An Underground Obsession

There are only a few people who really know about my five month obsession.  I haven’t wanted to share too much of what I have been researching because I wanted to make sure that I was in fact right about my hunch.  While it is still a little early to say that I’m right in what I have suspected,  I feel more confident (and EXCITED) about sharing what I have found out about our home and the likelihood of it being a station on the Underground Railroad.

Why it all began. 

After shortly moving in to our 1837 farmhouse this past winter, I took a video of the stairs hidden in the paneled wall of the upstairs bedroom (pictured below). After sharing that video on social media, a friend reached out and suggested I have an expert come to our home and see what their thoughts were in regards to our home being a station on the Underground Railroad.  Had he not mentioned this to me, I’m not sure I would have ever gone down this somewhat of a winding trail through history.

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My friend also mentioned the Springboro Historical Society as being a good place to start since they have identified several homes as stations in their area.  I acted on his suggestions, spoke with the Springboro Historical Society and they were excited to visit.

After touring our home, it was concluded that our home meets the visual requirement of identifying whether or not our home was a station on the Underground Railroad.  Homes were built with purpose in the 1800s and having stairs to an attic weren’t casually put in especially since they were building every brick by hand and cutting the timbers for the necessary structure. Our home is more of a utilitarian style, meaning they were more worried about function over flare which is dully noted by our spiral main staircase tucked away in the corner of the living room verses a large staircase in the middle of the house (that would just be wasted space to them). Granted the home doesn’t have wasted space, they were sure to add beautiful built ins, trim, mantles, floors and detail on the outside of the home.

Additional ways a home can be identified as having been a station is if there is a family bible with notes or if there have been anything mentioned by word of mouth. It just so happens, after the historical society’s visit, a couple locals have mentioned to me that they’ve heard our home was a station. Unfortunately, any other details about that statement have been lost over time. I also continue to hear from locals, whose families have been here for generations, that there was Underground Railroad activity in our town.  When it comes to the history of the Underground Railroad, stories passed down aren’t something to ignore. They are something to take note of.

With our home needing a lot of work on top of unpacking and three kids, my research into our home and the underground railroad paused for awhile until one day I decided the conclusion of our home being a station wasn’t enough. I wanted to know the story of the Wehr family who built our home. I wanted to know what their occupation was, their involvement in the community, who they did business with, and where they attended church.   I wanted to gain a better understanding of their story here in this house and why they helped freedom seekers in the 1800s, outside of just being good-hearted people.  So that was when  my underground obsession began…and my little folder of history on the house became a 3 inch binder.

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Researching.

Weekends, nap time, and really late nights have provided me with time to research.  My research started out simple and has spiraled into somewhat of a deep investigation that has lead me to speaking with past owners, local experts, various historical societies, librarians from both Ohio and Indiana, and even communications with the Library of Congress. Without getting into every detail of my research, I will give you an idea of the scope in which I have been working.

I started researching the local history of our town to understand the Wehr family’s importance at the time of their settlement. John and Sarah Wehr were among the first settlers in our town. Their home, now ours, was a prominent stop for hog drivers on their way to porkopolis and served as a tavern early on to those passing through; making them well known and very well liked by the community.

From just researching our town, leads began to form from articles I read. I gained clues about their religious views which lead me to researching the local churches. I found the Wehr’s were members of the Universalist Church. This was important because it provided me with their view towards slavery because the Universalists were believed to be abolitionist (against slavery).  Not only was this a very helpful clue, but I learned that their specific church was a prominent preaching stop on the Universalist circuit making it somewhat easier to find articles and information regarding the church’s history and those involved at the time. I only wish the church was still standing to visit, but it burned down in a fire.

This weekend I learned, after visiting the Indian Creek Pioneer Cemetery, that the Vanness family, which were relatives to the Wehr family, were members of the Indiana Creek Baptist Church. This information was helpful in giving a more solid background into the people the Wehr’s were associated with because one requirement of the church was to be an abolitionist which is stated in their  church minutes.  The Vanness family were also some of the first settlers here in town.

There is much more research that went into this specific area, but in effort to stay somewhat concise my takeaway from the above information is the Wehr’s were likely abolitionist, they held a strong presence in the community, and they were very hospitable.

Location and a Breakthrough.

