GrowingForChrist

Faith, Family, Love and Reviews

Field trip to a safe house on the Underground Railroad #grow4christ

on April 2, 2014

 

I live in a fairly decent size city in Ohio – but unfortunately my city also is in the habit of tearing down those historical gems that made my city what it was back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  We’ve seen buildings that should have been restored and re-opened torn down and yet eye sores and buildings that are literally crumbling to the side walks below stand.  The other day though we had a chance to take a field trip to a local house that was once owned by an African American family with the last name Gammon – not a lot is known about this family (a son served and died in Massachusetts during the Civil War) what is known is that they helped runaway slaves get North to Canada.

 

The front room – which may have served as living room/bed rooms (there were many Gammon children in the small house) that has displays set up showing before and after as well as some historical notes about the Gammon family.

 

The city was ready to tear down this house.  Once the Gammon’s moved at some point the owner made it into a double apartment building and then for years it sat in ruin – the roof having caved in but the walls told the testament of a man’s hard work and dedication because against all odds the walls remained standing.  After cleaning out the debris a dedicated few people began the tedious and expensive work of restoring the house.  So far over $200,000 have been spent and only work on the house continues when the funding is there.  There is no restroom.  They finally did get electricity installed and doorways were widened to follow the law of the Americans with Disability Act (it also somewhat takes away from the common narrowness and the way the house was originally made).  There are plans to do more such as re-create the original floor that was wiped out when the roof fell in and more but the funding isn’t there.

 

The kitchen area, the props are not Gammon owned, just there to show some period pieces as it might have looked.

My little group was met by a charming lady whose vision it was to see the Gammon House restored.  Our tour guide was an older man who kept the children engaged and raved about how well behaved our group of adolescents and pre-adolescents were – he said he just loved giving tours to homeschool groups!  Some of the children thought there would be mysterious hide-holes where the slaves were kept until they could be moved, but as the tour guide reiterated, sometimes hiding in plain sight can be the best type of hiding.  The kind tour guide took those who wanted to down into the root cellar (not a basement mind you) – I chose not to go I get enough of our creepy basement while doing laundry!  This little gem of both local and American history sits in an area of the city most of us wouldn’t travel to by ourselves, the neighbor next door to this place had a high fence and gate she had to unlock to just pull into her own garage.  It was worth it though to get to see what a safe house on the Underground Railroad looked like, I know my children raved about it the rest of the day and it won’t be a field trip they’ll soon forget.

The outside, side of the house. You can see the root cellar doors are open. There is a modern addition as there is some evidence that the Gammon’s had an extension on the back of the house. Shaker style roofing – something they said they need to find someone who can fix it as a wind storm damaged some tiles.

 

The timbers against the wall (not the rugs) are original floor boards that were able to be salvaged and displayed. Oh the stories they could tell if they could talk.

As a side note, I asked the guide about an old building across the street and whether that was a barn or other type of outbuilding the Gammons had built.  Imagine my surprise when he told me that it was a movie theater back in the 1920’s during segregation.  I knew we had the KKK in our city but I hadn’t realized segregation was so far North!  This theater was called the Lincoln Theater and was where the African Americans went on Friday nights to watch the movies that were off limits to them in the ‘white’ theaters.  Sadly, no pictures of what it looked like exist – I’ve called our historical society and the lady was surprised I even knew what it was as she had only heard of it in name only.  A local church bought wanting to fix it up but it is too costly and the city has slated it to be torn down in the next year or so.  Another part of local history – gone.  If no pictures exist of it in our historical texts in our own city it will likely be forgotten as it has been in recent times.  Sad.  I’m currently trying to get a hold of someone at the church but my numerous phone calls have gone un-returned – as I’d love to see inside even briefly – but they too may be surprised that someone has shown an interest after all these years.

 

The backside of the Lincoln Theater. A modern addition to the side used to be a barber shop.

 

This is the period of American history that has always appealed to me – having read Gone with the Wind in middle school I fell in love with the antebellum South (of course ladies in the North also had hoop skirts) but my heart has always ached at the plight of those in slavery and their flight to freedom.  I’ve read stories where women who were carrying their infants would accidentally find that they had smothered them in their haste to quiet crying so that they wouldn’t be found hiding in the woods.  Families torn apart.  Seeing this bit of history and learning both the good (those that helped run the Railroad) and the bad (the segregation that followed) makes me see how we should embrace our history, as it’s said if we don’t learn from the past we will be doomed to repeat it.  I think we are seeing that today in the form of modern day slavery, young girls and women and even boys being trafficked – whether it’s slavery of the Hebrews under the Egyptians, African Americans under Caucasian slave owners or the slavery of today we must stand up for those who cannot speak for themselves (BTW:  my husband’s great-grandfather came to America from Greece as an indentured servant, AKA ‘legal’ slavery and eventually he was freed from his contract and had a successful diner in our city).

 

(c) 2014, Sarah Bailey/Growing for Christ, All Rights Reserved, Unauthorized Duplication is a Violation of Applicable Laws

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