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Historic Ashtabula home played key role in the Underground Railroad

09-20-22 HUBBARD HOUSE.jpg
Posted at 6:08 PM, Sep 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-20 19:26:15-04

ASHTABULA, Ohio — During a dark chapter in American history, Northeast Ohio became a beacon for enslaved persons escaping the antebellum south. Churches, homes and businesses in the region acted as some of the last stops along the Underground Railroad.

“I’m not sure the community realizes what we have here in Ashtabula County, in regards to the Underground Railroad,” said Patrick Colucci, the Superintendent for Buckeye Local Schools.

Ashtabula is home to the Hubbard House. The brick building, situated above Lake Erie on Walnut Boulevard, was a stopping point for hundreds of freedom seekers.

“We’re talking about man’s humanity towards man, kindness, doing the right things for the right reasons,” said Richard Dana, an adjunct professor at the Kent State Ashtabula campus and a former president of the Hubbard House Museum Board of Trustees.

Abolitionists William and Katharine Hubbard built their homestead in the early 1940s. They used the home’s location to help ferry formerly enslaved persons across Lake Erie and into Canada.

“They come away wowed by looking back in time and then they come out looking forward,” said Sally Bradley.

“The Hubbards had a warehouse on the side of the river where they would take the freedom seekers, and a boat could come in and plausibly take them over to Canada,” explained Andy Pochatko, a docent at the museum and reference librarian at the adjacent Harbor-Topky Library.

Though no register kept record of every person through the Hubbard House, some historians estimate the family sheltered at least 400 fugitives.

“There’s so many lessons we’ve learned from history that are important. We have to hang onto those lessons. One of those lessons was here. It was how to be fair to people,” said Jim Spencer, a docent at the museum.

By 1979, the historic home had fallen into disrepair and was scheduled for demolition. A small group of activists, including the Hubbards’ descendant Tim Hubbard, campaigned for it to be saved. The City of Ashtabula received the property and restored it to its former 1840s glory.

“The curators have taken excellent care of it to make sure this stays within the city of Ashtabula and tells the history of the city,” said Ashtabula City Manager Jim Timonere.

He added the museum has been good for the local economy, as an attraction for locals and out-of-town visitors alike. Close to 700 people came through the museum during the 2022 tour season.

“It really helped to have cool locations like this that people sought out to come in, just spend a day with us,” said Timonere. “It really helped the local economy to have people here.”

Local educators have also found value in the museum and the lessons it provides.

“When you have something so valuable here for your community, for your students, you have to maintain that,” said Superintendent Colucci.

Hubbard House Executive Director Sally Bradley added, “It’s a different thing - reading in the books than actually seeing something with your own eyes.”

Docents at the museum point out the Hubbard House is just one of the significant pieces of the area’s abolitionist history.

“Those stories will change their lives and their way of thinking,” said Frank Robsel, a docent and board member at the Hubbard House Museum.

The museum is open on weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day by reservation. Tours in the off-season are available by appointment.

The Hubbard House relies on community support. You can donate, become a member or schedule a tour by clicking on this link.

Staff is also planning the 43rd Annual Hubbard House Underground Railroad pilgrimage on October 8, 2022. The theme this year will focus on the complex antislavery beliefs within Ashtabula County families. Those wishing to attend the free pilgrimage can gather at the Hubbard House, located at 1603 Walnut Blvd, beginning at 10 a.m. Call the museum at (440) 964-8168 with any questions.

Additionally, on Nov. 5, they will feature a membership drive and a volunteer appreciation day.

Watch here for an in-depth story News 5 did about NEO's role in the underground railroad.

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