I have reviewed property maps and continue to reference them frequently as they can provide a sense of relationship between property owners and landmarks, such as churches, prominent routes, and rivers/creeks.  I have read numerous articles on the most prominent routes near our home, one which is right out our front door. These routes show movement from as far as the Ohio River all the way to Lake Erie.  I started researching the Underground Railroad known routes by reading various diaries, memoirs, and credible articles- and to my surprise I have found our home to be situated between two confirmed routes that collide just north of us in Liberty, Indiana where Levi Coffin helped thousands of slaves escape to freedom. His home was known as the “Grand Central Station” of the Underground Railroad.

Discovering our location between these routes was a break through for me in my research because we are talking about our home sitting 10 miles from the route in Indiana and 5 miles to the route heading North towards Oxford.  Having found other homes within that 15 miles distance around us,that are confirmed stations, makes it a pretty much guarantee (along with the visual confirmation by the historical society) that our home was in fact involved in the Underground Railroad.

I have driven the back roads from our home to the known Underground Railroad routes and it was to my surprise it took only 10-20 minutes to reach those destinations.  Granted, in the 1800s it  would have taken much longer to reach the main routes,  the distance is consistent with how far one would travel from station to station. With those routes being so close to our home, I started researching known local involvement of the Underground Railroad and found a strong involvement in Oxford, Hamilton, and Mt. Healthy.  And like the rest of my research, I have researched the names of the individuals mentioned but found one person of particular interest. William Beard.

William Beard & Wilbur Siebert.

There was a man named William Beard . He is mentioned  in Wilbur Siebert’s  research as being a conductor for freedom seekers. From reading various materials,  I learned Beard lived just outside of  Bath, Indiana which is only a short drive from us.   I learned from a census record that the Wehr family  had homes just South of Bath which got my wheels turning as to whether or not the Wehrs and the Beards would have known one another.

The Wehr homes in Indiana are only two miles from our home across state-line.  I am currently waiting to hear back from a contact to see if the Wehr /Beard’s are somehow related or just a mere coincidence. The reason I question the relationship is because  I found out through findagrave.com that William Beard was married to a Rachel Pierson and the Piersons were also a part of the Wehr family who were also among some of the first settlers in our town.

Something I find important to note from Wilbur Siebert’s research is the following excerpt,

Sometimes a very small village or a farming community might be the most active station in the entire county or larger area of the state.”

Our town at that time was just that.

The Spiral.

Can you see how my research begins to spiral from one question into many many more?  I could write for hours about the amount of information I have that supports the idea this home was in fact a station on the Underground Railroad and that it was very likely the Wehrs had a connection to someone well known for their contributions to the Underground Railroad, but it will have to be saved for when my kiddos are older and I have time to write a book (lol).

With the current information that forms the many pieces to this extensive puzzle, I have concluded at this time that the Wehrs were not only well liked in the community, but they were of strong character and someone I’d trust with a secret. From my research,  many families that assisted freedom seekers took their involvement to the grave in fear of what would happen to them or their family.  From speaking with relatives, it appears that may be true for the Wehr family.

In addition to character, the Wehr homestead made helping freedom seekers somewhat easy with the various hiding places inside the home as well as in the barns on the property. The location of the Wehr homestead is also just a mile away from Indian Creek which connects to the Great Miami River which flows along the known UGRR route out of Cincinnati.  Having the home situated between two routes would have been very convenient if word got out about someone moving freedom seekers. It would allow a conductor to loose someone looking for them by being able to switch routes.

While some would think I have enough evidence to support my idea of the Wehr involvement, I feel as though there is just a bit more to be discovered about this courageous family and more to uncover on this possible unknown route of the Underground Railroad.

xo

Danielle

When God Interrupts.

If someone would have told me last summer that we would be living in a farmhouse in the country a year from now, I would have said there was no way. Seriously though, moving in the middle of the school year, with a baby, and having to pack up our home at the holidays AND in the winter? Definitely not! Until one day just that happened.

My husband and I had spent weekends and long drives dreaming about how neat it would be to one day have some land to roam, grow a larger garden, and have water near where our family could fish and just relax more easily after a hard days work or on a weekend without having to go anywhere.I remember the day I sat quietly in the rocking chair holding our baby and scrolling through listings just for the fun of it. I found, what is now our home, a red brick farmhouse with a front porch, a pond, barn, and large garage. Things we said we would like to have if we ever going to consider moving again.

Flash forward and here we are on a Sunday afternoon. No longer dreaming of sitting on that front porch but actually doing it. I’ve been basking in our most recent memories made yesterday with the descendants of the couple, John and Sarah Wehr, who built this amazing home. Meeting the Wehrs and seeing the generations pass through the front door their ancestors once did, continues to give me 🦋 🦋.

