October 27, 2016

The Story Behind Ohio's Benjamin Lundy House and Free Labor Store

  • By: David Weible
Benjamin Lundy House Temporary Roof

photo by: Ohio History Connection

The Benjamin Lundy House received a temporary new roof to help stabilize the structure.

As a native Ohioan, I had never even heard of the tiny town of Mt. Pleasant, much less known its story. But as it turns out, this little hamlet deep in the rolling hills on the eastern edge of the state has quite a tale to tell.

The town was one of the centers of the abolitionist movement in Ohio, and was a major station on the Underground Railroad. It was also a final destination; a place where those escaping slavery found a place to rest, work, and make a life for themselves.

The Benjamin Lundy House and Free Labor Store sit at the center of that story.

Lundy was a community leader and abolitionist. He was also an early proponent of the free produce movement; a boycott against goods produced by slave labor. In 1820, he moved to the house in Mount Pleasant that now bears his name and began publishing his abolitionist newspaper The Genius of Universal Emancipation.

But the story of the 1812 Benjamin Lundy House doesn't end there.

By1848 local Quakers has opened free labor store—a place that sold only goods that were produced and brought to market by free labor and refused to profit from the exploitation of enslaved persons—in the house's 1815 annex.

Benjamin Lundy House Sitting Room

photo by: Ohio History Connection

The house suffered from years of neglect and differed maintenance before it was acquired by Ohio History Connection in late 2015.

At a time when the practice of slavery produced or had a hand in an incredible range of goods, this was no small feat or statement. People who adamantly opposed slavery were drawn to free labor stores to engage in socially conscious commerce.

The store closed in the late 1850s or early '60s. Today, the structure is crumbling from the inside out as years of benign neglect and water damage have taken their toll. But thanks to Ohio History Connection (OHC), that’s about to change.

The organization acquired the house in late 2015 and plans a full restoration to bring the structure back to life with the ultimate goal of opening it to the public as a place to learn about the town’s anti-slavery history and experience the story of an abolitionist hard at work.

And though the structure has seen better days—its brick walls are bowed and several holes extend from the second floor to the basement—there is still plenty of historic character remaining, including original wallpaper, woodwork, and unique finishings.

Since OHC acquired the property, a new roof has been installed and the structure has been otherwise stabilized. The next step in the process is to conduct a historic structures report before restoration work officially begins.

And though the process is painstaking and time consuming, it’s more than worth it: The Benjamin Lundy House is one of five remaining properties in Mt. Pleasant with direct ties to the Underground Railroad, and, as far as OHC can tell, may very well be the only former free labor store still standing in the country.

When all is said and done, OHC will partner with the local Mt. Pleasant Historical Society to open the property and tell its tale for all to hear.

Benjamin Lundy House Stairway

photo by: Ohio History Connection

Ohio History Connection intends to open the house as a museum where the public can come to learn the local history of the abolition movement.

David Weible is the content specialist at the National Trust, previously with Preservation and Outside magazines. His interest in historic preservation was inspired by the ‘20s-era architecture, streetcar neighborhoods, and bars of his hometown of Cleveland.

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