By KIM LOCCISANO
Times Leader Staff Writer
Mount PLEASANT-The "Friends of Freedom Tour" is the Civil War era theme-based name selected for this year's annual "pilgrimage" tour of various historic homes in the community of Mount Pleasant, a place whose residents were known for their commitment to abolishing slavery long before what is now recognized by historians as the Civil War era of 1830-60.
The Elizabeth House Mansion Museum
will be open to guests on the weekend of Aug. 6 and 7 in the picturesque village of Mount Pleasant for the “Friends for Freedom” Civil War era themed tour.
This year's pilgrimage tours will be held on Saturday, Aug. 6, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Sunday, Aug. 7, from 1-5 p.m. Cost is $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 6-12, and children 5 and under are admitted at no charge.
Proceeds from the annual fund-raiser benefit The Historical Society of Mount Pleasant, a non-profit organization.
Tickets can be purchased at the Burriss Store, 311 Union St., Mount Pleasant, Ohio 43939 on the weekend the tours are being offered.
The general public is being welcomed into a number of homes with ties to that era as highlights of the "pilgrimage" which is a primary fund-raiser for the Historical Society of Mount Pleasant.
A special highlight of the event will include presentations by Jon Erik Gilot, a Mount Pleasant native and professional archivist.
Light luncheon fare will be available at the Elizabeth House Tea Room as well as at several other area restaurants including The Farm Restaurant, The Black Sheep Vineyard, and Ferda's Garden Center.
The quiet atmosphere of the village hardly gives an accurate picture of the important work taken on by many past generations of residents fighting against slavery, nor the continuing effort to maintain a strong connection with the value of the work and sacrifices offered over the many generations by those who have called the village their home.
"The drive to abolish slavery and the Underground Railroad were prominent in this tiny village during the years leading up to the Civil War. Focusing on its National Historic Landmark District of the Underground Railroad, the village will share its role in this era of history," offered village resident Sherry Sawchuk of The Historical Society of Mount Pleasant.
"What is notable about the Mount Pleasant community is the early date of its recognition as a sanctuary for fugitive slaves well before the 1830-60 period normally cited as the height of the abolitionist movement and the widespread recognition of the entire community as a safe haven rather than any single home, church or farm," shared Sawchuk.
A part of the tour this year will include an eye-popping exhibit of historical heirloom quilts put on display in one of the region's most historically significant buildings, The Quaker Yearly Meeting House State Memorial, which sits near the center of Mount Pleasant.
The building is now owned by the Ohio Historical Society, which has graciously responded to a request from the Historical Society of Mount Pleasant that the unique structure be opened to the public as a part of the upcoming "Friends for Freedom Tour."
"Quilts from 1851-2011 will be exhibited, each with identifying information stating the owner and the pattern represented," shared Sawchuk.
"While we think of quilts as a household item, and sometimes as a work of art, they served an additional purpose before the Civil War. In the years leading up to the Civil War, the Underground Railroad aided more than 75,000 slaves to reach freedom," said Sawchuk. "Most of these slaves had never been away from their plantation and had no idea how to reach the North. Because of this fact, signs, symbols, and codes were often used to aid their escape.
"Common quilt patterns were used to create one of these codes. Since quilts were often hung out to air, they did not attract attention from plantation owners. However, slaves who knew the codes used the quilt patterns to aid their escape and journey toward safety."
Other highlights of the tour this year include visits to these locations-all of which are owned by the local historical societies or state level organizations: the Harris-Bone Store Log Cabin built in 1803, and accompanying living quarters which were added in 1835; the Historical Center built in 1856; the Tin Shop of 1840; the Burriss Store and Gift Shop of 1895; and the John Gill House of 1835 -also known as - The Elizabeth House Mansion.
Buildings held by private citizens which will be opened to those taking the tour include sites which also rest in and around the heart of the community's historical landmark buildings.
The now privately held buildings in Mount Pleasant on the 2011 installation of this tour have had significant roles during the years even before what is recognized as the height of the abolitionist movement - 1830 to 1860 - and soon thereafter as well.
These buildings will include: The Maxwell House, The Benjamin Stanton House; and The Jonathan Updegraff House.
The Maxwell House was built following the Civil War in 1870.
It was purchased in February of 2010 by Anthony Sable who is working to restore the dramatic structure to its former glory both on the outside as well as on the inside.
The structure has, at various times, has been used as a residence and as a business, the most recent of which was as the Mount Pleasant Inn.
The elegant home was unoccupied for several years before being purchased by Sable.
"It is a work in progress, but one that will restore another significant structure in the community. It is probably the first Italianate style brick house with carved woodwork, but it is dominated by a two-story octagonal bay. The hip roof is bracketed to an elaborate cornice. Mrs. Maxwell operated a dry goods store in 1871," shared Sawchuk, noting it had also been owned by a physician who made it the site of both his home and office.
"The Benjamin Stanton House circa 1830-1840 is a row house. An asymmetrical, four by four brick "I" house, it exhibits Flemish bond brickwork. In 1838, Stanton made improvements to the house and in 1871, the Harrison sisters lived there. Oral history has suggested that Benjamin and David Stanton may have been involved in clandestine activities to assist fugitive slaves. Today, the home is shared by Jamie Holmes and her daughter, Lindy," said Sawchuk. "An interesting note is that 12-year old Lindy is the sixth generation of her family to live in Mount Pleasant."
The Jonathan Updegraff House of 1856 is now owned by John and Joann Curitti.
"It was built by Jonathan Updegraff who was a Quaker abolitionist, Civil War surgeon, and later a United States congressman and Ohio state senator. Only the large side porch, referred to as the 'outdoor living room' is open on the tour," said Sawchuk. "Visitors will also be able to view parts of the home's interior through the large windows."
Tour participants will be invited to finish their day's itinerary with a visit to the "Secret Garden" of Mount Pleasant residents Pete and Jean Petras. A stop at this beautiful garden, a handcrafted labor of love, has become a favorite treat for nearly all who take this history based tour each year.
Petras is known for the bountiful results he gets as he carefully nurtures each plant up from a seedling.
The Village of Mount Pleasant is located on Ohio 150 in Jefferson County.
For information about the event or the historical society's work the public is invited to call 1-800-752-2631.