The conversations with the family members who actually spent time in the home when they were younger are ones I’ll treasure forever. I love how God interrupted our life in suburbia to open a door to so many unexpected things. While the surprises are not always as fun, we find it a privilege to restore and preserve the Wehr Family Homestead. ❤️

OUT HERE IN THE MIDDLE

Do you ever just long for silence. To be alone. To not have to think, watch, anticipate, and interact all within a split second of time? While I have plopped into bed which is now in a room that has been three different spaces in only five short months, I find myself hearing only the birds. Then that moment is quickly interrupted by the mom in me wondering if the kids are really in bed or not.  Something I know I will one day miss, I’m sure.

5 months. Whew. The room I’m sitting in was at one time stacked from front to back, side to side, and over halfway up the walls with boxes. We literally had to tunnel through when moving throughout the house…and in all of it, we had an 11-month-old who could barely walk within the chaos.  How quickly I have forgotten of how far we have come with this old house…yet, I find myself “warning” friends who come to visit, that there are plenty of unfinished projects around and less than perfect areas where the beauty of the home has been neglected and still needs a little TLC.

It’s odd to me that I feel the need to forewarn friends and family of something I truly love and admire. I guess it’s because this home is the complete opposite of what we once had. Everyone loves new…but not everyone loves “old.”

When the Wing Family visited, they mentioned how the realtor had described the second small staircase in the house as worn and old. Not desirable or attractive.  The realtor starsdidn’t appreciate the story or history of the stairs. She didn’t see the unique curve on the left side of the step as a visual treasure. She didn’t care to think of who might have once tiredly climbed them after working on the farm. Or maybe the children who have all climbed them with their little hands and feet.  Not everyone wonders, “Oh, if these walls could talk.” So I suppose, that is why I feel the need to welcome our friends and family to our “fixer-upper.” Just so they are aware we are in fact trying to restore it.

This week, I will be greeting friends to our new/old home. I am thrilled to have friends, from when I taught, want to make the drive and see us and our home. I look forward to catching up with them and the timing of their visit couldn’t be any better.

Today I dropped Caroline off at soccer camp, a very normal thing to do. As I stood there on the sidewalk with the kiddos, more parents started to arrive and quickly moms were gathering in groups to say good morning and catch up.  Then out of the blue it hit me. I know absolutely no one.

While I was well aware that moving meant I wouldn’t have friends nearby, today it just seem to hit me hard when I stood there waiting for my best friend to show up next to me on the side walk. I was the lone wolf wishing they’d just say hi so I could introduce myself.  By the time I realized I should somehow find a way in to their group to say hi, everyone was leaving. I for once felt what my son, Landen, has been feeling for the last five months. And to be honest, as I sit here and write this I’m crying.  I literally feel like middleI’m just out in the middle.

Yes, I know I have friends and it doesn’t matter how far they are away-they’re always going to be my friends…. But it sure would be nice to have one good friend in the school/sports circle.  Someone I could call with questions about things people just kinda know from living here for a while, or just to keep a bleacher seat warm with at a school event. There is so much going on as a family that I wonder how I’ll ever find a way to cultivate that one good friendship I have discovered I need…I suppose I should start praying about it.

I have a feeling that while I thought I have felt settled in for a while now, that I really am not.  Sure, the boxes have dwindled and the house looks and feels more like home, but there are certainly other areas in my life that are still trying to settle in.  After today’s revelation, I’m feeling a little uncomfortable in my skin and find myself feeling more like our home once again.

A work in progress.

Xo

Danielle

From Strangers to Family in One Day

Another day complete. Tractor is running, deer are peering through the trees ready to eat, and the sun is gently setting. Being able to hear and see the calming of the day is something I had once felt at my childhood home as well as on weekends at the lake, and family vacations.

To be experiencing those “feel good” moments at, what is now, our home makes my heart swell with gratitude. Those cherished memories of noisy silence in the summer evening on the lake, the noise of the birds as they settle in, and the fireflies lighting up the front yard at my parents’ house, all came rushing back to me tonight. Which led my thoughts down a path to our recent memories with our new friends whose visit made them feel more like distant relatives than strangers.

At the beginning of the month, we had the privilege of meeting the Wing Family. They traveled from Cleveland and Maine to come meet us and to see the home they once were caretakers of. I had been so excited and just a tad bit nervous for their visit. I was excited to learn from them, hear stories and cherished memories of the farm. I was nervous like anyone would be- you know, hoping they would like what we had done with the place in the short time here. I was hopeful they would still find this home comfortable and familiar and feared it would leave them in some kind of disappointment.

