtime local historian and author Henry Burke, best known for his work on the Underground Railroad and its history in the Mid-Ohio Valley, died Saturday.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Leavitt Funeral Home in Belpre and will be announced at a later time.
Burke, 72, of Marietta, worked for many years on historical research in the Mid-Ohio Valley and was known for the depth of his knowledge, often giving programs and presentations for area schools, historical groups and others.
Henry Burke of Marietta, a local author and historian, passed away Saturday at the age of 72. Burke was well known for his knowledge about the history of the Underground Railroad in the Mid-Ohio Valley and beyond. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Sams)
"We worked with Henry on several projects," said Jean Yost, a member of the Friends of the Museums and Sons of the American Revolution. "He developed a compilation of information about Washington County and the Underground Railroad," he said.
"I first met Henry about 50 years ago in Barlow. He loved to ride horses at the Barlow Fair. We'll miss him," Yost added.
Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews said he knew Burke for most of their lives, having played sports against each other while Burke was at Marion Elementary and Matthews was at Harmar Elementary in Marietta. They then went to high school together.
"We were good friends," Matthews said. "Henry was a very nice gentleman, a fine, upstanding gentleman."
Matthews said Burke put his heart and soul into his historical researches over the years, especially about the Underground Railroad and its role and impact on the local area.
Scott Britton, executive director of The Castle and a local historian, said he knew Burke for many years and was shocked Saturday to hear of his passing. They had worked together a lot over the years on historical research, especially on the Underground Railroad and the Civil War and their impacts on the local area.
"It's going to be a big blow to the historical community, that's for sure," Britton said.
He said Burke brought to light a lot of information and raised many people's interest on the local area's history. He thinks some aspects of that history were long overlooked, until Burke brought attention to them.
"It's a sad day," he said.
Nancy Sams, president of the Belpre Historical Society, said Burke was an important source of historical information for the society and similar groups and helped in many ways, including presentations, recorded lectures and other materials.
She said Burke had researched Underground Railroad history for over 35 years, not only in southeastern Ohio and the surrounding states, but also in Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas and parts of Canada.
"He was just a treasure, we've lost a treasure," she said.
Burke authored several books on Underground Railroad history that contained information about people, places and abolitionist activities. Those books included "Washington County Underground Railroad," "Mason Dixon Line," "Mason Dixon Line Revised Edition," "Escape of Jane" and "The River Jordan," which he co-authored with Dick Croy.
Burke was recognized many times for his work over the years, including a 2009 Individual Award of Achievement from the Ohio Association of Historical Societies and Museums. Other awards included the Ohio Underground Railroad Association Award in 1999, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center John Parker Award and the Ely Chapman Education Center Award in 2004 and the Appalachian Hill Country Leadership Award in 2005.