The Underground Railroad had a lasting effect on this country’s history. Many runaway slaves hid right here in the Midstate.
One local place played a big role in helping African Americans escape captivity, but its future is now in jeopardy.
The Mifflin House in Hellam Township, York County, was built in the early 1800s and was a crucial stop on the Underground Railroad — the secret network of routes and safe houses that helped slaves escape to their freedom in the north.
“People came generally from the west, the York City direction from Adams County, Franklin County,” historian Randy Harris said. “They would be heading toward Philadelphia. They would come from this direction and be helped by a number of people along the way, especially the Mifflins right at the river’s edge.”
Kathleen Anderson recently discovered her ancestor, Robert Loney, helped ferry slaves staying at Mifflin House cross the Susquehanna River into Lancaster County. She’s never been inside the Mifflin House.
“I’d like to be able to walk up on the hill and maybe down the hill and toward the river just to get a sense of what it was like,” she said.
She may never get that chance. The Mifflin House is in danger of being demolished. Developers want to build warehouses on the land. History lovers hope to prevent that.
Mindy Crawford is the executive director of Preservation Pennsylvania. The nonprofit organization’s goal is to save the state’s historic landmarks. It placed Mifflin House on its 2017 At Risk List, but the process of saving a building can be very slow.
“Everybody wants a decision right away, someone to come swooping in with a million dollars, $5 million, or $25 million and fix it, but unfortunately, preservation doesn’t really work that way,” she said.
Kathleen has joined the efforts to save the house. She spoke at a recent hearing about the property. She was inspired by the stories of those who risked everything to make it to that house.
“They took a chance to come from wherever they came from to get to freedom,” she said. “They took a chance (of) being caught by slave catchers, their health. People died along the way. They took a chance, so now it’s time for us to take a chance.”
Randy Harris has been researching the Mifflins. He says they helped hundreds of slaves. The house also played an important role in the Civil War.
“You can only learn so much in a history book,” he said. “You really need to walk the grounds. You need to touch buildings. You need to see buildings to realize what kind of life changes were done in those kinds of properties, to see what lessons we learned then and what we can learn into the future. If we lose the Mifflin House, we lose a major piece of American history.”
The developers were denied a permit to demolish the house at that zoning board meeting, but they have appealed. It’s now in the hands of a county court judge. Preservation Pennsylvania says they reached out to the developers but have not been able to reach a compromise.
They are looking for donations to help continue their fight. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/helpsavemifflinhouse.