Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Going Underground on Hamilton Avenue

 Dr. John Witherspoon Scott


Underground Railroad sign
On what appears to be just another struggling storefront in Midwest America at the corner of Compton & Hamilton Ave in Mt. Healthy, is a small wooden sign announcing "a stop on the Underground Railroad in 1840". I decided to check up on that assertion as I really enjoy uncovering more info on forgotten and obscure local history.


It turns out there was an entire Underground Railroad system up and down Hamilton Avenue in the early 19th Century.

The home was built in 1840 in what was then Mount Pleasant by Dr. John Witherspoon Scott (1800-1892), an abolitionist, Presbyterian minister, math Professor, and the first Professor of Science at Miami University in Oxford, OH from 1828-1845. He was fired by Miami U over the issue of slavery in 1845 when folks were choosing sides on this hot topic of the day. It seems that Miami U President George Junkin, also a Presbyterian minister, was supporting slavery on Biblical grounds. After his dismissal, Scott began teaching at a prep school called Farmers College in what would become the Cincinnati neighborhood of College Hill, a couple of miles south of this house. It should be noted that since there was another Mt. Pleasant in Ohio, in 1850 this town was renamed to Mt. Healthy after a cholera epidemic in the area somehow left its citizens unscathed that same year.

Dr. Scott's former home in Mt Healthy
c.late 1800s (left side)
Dr. Scott's former home in Mt Healthy c.2012
Dr. Scott also has a connection to Ohio's US Presidential legacy. Scott was future 23rd President Benjamin Harrison's mentor at Farmers College from 1848-1850. Benjamin, born in North Bend OH and grandson of 9th US President William Henry Harrison became friendly with Scott's daughter Caroline during his many visits to the Scott home and they eventually married in 1853 with the Reverend father-in-law officiating. Dr. Scott later lived with the Harrison's in the White House until he died there in 1892.


So, back to the sign. Was this a stop on the Underground Railroad? Probably. Sometimes these claims are difficult to prove since their actions were illegal in Ohio* and left few records but based on who lived there, the amount of activity of this type in the area and the fact that there are traces of tunnels and hidden rooms inside the home, it seems very likely.

On a related note, Happy 162nd Anniversary to Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. It first appeared in an abolitionist periodical on June 5th, 1851 as a series which led to it being published as a book the next year.

*Coincidentally on this same date, June 5th, 1804, one year after Ohio Statehood, the Ohio General Assembly enacted the so-called Black Laws that required African-Americans to prove they were free and anyone harboring an escaped slave could be fined.

Many thanks to the excellent local history book available to read online, A Little Piece of Paradise...College Hill, Ohio by Betty Ann Smiddy as well as the Mount Healthy Historical Society website for information in researching this article. 

8 comments:

  1. I just came across your blog post from last June about the Scott House in Mt. Healthy. It's a nice post. Thank you! I live here in Mt. Healthy and find our pre-civil war and abolitionist history exciting. There aren't many folks here who care about that era; sometimes it takes an outsider to appreciate what you see every day and take for granted.

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  2. I am definitely on the same page as you Karen! Thanks for reading.

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  3. just read the article about Mt. Healthy 's history and thought I would let you know that during the slavery issue period there was a gentleman from Scotland who helped the slaves escape through Mt. Healthy and he became involved witrh a female slave whom he married and had a son, The son was later sent to Canada and he became a world famous artist. His paintings are now showing in the Art Museum in Eden Park and also in the Taft Museum downtown. His last name is Duncunson. He and his mother lived in the area of Hamilton Ave. in Mt. Heallthy near where the Paul Young Funeral Parlor stands.

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  4. I always wondered where Duncanson lived. Can you tell me how you researched this? Also, artist Elizabeth Nourse was born in Mt. Healthy, a lecture prompted the question of the location of her home, and the possible link of the streets Elizabeth, Joseph and Seward with her and her family.

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  5. I will have to check out his work at the Art Museum next time I go! I keep meaning to got to the Taft Museum but I never seem to make it. This will give me more incentive. Thanks for reading everyone.

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  6. My name is Kathy Dahl and I am a former Cinti. Park naturalist who created (2008) and led Ravine to Freedom tours at LaBoiteaux Woods in College Hill--this tour was about the sites along Hamilton Ave from Northside to Mt Healthy. I started my research using Betty Ann Smiddy's book "A little piece of paradise". In 2012 Betty Ann and I created the Hamilton Avenue Road to Freedom committee that included the historical societies of Northside, College Hill, North College Hill and Mt Healthy. We also created a map with short summaries for all these sites, you can view at this website: http://www.mthealthyhistory.org/images//hamilton_avenue_road_to_freedom.pdf We have a new website for telling these stories (still working on), it includes a YouTube video of the history http://hamiltonavenueroadtofreedom.org/ In 2013 we had the National Parks Network to Freedom (division specific for UGRR) reps, from Omaha Nebraska, stay at Six Acres B&B in College Hill. They evaluated many of these sites and we are applying for listings. Thank you for showing an interest and sharing with the public

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  7. Thanks for your hard work Kathy. I will look forward to the new website.

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  8. College Hill Historical Society Meeting
    36th Annual Meeting!
    Sunday, April 26, 2015
    Wilson Art Gallery at Twin Towers
    2 p.m. – 3 p.m.
    Following a brief business meeting
    Kathy Dahl will make a presentation regarding College Hill's role and recognition in the Network to Freedom

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