19th Annual Victorian Christmas 2017
presented by Preservation Williamsport
Contact Us: 570.419.2989
This year’s Victorian Christmas events offer an educational focus on the Underground Railroad (UGRR), including special lectures and a visit to historic Freedom Road cemetery. Long before it became known as the UGRR, people of different races, religions, and walks of life worked together here to help others escape from slavery.
As local residents went about their daily lives, nearby, in barns, homes, caves, underbrush, and outbuildings, people on their way to freedom lay hidden: resting, being fed, recovering from wounds. Those helping included members of African Methodist Episcopal and AME Zion churches, Quakers, Wesleyan Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Dunkards; research continues into potential Jewish, German Lutheran and Reformed, and other participants. Local hostility to abolitionists included violence against anti-slavery speakers. Nevertheless, conspirators continued assisting runaways.
Some who arrived here remained in Williamsport and the region. After the second Fugitive Slave Act (1850) many went to Canada for safety. Slavecatchers pursued their prey all the way to the Canadian border, at least once searching the home of Daniel and Annie Hughes, a UGRR “station” in what is now called Freedom Road, failing to find a woman and sick children hidden there. One slaveowner came to Williamsport by canal boat, caught a glimpse of his “property” who had ventured out of her hiding place during daylight, and gave chase. The terrified woman ducked into a nearby barn, witnessed by UGRR agent Abraham Updegraff. After darkness, she and her family were forwarded to the Freedom Road conductors, who saw them safely beyond the grasp of their pursuers.
In 1870, when the 15th Amendment allowed black American men to vote, Williamsport celebrated, and UGRR agents, both black and white, rode together in the parade – openly visible at last. ~Karen L. Frock, 2017
Williamsport in the Underground Railroad
While daily life went on for working families and lumber barons in Victorian Williamsport, a secret effort carried out mostly at night was helping persons escape from slavery in the south to freedom in the north. Some who reached our community stayed, others went on to New York and Canada, especially after the Fugitive Slave Act was passed nationally in 1850. The effort to help runaways in the clandestine actions that we call The Underground Railroad was carried out by people of different races, religions, and walks of life – united in their efforts to overcome a great wrong, slavery, and to help people escape it.
Williamsport’s Daniel Hughes was a conductor and he and his wife Annie’s home was a station on the Underground Railroad during slavery times. Daniel was a timber raftsman who took rafts made of white pine timbers down the Susquehanna River from Clearfield, upriver to Williamsport, all the way to the Chesapeake Bay and to Sparrows Point, Maryland. On his return trips north he led people escaping from slavery over the old Native American trails. Some were sheltered in his home, outbuildings, and underbrush, others in nearby caves. Later he and his sons led those who could walk, and transported others by wagon, onward to UGRR stops farther north in the network of safe houses.
Today the quiet hollow just north of Williamsport where the Hughes family and their neighbors sheltered runaways is known as Freedom Road. A Pennsylvania State Historical Marker commemorating their actions is in place here.
Events will include special lectures and visits to historic Freedom Road cemetery, where Daniel and Annie Hughes are buried in unmarked graves, African-American Civil War veterans have their last resting place — and perhaps, also, some slavecatchers who came in pursuit of runaways, possibly to be intercepted by the Hughes family and never heard from again. The Hughes homestead is gone, but the stories of slaves sheltered there and in nearby caves live on – including the tale of the woman and children with whooping cough who were hidden beneath the stairs where Annie Hughes kept her pots and pans.
Victorian Christmas (and the renaissance of Williamsport’s fabled Millionaire’s Row) all began, appropriately enough, in the historic bar of the Peter Herdic House Restaurant, 407 West Fourth Street, in March 1999.
Nan Young, one of the founders of Victorian Christmas, remembers it well.
“Gloria, Ted and I were so active in trying to achieve restoration in the Historic District. One day, over a glass of wine at the bar, we decided to have a little candlelight tour. We did it all ourselves and had a few houses, dragging our friends in to guide. Then we added a luncheon at Park Place. Oh, the first year we had a carol sing in the lawn of Park Place and lit a tree on Friday evening. It was grand.”
Sisters Gloria and Marcia Miele, owners of the Peter Herdic House Restaurant and other West Fourth Street mansions, and Edward (Ted) Lyon, Jr., also a Historic District property owner, share Young’s passion for historic preservation.
Energy and enthusiasm spread, as the small group of determined mansion rescuers grew. They added new events to the tours to maintain public intrigue, such as a crafts fair in the gothic gym at Trinity Episcopal Church.
Soon, they were joined by Fran Visco, her sisters and mother, who organized a bridal gown fashion show at Park Place. Gown models portrayed well-known Williamsport personalities. Some of the gowns were very old and made of gorgeous silk and satin, recalls Young. Capitalizing on the success of this show, the group organized more, featuring lovely authentic Victorian clothing and hats and emceed by the mayor and other city dignitaries. As an added attraction, Visco’s family decorated the prettiest tree at Park Place.
In the second year of mansion tours, the group put their profits into enlisting local florist Diane Franklin to produce and maintain the lovely hanging baskets that now grace the period light posts during summer months. The results were, in Young’s words, changes in the district.”
Fire-burned buildings were bought by preservationists. Single families, such as Carlos and Melinda Saldivia, Tim Levan, and Hank and Mary Collings moved to the heart of Millionaire’s Row.
Victorian Christmas committee members joined on, adding music, decorations, teas, luncheons, carriage rides, and appearances by Father Christmas in his elegant hand-crafted robes.
They received grants from the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts, Lycoming County Visitors’ Bureau, and the Williamsport-Lycoming Foundation to continue and enhance the festivities, which had become a much-anticipated annual event. According to Young, “the best celebration of all” occurred when Victorian Magazine featured five of Williamsport’s historic houses in several of its issues. Everyone’s hard work had put Victorian Christmas and Williamsport on the map as a serious Victorian destination.
“The first year we gathered our money from the tickets in our muffs and went to the Herdic House to rejoice. We put the money out to count and toasted each other, we were so pleased,” recounts Young.
Although new faces and enthusiasm keep events fresh, the Mieles, Lyon, and Young are to be applauded for continuing to carefully tend the bright flame of preservation that has its roots in Victorian Christmas.
Contact Us: 570.419.2989