The Road to Freedom
Sometimes history seems so…well long ago, like something that happened to a bunch of dead people with no connection to our own lives. We assume the attitude common to so many pre-teens—you know the one, “I don’t have parents (substitute ancestors for adults) I was hatched from an egg,” when it comes to our heritage. But the truth of the matter is we are all here due to the deeds of those before us.
Steuben County might seem like just another tiny place with a bunch of smelly, dirty trappers, soldiers, and pioneers making up its ancient history, but our area took part in something really big—like super star huge. Even better than that, our predecessors got to be the historic good guys! That’s because this area was part of the Underground Railroad.
After the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 residents of both Fremont and Orland deliberately spurned federal authorities by providing safe haven to runaway slaves on their way from the South to freedom in Canada. Many of these houses are still standing today, some of private residents and some are open to the public by prior arrangement (more about this later).
Russell Brown, S.U. Clark, and Captain Samuel Barry, whom all lived in the Orland area around that time all helped slaves escape. Barry an abolitionist was eventually arrested for sheltering slaves though he never was convicted. The accounts vary some saying he was fined three dollars for his crimes while others insist it was more like a thousand. Today the street Barry’s house still stands on is named after him, though it looks different. It remains private. The house of SU Clark still stands as well about a block and a half up on the main drag, while the Brown House, also private, is about a block north on 327.
History buffs may be able to schedule a visit at the Erastus Farnham House, just south of Fremont at the intersection of Swagger Rd and 827. The nineteenth-century home still has the cupola that served as a lookout point and an internal cistern that allowed the house to support additional guests without raising suspicion.
Current owner, Mavis Church welcomes tours by appointment. She dresses in period clothing and weaves a rich tale of the underground as she leads her guests through the various rooms. Email her at email@example.com or call 260-495-7101.
Who knows you might even catch the spirit of a past tenant gently swinging in the great tree near the house!