The house at 27 Main Street in Farmington was built for Samuel Smith in 1769. It was later the home of Horace Cowles (1782-1841) and his wife Mary Ann (1784-1837). In the years before the Civil War, they were stationmasters on the Underground Railroad who his fugitive slaves in their home. One day they had to go out and they left their young daughter, Mary Ann (1826-1899), in charge. She sat at the front door all day long and refused to let anyone enter, including a slave catcher from the South who had to leave empty handed. One of the three Mende girls from the Amistad stayed with the Cowles family when the captives from that ship were staying in Farmington. After Cowles died, his son, Samuel Smith Cowles inherited the house and continued his father’s work aiding fugitive slaves. He also edited an anti-slavery newspaper, The Charter Oak. Samuel Smith Cowles also became Treasurer of the Farmington Savings Bank.
Born in Farmington in 1795, John Treadwell Norton (d. 1869) became successful in the hardware business in Albany, New York. Treadwelll, who had been a surveyor and engineer for the Erie Canal, returned to Farnmington to construct a feeder canal that would supply water to the Farmington Canal from the Farmington River in Unionville. On land inherited in 1824 from his grandfather, he built a Georgian-style mansion at 11 Mountain Spring Road in Farmington in 1832, where he lived as a gentleman farmer. The house of his grandfather, John Treadwell (1745-1823), who served as Governor of Connecticut, had been a station on the Underground Railroad. John Treadwell Norton was also an abolitionist. He was one of the first people to visit the Amistad captives who were confined in a jail in New Haven. He played a major role in bringing the captives to Farmington, where they lived for 8 months before returning to Africa. The property was later owned by Austin Dunham Barney and was called the Barney House. For a time, the house was a used as a conference center and bed and breakfast by the University of Connecticut. In 2001, it was sold to its current owners, who have returned to calling the house its original name of Glenbrook.
The house at 118 Washington Street in Norwich was built in 1809 by John Vernet. Born in France, the aristocratic Vernet had fled the French Revolution and settled first in Martinique and later in Norwich. In 1802, he married Ann Brown, daughter of tavern-keeper Jesse Brown. Vernet built an expensive and elegant house on property that had been owned by his father-in-law, but he quickly faced financial difficulties. Vernet sold the house in 1811 or 1812 and moved with his family to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The house was bought by Benjamin Lee of Cambridge, whose family owned it for sixty years. According to tradition, the house was a stop on the Underground Railroad and had a tunnel to the river, but this has not been confirmed by physical evidence. In 1873, the house was sold to Albert P. Sturtevant, a manufacturer, and was home to his son, Charles P. Sturtevent. In 1920, the house became the Rectory of Christ Episcopal Church, but today it is again a private residence.
On the northwest corner of Bethlehem Green is a saltbox house built in 1740 by Samuel Church. In 1797, his daughter Betsy Church married David Bird and the house became known as the Bird Tavern. According to The History of the Descendants of Elder John Strong, of Northampton, Mass. (1871), by Benjamin W. Dwight, their son, Joshua Bird, was “for 30 years a woolen manufacturer at Bethlehem (1820-50), and for 20 years past (1850-70) a farmer there, a deacon in Ihe Cong. Ch. for 25 years (1845-70), a state senator (in 1859).” He also helped fugitive slaves and his house was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The house also served as the town’s post office. James W. Flynn, who purchased the house around 1900, served as postmaster and town clerk in the early twentieth century. Flynn and his wife Mary later shared the house with their foster child, Mary E. Toman. She married Charles Woodward, the son of a local farmer, and the couple inherited the house. It later passed to other owners, but in recent years was restored to become a restaurant called the Woodward House.
At 87 Main Street in Stonington Borough is an 1851 house built for Judge Benjamin Pomeroy. The house was constructed using granite left over from the construction of two local landmarks: the stone John F. Trumbull factory and the Stonington Breakwater. The house may have been a stop on the Underground Railroad.
The Federal-style Whitmore Homestead, built around 1786, is at 20 Riverview Road in Rocky Hill. There is a small structure on the property thought to have been used as the town’s first post office. The house was also a stop on the Underground Railroad, with a hidden passage in the upstairs closet used by fugitive slaves.
Daniel R. Williams was a marine entrepreneur who sold seine fishing nets out of the basement of his house, on Gravel Street in Mystic. The house was built in 1834 and an outbuilding on the property was a stop on the Underground Railroad.