There was something special about that day we all met. We shared a common love of this home and talked about the fine details, quarks, and charm. We were all comfortable in each other’s presence and by the end of their visit, they left feeling more like family to us. There is something about putting a meal on the table with all hands-on deck. Chopping, tossing, and gathering items for the table made us come together in a way I never had anticipated. It was genuine, happy, and fun. It is a meal I’ll never forget.

Isn’t it a gift, having people who come into your lives, who become your family? From each neighborhood Aaron and I have lived, we have gained family. Those relationships have a hold on our hearts in a unique way. I’m thankful for our first neighbor teaching us how to be a good neighbor, for we may have never met our closest family (neighbors) in Monroe.

In our new town, our little church welcomed us in a way we never expected. They made us feel, so quickly, that we belonged there…that we are their family, too. Those church members are our neighbors and it’s the neatest thing to catch up during our meet and greet time during service. Sometimes meet and greet last for 15 minutes or so. It’s one of the highlights of my week getting to touch base with our neighbors and getting those hugs that are meaningful and make you feel important. Aaron and I will always be so thankful for that morning Landen and Caroline insisted we visit our church in town. I’m not sure they’ll ever know the impact they have had on us through their persistence that day.

It’s so interesting that when the twins talk about family, they always mention our friends who have become our family. It’s something as a parent I never really planned for or expected. Yet it makes complete sense to me. It wasn’t until their birthday this year, that I observed their excitement and giggles when chatting on the phone with both our family and our “adopted” family members. They couldn’t believe that when the phone rang it was another call for them. I could see how happy it made them and from all those singing voices and well wishes, there was a happiness that I could see fill their hearts.

Life has so many unexpected twists and turns. We’re raised in a world that projects a certain idea around who and what we should be and how things should go. When in reality, there isn’t a protocol to follow or equation for success. And if we get caught up into trying to make “things” work a certain way, because that’s “how it should be,” we may be missing out on opportunity or even relationships that are meant to bless us in an abundant way.

Had Aaron and I not have done something “out of the box,” like buying our home (in the dead of winter, with a baby, twins, in the middle of the school year!), we would have never had the opportunity to meet the Wing family. While no one will ever be able to understand the magic in the Wing Family visit, it is a day I will cherish forever.

While so many say we are a blessing to this house, we certainly feel we are being blessed by it.

 

xo

Danielle

That’ll Never Happen

Have you ever wished you could go back in time and tell your younger self something?

Aaron and I had the rare opportunity to have a conversation that didn’t have to be started over three and four times and it made me realize that all of the things I always thought would never happen..they’re happening!

Growing up (we’ve kinda known one another since ’98) I think Aaron and I had it in our heads that we had an established plan for our lives-college, good job, and a family.  As we moved through those seasons of our lives, everything seemed to go as plan and then we got to the family part. It’s like we arrived at the final stop on our train ride, per-say, and we got off and just looked at each other like, “now what?”

I tend to be the one who likes to push the envelope when it comes to nudging Aaron and myself into things. You know like taking him to the boat show and leaving with a boat-ha! Or when I felt it in my heart it was time for me to quit work -for our marriage and for our kiddos. Then there was that time I figured since I was leaving my j-o-b, why not have a third child. But if that wasn’t enough, lets just sell our house and move in the dead of winter to an old farmhouse before our baby even turned one. (yes, I know he’s a saint:)

While those of us who like that “prescribed” kind of life, I think we need to find it in ourselves to start dreaming and doing things that weren’t a part of the “plan.” As I get older I keep thinking about having regrets and at this moment I don’t have any (except for my vineyard I haven’t planted-haha!). If we were still where we were a few months ago, I think I would be wrestling with our dreams and trying to decide if they were worth chasing.

This isn’t just about those who have a “plan.” It’s for those who feel the pressure to fall into some prescribed way of life because that is what was suggested to them growing up. While there is nothing wrong with being guided and encouraged to follow a certain path, we have to make sure we allow time to discover who we are and what we want out of life. And if that suggested plan doesn’t work out for you, well then, there shouldn’t be any guilt about that specific path not working for you. It just wasn’t meant to be. We can’t let ourselves get stuck trying to fit that square into a circle just because we think that is what we are supposed to be doing.

So, I think if I could go back in time to my younger self, I would tell myself to leave more room for dreaming and to expect the unexpected because sometimes “That’ll never happen” turns into, “It’s happening!”

xo

Danielle