Explore the hidden history of these Hidden Underground Railroad stops
In the 19th century, over 40,000 people traveled the Underground Railroad of Southeast Ohio on their journey to freedom from slavery. These routes were quietly traveled by conductors and slaves seeking freedom during the 1800s. The locations and hiding spots part of the Underground Railroad were such well-kept secrets that they are still being discovered.
A Secret Ring
A former station on the Underground Railroad sits in Millfield: The brick Weethee home was a refuge for escaped slaves during the 1840s and 1850s.
Abolitionist Daniel Weethee built the house in 1804. It is centered around an exceptionally large brick chimney. The chimney is no longer functional, but like the rest of the 216-year-old building, it is made of the original wood, stone and brick.
The current owner, Dane McCarthy, lived in the house in his 20s and bought it more recently.
“I bought the house because I used to live in it, and I always loved the house,” McCarthy says. “It was like coming back home or something. The furniture I had left 25 years before was still here; an envelope was even addressed to me on the floor.”
McCarthy says he heard rumors from Millfield residents that the Weethee house was part of the Underground Railroad. He contacted Weethee’s great-granddaughter, Bernarda Bryson-Shahn. Bryson Shahn, an artist, told McCarthy she and a friend were once playing in the attic when they found a large ring attached to a door. When lifted, the ring revealed a stairway.
In the dark and cramped stairway, enslaved Americans would spend days and nights silently hiding in the home of benevolent strangers, trusting them to protect their safety as they traveled for freedom on the Underground Railroad.
The hideaway for freedom seekers in the Weethee house is now concealed in a seven-foot-tall walk-in closet. Aside from a door and a step added by McCarthy, the hiding place is untouched—entrenched in history—like the rest of the home.
Ada Woodson Adams is helped found the Multicultural Genealogical Center (MGC) in 1999. The Chesterhill organization records Southeast Ohio’s blended cultural history.
In 2005, the MGC bought an abandoned house in Chesterhill because the building was rumored to be an Underground Railroad stop. The Bye Quaker family built the house, which was originally a log cabin, around 1859. Other Quaker families lived in the house for over 160 years.
Reynoldsburg United Methodist Church and Chesterhill residents renovated the house after the MGC bought it. They helped with painting, plumbing and HVAC. A Reynoldsburg volunteer—whose family had owned the house in the 1980s—confirmed that it was an Underground Railroad station.
“That just blew my mind—that it was part of the history of the Underground Railroad,” Adams says.
The hiding place is in the basement, tucked behind shelving. The basement’s current ceiling beams are constructed of hand-hewn wooden logs saved from the original cabin. The walls are made from the initial basement’s brown, white and red sandstone and fieldstone. Most of the building’s original locks, windows, doors, walls, floors and railings remain.
Upstairs is a large cabinet that opens into a desk full of history and artifacts. As Adams takes books out, she rattles off decades of local history as if it were her own family’s history.
“As we research our history, we discover these untold stories of Black history,” Adams says. “You have to listen to all voices because we are intertwined.”