Historic Ashtabula home played key role in the Underground Railroad

ASHTABULA, Ohio – During a dark chapter in American history, Northeast Ohio became a beacon for enslaved individuals escaping the antebellum south. Churches, homes and businesses in the area 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 regarding the Underground Railroad,” said Patrick Colucci, superintendent of Buckeye Local Schools.

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

“We’re talking about man’s humanity to man, kindness, doing the right things for the right reasons,” said Richard Dana, associate professor at the Kent State Ashtabula campus and past President of the Board of Trustees, Hubbard House Museum.

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

“They get excited when they look back and then they look forward,” said Sally Bradley.

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

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Although no registry kept every person in the Hubbard home, some historians estimate that the family was home to at least 400 escapees.

“There are so many important lessons we have learned from history. We must hold fast to these lessons. One of those lessons was here. It was about being fair to people,” said Jim Spencer, an associate professor at the museum.

By 1979 the historic house had fallen into disrepair and was scheduled for demolition. A small group of activists, including Hubbard descendant Tim Hubbard, lobbied to save him. The City of Ashtabula received the property and restored it to its former 1840s glory.

“The curators have done an excellent job of ensuring that it stays in the city of Ashtabula and tells the story of the city,” said Jim Timonere, Ashtabula City Manager.

He added that the museum is good for the local economy as it is an attraction for locals and visitors from outside. Almost 700 people passed through the museum during the 2022 tour season.

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“It really helped to have cool locations like this that people wanted to visit just to spend a day with us,” said Timonere. “Having people here has really helped the local economy.”

Local educators have also valued the museum and the education offered within it.

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

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

Museum docents point out that the Hubbard House is just one of the significant pieces of the area’s abolitionist history.

“These stories will change their lives and the way they think,” said Frank Robsel, Associate Professor and Board Member, Hubbard House Museum.

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

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Hubbard House relies on the support of the community. You can donate, become a member or arrange a tour Click this link.

The staff are also planning the 43rd Annual Hubbard House Underground Railroad Pilgrimage on October 8, 2022. This year’s theme will focus on the complex anti-slavery beliefs in Ashtabula County families. Those wishing to participate in the free pilgrimage may gather at the Hubbard House at 1603 Walnut Blvd beginning at 10:00 am. Call the museum at (440) 964-8168 with any questions.

In addition, they will be hosting a membership drive and volunteer day on November 5th.

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