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

One thought on “An Underground Obsession

  1. John Updike says:

    To some end, you have to go on empirical evidence and faith. Most UGRR sites were not advertised at the time. Even after their need expired, the “conductors” weren’t often popular. What would be great is to find an old diary or Bible that gives some names. Could be, you could track descendants.

    Like

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