Stark County is full of many attractions, some more well-known than others. Gary Brown brings our attention to the less-publicized places. This month: Spring Hill Historic Home.
When the trees are laden with leaves in the summer, you barely can see history at the end of Spring Hill Lane in Massillon.
“We hear that all the time, that people don’t know we’re back here,” said Samantha Kay Smith, director of Spring Hill Historic Home off Wales Road NW near Lake Avenue. “People will come in and say, ‘I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve never been up here before.’ ”
Smith’s favorite comment concerning a newcomer’s discovery of Spring Hill, built early in the 1800s and lived in by the Rotch and Wales families, was made by a woman who lived in a nearby housing allotment and called to obtain directions to the historic home. Smith listened to the woman explain where she lived, then began her directions with an observation.
“I told her I could see her house from my window,” said the director.
Such is the mixed blessing that Smith and the rest of Spring Hill’s staff enjoys. There is the opportunity to educate visitors about a hidden part of American history: the Underground Railroad. Yet there also is the continual need to remind people that Spring Hill Historic Home, once a respite for slaves bound for freedom, remains as a relic of that history in western Stark County.
“Spring Hill, built in 1821 in the former town of Kendal, was the farm home of Quakers Thomas and Charity Rotch and, subsequently, three generations of the Wales Family,” explains a brochure for the historic site. “The home was a station on the Underground Railroad in the mid-1800s. For 150 years, the residents of Spring Hill were integral to the social, cultural and economic growth of early Massillon.”
A glimpse into that history is offered annually by the day-long “Underground Railroad Experience,” which Smith said gives visitors an idea of “what a runaway slave would have experienced.”
Always the last Saturday in June—this year June 24—the “Underground Railroad Experience” allows participants to follow along during an outdoor drama on Spring Hill grounds, tour the historic home or dine on a period meal. Tickets, $10 to $20 depending upon how many of the day’s experiences participants engage in, go on sale each year about June 1. Lunch food and other refreshments also are on sale that Saturday.
“We have a chance to show the history of people trying to do the right thing,” said Smith, noting that Spring Hill is part of the National Park Service Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Spring Hill Historic Home also is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has credibility as a place where history was made.
Tours of the home offered during the “Underground Railroad Experience” show that history is enhanced by the beauty of the house, which is a homespun elegance, something that would resonate to visitors.
“I think the beautiful part of the home is that it shows what a normal home would look like back then,” said Smith. “It’s a traditional farmhouse—what a so-called ordinary family would have had at that time.”
Those who cannot make it on the day of the “Underground Railroad Experience” still can tour the home on Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m., May through the first weekend of October. Admission is charged. Special arrangements can be made for group and school tours, or information for membership in Spring Hill Historic Home can be obtained by calling 330-833-6749.
“Today visitors can experience life as it was in 19th century Ohio,” notes the Spring Hill promotional brochure. “The carefully preserved home and its grounds, featuring original furnishings and period outbuildings, continue to welcome visitors with entertaining and educational tours, displays and relaxing open areas.”