Abolition Hall is located in Whitemarsh Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. The former Underground Railroad station was constructed in 1856 by George Corson. It was purposely built as a place for abolitionists to meet. Well-known abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe and William Lloyd Garrison spoke here. However, the building was more than a meeting house. Abolition Hall and the surrounding fields, along with the Hovenden House and Stone Barn provided shelter for self-emancipated Black people. The three structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Charles L. Blockson, Curator Emeritus of the Charles L. Blockson Afro American Collection at Temple University, is the author of several books on the Underground Railroad. Blockson wrote:
Abolition Hall was an important terminal on the Freedom Network known as the Underground Railroad, not only has local significance but also national significance. As chairperson of the National Park Service Advisory Committee, I referenced this site to highlight the importance of the Underground Railroad. …The site played a significant role in the National Park Service Underground Railroad Study, adopted by Congress to designate the Network to Freedom as a national historic treasure. Abolition Hall is a national, historical site that should be preserved
After the Civil War, Abolition Hall was converted into a studio where Thomas Hovenden painted The Last Moments of John Brown. The iconic painting was donated to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1897.
The Corson Homestead is under agreement of sale to a developer who proposes to construct 67 townhouses. Sydelle Zove, convener of Friends of Abolition Hall, is spearheading the legal battle to save Abolition Hall. Zove said:
Our struggle to protect the legacy of this well-documented Underground Railroad station pales in comparison to the travails of the men, women, and children who arrived in Plymouth Meeting seeking sanctuary. And when these fugitives from bondage were welcomed by George and Martha Corson, it was their hosts who were placed at risk – of fines and imprisonment.
Today, the Friends of Abolition Hall is determined to fight the proposed 67-unit townhouse plan that will consume the fields where runaways hid among the tall cornstalks. That same plan will send the historic structures – Abolition Hall, Hovenden House, and Barn – to the auction block where they will be sold to the highest bidder. The developer asserts that by not demolishing these buildings, he is preserving them. That is an insult to all who lived here, hid here, and to those of us who argue that Abolition Hall deserves better.
The developer’s proposal would box in Abolition Hall. The Philadelphia Inquirer Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Inga Saffron panned the proposal:
The latest proposal would dump 67 townhouses right into the heart of the village and dramatically disrupt the historic ensemble. K. Hovnanian Homes wants to cram the townhouses behind the main house on the 10-acre Corson property. Although the house and Abolition Hall would remain standing, the new buildings would come virtually to their back doors. Hovnanian would leave the two historic buildings with 1.4 acres between them. It’s hard to imagine how they could thrive on such tiny plots.
The fight for a development plan that respects and preserves Abolition Hall for current and future generations will play out in the courts and the court of public opinion. So we launched VillagesatWhitemarsh.info to raise awareness of the potential degradation of a national historic landmark. We will leverage social media and search engine optimization to alert prospective buyers that protesters will be at their front door.
For more information about this crowdsourced initiative, contact us.
UPDATE: In July 2020, K. Hovnanian Homes abandoned the project. Accordingly, the VillagesatWhitemarsh.info domain will not be renewed.
UPDATE: On April 8, 2021, the Whitemarsh Township Board of Supervisors approved the agreement of sale of Abolition Hall. The former Underground Railroad site is now public property.